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Shadows Excerpt

Prologue

 

            A shadow glided over the frozen hills, moving too quick to likely be cast by something of this Eearth. Being that it really wasn’t attached to anything was a sure sign of what it was and where it was heading. And that would be straight toward Dawson Black.

            Oh, goodie gumdrops.

            Arum.

            Just thinking the name filled the back of his mouth with a metallic taste. The SOB had come like a druggie after its favorite fix. They always travelled in fours, and one of them had already been killed the night before, which left three more of the greasy bastards out there—and one was heading straight for him.

            Dawson stood and stretched out his muscles, then brushed the clumps of snow off his jeans. The Arum had come way too close to their home this time. The rocks were supposed to protect them, throw off the unique wavelengths that set them apart from the humans, but the Arum had found them. Close as the length of a football field from the one thing he’d give his life to protect in a heartbeat. Yeah, screw that. Something had to be done. And that something was taking two of the three, which meant the remaining one would be a tad peeved. They wanted to play? Whatever. Bring it. 

            Stalking out to the middle of the clearing, he welcomed the biting wind that brushed the hair off his forehead. It reminded him of being on the top of Seneca Rocks, staring out over the valley. It was always cold as crap up there.

            Eyes narrowing, he started to count down to ten. At five, he closed his eyes and let his human skin slip away, replaced by pure power—a light that pulsed with that bright sheen of blue.  Shedding his human form was like taking off too tight clothes and running naked.  Freedom—not real freedom, because God knew they weren’t really free, but this was the closest thing to it.

            By the time he reached one, the Arum had crested the hill, speeding toward him like a bullet heading straight for a brain. Waiting until the last second, he darted to the side and spun, pulling forth the power the enemy coveted. No wonder. The stuff was like a nuclear bomb in a bottle. Toss it and watch it go boom.

            He launched a nice bolt of it at the Arum, hitting what appeared to be its shoulder. In its true form, the Arum was nothing more than thick shadows that seeped oily arms and legs, but the rush of power connected with something.

            The impact spun the Arum around and as he came back, something pitch-black and slick shot toward Dawson. He dodged the missile. What they had wasn’t nearly as powerful. More like napalm. Burned like a bitch, but it would take a lot more jabs to take a Luxon down. Obviously, that wasn’t how an Arum killed.

            Give up, young one, the Arum taunted, rising up in the dark sky. You can’t defeat me. I promissse to make it painlesss.

            Dawson gave a mental eye roll. Sure the Arum would. As painless as eating the last ice cream in the house and facing down his sister.

            Darting across the clearing, he sent bolt after bolt of the good stuff at the Arum. Hitting and missing. The damn thing stayed up in the trees, the perfect camouflage.

            Well, he had a plan for that.

            Lifting arms encased in light, he smiled as the trees began to shake. A thundering groan echoed throughout the valley, and then the trees broke free from the ground. Shooting straight up into the sky, large clumps of dirt hung from their chunky, snake like roots. Spreading his arms wide, the trees flew back, revealing the rat-bastard.

            Gotcha ya, he shot back.

            He let lose another jolt of power and it raced across the space between them, hitting the Arum in the chest.

            Falling out of the sky like a torpedo, the Arum spun toward the ground, flashing in and out of its true form. Dawson caught a glimpse of leather pants and laughed. This weak excuse for an enemy was decked out like the Village People.

            It landed in a bumpy heap a few feet away, twitching for a couple of seconds and then going still. In its true form, the thing was huge. At least nine feet long and shaped like The Blob. And it…smelled like metal? Cold, sharp metal. Weird.

            Dawson drifted over to tarry mess to check he was really dead before he headed back home. It was late. School was early—

            The Arum rose up. Gotcha ya.

            And man, did he get owned.

            A split second later, the Arum was on him like ugly on an ape. Christ. For a moment, Dawson lost his form and was back in his worn jeans and light sweater. Black strands of hand obscured his eyes as the shadow slipped over the ground at an alarming rate. Thick tentacles reached out, arcing in the air like cobras, then struck, punching straight into Dawson’s stomach.

            He screamed for the first time in his life, really let loose like a pansy, but damn, the Arum got him.

            Like a match thrown on a pool of gasoline, fire swept through his body as the Arum drained him. His light—his very essence— flickered wildly, casting a whitish-blue light over the dark, bare branches overhead. He couldn’t hold his form. Human. Luxon. Human. Luxon. The pain…it was everything, his whole being. The Arum was taking long drags, sucking Dawson’s power right down to his core.

            He was dying.

            Dying on ground so frozen that life hadn’t even begun to seep back through again. Dying before he’d ever really gotten to see this human world and experience it without all the rules handicapping him. Dying before he even knew what love really was. How it felt and tasted.

            This was so freaking unfair.

            Dammit, if he got out of here alive, he was going to really live. Screw this. He would live.

            Another long sucking drag and swallow by the Arum, and Dawson’s back bowed off the ground. His wide eyes saw nothing… Then a faster, brighter light that burned a whitish-red lit up his entire world, shooting between the still standing trees, coming at them faster than sound.

            Brother.

            Pulling back, the Arum tried to take his human form. Vulnerable as he was in his true form, he wouldn’t stand a chance with him. None of the Arum did.

            He was betting that Arum even knew the name to the light, whispered it in fear. A dry, rasping laugh caught in Dawson’s throat. His brother would love that.

            White light crashed into the shadowy form, throwing the Arum back several feet. Trees shook and the ground rolled, tossing him to and fro like he was nothing more than a pile of limp socks. And the light took up a fighter stance before him, protective and ready to give his life for his family.

            A series of bolts of intense light shot over him, smacking into the Arum. A keening, high pitched wail pierced the sky. A dying sound. God, did he hate that sound. And probably should’ve waited to hear it before he approached the Arum earlier. Water under a bridge.

            Since the draining had been cut off, feeling was returning to his limbs. Pins and needles spread up his legs, over his chest. Sitting up, he still flickered in and out. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw his brother back the Arum up and then take human form. Bold. Brazen. He’d kill the Arum by hand. Show off.

            And he did. Pulling out a knife made of obsidian, he launched himself at the Arum, said something in a menacing tone before shoving the blade deep into its stomach. A gurgle cut off another wail.

            As the Arum splintered into smoky, shadowy pieces, Dawson concentrated on who he was—what he was. Closing lids that weren’t really there in his true form, he pictured his human body. The form he came to favor over his Luxen one and connected to in a way that should’ve brought forth a wealth of shame but never really did.

            “Dawson?” his brother called out, spun around, and rushed to his side. “Are you okay, man?”

            “Freaking peachy.”    

            “Christ. Don’t ever scare me like that again. I thought…” Daemon cut off, dragging his fingers through his hair. “I mean it. Don’t ever scare me like that again.”

            Dawson climbed to his feet without help, standing on shaky knees and swaying a little to the left. He looked into eyes that were identical his own. No more words needed to be spoken. No thanks necessary.

            Not when there was still more out there.

 

Chapter 1

 

            Students filed into class, yawning and still trying to rub the sleep out of their eyes. Melted snow dripped off their parkas and pooled on the scuffed floor. Dawson stretched out his long legs, propping them on the empty seat in front of him. Idly scratching his jaw, he watched the front of the room as Lesa strolled in, making a face at Kimmy, who looked horrified by what the snow had done to her hair.

            “It’s just snow,” Lesa said, rolling her eyes. “It’s not going to hurt you.”

            Kimmy smoothed her hands over her blonde hair. “Sugar melts.”

            “Yeah, and shit floats.” Lesa took her seat, yanking out last night’s English homework.

            A deep, low chuckle came from behind, and Dawson grinned. The girl cracked him up.

            Kimmy flipped her off as she flounced to her seat, her eyes trained on him like she was planning her next meal. Dawson gave her a tight smile back, though he knew he should’ve just ignored her. To Kimmy, any attention appeared to be good attention, especially since she had broken up with Simon.

            Or had Simon broken up with her?

            Hell if he knew or really cared, but he didn’t have it in him to completely ignore her. Placing a zebra print bag on her desk, Kimmy continued to smile at him for another good ten seconds before looking away.

            He shook out his shoulders, positive he’d just been visually molested—and so not in a good way.

            The laugh came again, and then in a voice low enough only for him to hear, “Playa. Playa…”

            Stretching his arms back, he smacked at his brother’s face as he grinned. “Shut up, Daemon.”

            His brother knocked his hands out of his face. “Don’t hate the game…”

            Dawson shook his head, still half-smiling. A lot of people, mostly humans, didn’t get Daemon like he and his sister. Very few made him laugh like Daemon did. And even fewer pissed him off as much. But if Dawson ever needed anything or if there was an Arum nearby, Daemon was the man.

            Or Luxon. Whatever.

            A portly older man strolled into class, clutching a stack of papers that signaled their quizzes had been graded. A chorus of groans traveled through the room with the exception of Daemon and him. They knew they totally aced it without even trying.

            Dawson picked up his pen, rolling it between long fingers and sighing. Tuesday was already shaping up to be another long day of boring classes. He’d rather be outside, hiking in the woods despite the snow and brutal cold. His aversion to school wasn’t as bad as Daemon’s though. Some days were worse than others, but Dawson found his classmates made the experience more tolerable. He was like his sister in that way, a people person hidden in an alien body.

            He smirked.

            Seconds before the bell rang, a girl hurried into class, clutching a yellow slip of paper in her hand. Immediately, he knew the chick wasn’t from around here. The fact she was in a sweater and not a heavy jacket when it was below thirty outside sort of gave it away. His gaze roamed down her legs—really nice, long and curvy—to her thin flats.

            Yep, she wasn’t from around here.

            Handing over the paper to the teacher, she lifted her slightly sharp chin and gazed across the room.

            Dawson’s feet hit the floor with an audible thump.

            Holy crap, she was…she was beautiful.

            And he knew beautiful. Their race had won the genetic roulette when they adopted human forms, but the way this girl’s elfin features were pieced together was absolute perfection. Chocolate-colored hair slid over her shoulders as she kept scanning the room. Her skin held a healthy glow from being out in the sun a lot—recently, too, from the vibrancy of it. Finely arched eyebrows set off tilted eyes framed with heavy lashes. Warm brown eyes connected with his, then his shoulder, and then she blinked several times as if trying to clear her vision.

            That kind of look happened a lot when people saw Daemon and him together for the first time. They were identical, after all. Black wavy hair, same swimmers build, both of them well over six feet. They shared the same features: broad cheekbones, full mouths, and extraordinarily bright green eyes. Other than their own kind, no one could tell them apart. Something both boys loved using to their advantage.

            Dawson grinded his molars until his jaw ached.

            For the first time, he wished there wasn’t a carbon copy image of him. That someone would look at him—really see him and not the mirror image right beside him. And that was a completely unexpected reaction.

            But then her gaze found his again and she smiled.

            The pen slipped from his suddenly limp fingers, rolled across the desk, and clattered off the floor. Heat swept across his cheeks, but his own lips responded, and there was nothing fake or forced about his reaction.

            Daemon snickered as he leaned over, smacking down on the pen with his sneaker. Embarrassed to the nth degree, Dawson swiped his pen from under his brother’s shoe.

            Mr. Patterson said something to her, drawing her attention, and she laughed. Feeling that husky sound all the way to his toes, he sat straighter in his seat. A prickly feeling spread over his skin.

            As the tardy bell rang, she headed straight for the seat in front of him. Screw hiking in the snow. This was so not going to be another boring Tuesday.

            She started digging around in her bag, searching for a pen, he guessed. Part of him knew it was a perfect excuse to break the ice. He could just offer her a pen, say hello, and go from there. But he was frozen in his seat, torn between wanting to lean forward to see what kind of perfume she was wearing and not wanting to look like a total creep.

             He kept his ass planted firmly in the chair.

And…stared at the chocolate strands of her hair where they curled over the back of her seat.

            Dawson scratched his neck, shoulders twitching. What was her name? And why in the hell did he care so much? This wasn’t the first time he was attracted to a human girl. Hell, many of their kind hooked up with them since their females were outnumbered by males two to one. He had. Even his usually superior-complex-ridden brother had when he wasn’t with his on and off again girlfriend, but still…

            Glancing over her shoulder, the girl’s lashes swept up, and she locked eyes with him.

            Strangest thing happened then. Dawson felt the years peel away. Years of moving, of making and losing friends. Of seeing those of his kind he had grown to care for die at the hands of the Arum or the DOD. Years of trying to fit in with humans, but never really becoming one of them. All of it just…slipped away.

            Dazed by the sudden lifting of weight, all he could do was stare. Stare like a freaking idiot. But she stared right back.

            The new girl shifted her gaze, but those warm, whiskey-colored eyes came right back to his. Her lips tipped up at the corners in a small smile, and then she faced the front of the class again.

            Daemon cleared his throat and shifted his desk. His brother demanded in a low voice, “What are you thinking?”

            Most of the time, Daemon knew what he was thinking. Same with Dee. They were triplets, closer than most of the Luxen. But right now, Dawson knew without a doubt that Daemon had no clue what he was thinking. ‘Cuz if he did, he would’ve fallen out of his chair.  

            Dawson let out a breath. “Nothing—I’m not thinking anything.”

            “Yeah,” his brother said, sitting back. “That’s what I thought.”


Copyrighted 2012 Jennifer L. Armentrout