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Most sixteen-year-olds have friends. Aden Stone has four human souls living inside him:
One can time-travel.
One can raise the dead.
One can tell the future.
And one can possess another human.
With no other family and a life spent in and out of institutions, Aden and the souls have become friends. But now they're causing him all kinds of trouble. Like, he'll blink and suddenly he's a younger Aden, reliving the past. One wrong move, and he'll change the future. Or he'll walk past a total stranger and know how and when she's going to die.
He's so over it. All he wants is peace.
And then he meets a girl who quiets the voices. Well, as long as he's near her. Why? Mary Ann Gray is his total opposite. He's a loner; she has friends. He doesn't care what anyone thinks; she tries to make everyone happy. And while he attracts the paranormal, she repels it. For her sake, he should stay away. But it's too late....
Somehow, they share an inexplicable bond of friendship. A bond about to be tested by a werewolf shape-shifter who wants Mary Ann for his own, and a vampire princess Aden can't resist.
Two romances, both forbidden. Still, the four will enter a dark underworld of intrigue and danger but not everyone will come out alive....
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Gena is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 25 books.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
A cemetery. No. No, no, no! How had he ended up here?
Clearly, wearing his iPod while exploring a new town had been a mistake. Especially since Crossroads, Oklahoma, perhaps garden gnome capital of the world and definitely hell on earth, was so small it was practically nonexistent.
If only he'd left the Nano at the D and M Ranch, a halfway house for "wayward" teens where he now lived. But he hadn't. He'd wanted peace, just a little peace. And now he would pay the price.
"This sucks," he muttered, pulling the buds from his ears and shoving the shiny green distraction into his backpack. He was sixteen years old, but sometimes he felt like he'd been around forever, and every one of those days had been worse than the one before. Sadly, today would be no exception.
Immediately the very people he'd been trying to drown out with so-loud-your-ears-bleed Life of Agony clamored for his attention.
Finally! Julian said from inside his head. I've been screaming for you to turn around for, like, ever.
"Well, you should have screamed louder. Starting a war with the undead was not what I wanted to do today." As he spoke, Haden Stone—known as Aden because, as a kid, he apparently hadn't been able to pronounce his own name— backtracked, removing his foot from the graveyard's property line. But it was too late. In the distance, in front of a tombstone, the ground was already shaking, cracking.
Don't blame me, Julian replied. Elijah should have predicted this.
Hey, a second voice said. It, too, came from inside Aden's head. Don't blame me, either. Most times, I only know when someone's gonna die.
Sighing, Aden dropped his backpack, bent down and palmed the daggers he kept anchored in his boots. If he were ever caught with them, he'd be tossed back into juvie, where fights erupted as regularly as lunch was served and making a trustworthy friend was as impossible as escape. Deep down, though, he'd known carrying them was worth the risk. It was always worth the risk.
Fine. This is my fault, Julian grumbled. Not like I can help myself, though.
That was true. The dead had only to sense him to awaken. Which, like now, usually involved Aden accidentally placing his foot on their land. Some sensed him faster than others, but they all eventually rose.
"Don't worry about it. We've been in worse situations."
More than leaving the iPod at home, he mused, he should have been paying attention to the world around him. He'd studied a map of the town, after all, and had known what areas to avoid. But as the music had pounded, he'd lost track of his surroundings. He'd been momentarily liberated, seemingly alone.
The tombstone began to rattle.
Julian sighed, the sound an echo of Aden's. I know we've endured worse. But I caused those worse situations, too.
Fabulous. A pity party. This third, frustrated voice belonged to a woman—who also took up prime real estate inside his head. Aden was only surprised his other "guest"—as he sometimes thought of the souls trapped inside him—didn't pipe up, as well. Peace and quiet were not something any of them understood. Can we save the festivities for later, boys, and kill the zombie before it emerges all the way, gains its bearings and stomps our collective butt?
"Yes, Eve," Aden, Julian and Elijah said in unison. That was the way of it. He and the other three boys would bicker and Eve would step in, a formidable mother-figure without a finger to point, but a formidable mother-figure all the same.
If only that mothering were enough to fix the situation this time.
"I just need everyone to zip it," he said. "Okay? Please."
There was grumbling. And that was as quiet as things were going to get.
He forced himself to focus. Several yards away, the headstone teetered back and forth before tumbling to the ground and shattering. Rain had fallen this morning, and droplets sprayed in every direction. Handfuls of dirt soon joined them, flying through the air as a disgustingly gray hand poked its way free.
Golden sunlight poured from the sky, highlighting the oozing skin, the rotting muscle...even the worms slithering around the enlarged knuckles.
A fresh one. Great. Aden's stomach rolled. He might puke when this was over. Or during.
We 're about to smoke that fool! Is it bad that I'm hot right now?
And there was Caleb, voice number four. If he'd had a body of his own, Caleb would have been the guy taking pictures of girls in their locker room while hiding in the shadows.
As Aden watched, waiting for the right moment to strike, a second oozing hand joined the first, both straining to heave the decayed body the rest of the way from the ground. He scanned the area. He stood on a cemented walkway, high on a hill, lush trees helping to form a path and block him from prying eyes. Thankfully, the long span of grass and headstones looked deserted. Beyond was a road where several cars meandered past, their engines humming softly. Even if the drivers were rubberneckers and failed to keep their attention on traffic, they wouldn't be able to see what happened below.
You can do this, he told himself. You can. You've done it before. Besides, girls like scars. He hoped. He had plenty to show off.
"Now or never." Determined, he strode forward. He would have run, but he wasn't in a hurry to ring the starting bell. Besides, these encounters always ended the same way, no matter the sequence of events: Aden bruised and broken, sick from the infection the corpses' tainted saliva caused. He shuddered, already imagining yellowed teeth snapping and biting at him.
Usually the battle lasted only a few minutes. But if anyone decided to visit a loved one during that time... Whatever happened, he couldn't be seen. People would assume he was a grave robber or a body snatcher. He'd be hauled into whatever detention center this hole-in-the-wall town offered. He'd be forever labeled a no-good delinquent, exactly as he'd been labeled in every other town he'd ever lived in.
Would have been nice if the sky darkened and rain poured again, shielding him, but Aden knew he didn't have that kind of luck. Never had.
"Yep. I should've paid attention to where I was going." For him, walking past a cemetery was the epitome of stupid. A single step on the property, like today, and something dead would awaken, hungry for human flesh.
All he'd wanted was a private spot to relax. Well, as private as a guy with four people living in his head could get.
Speaking of heads, one peeked through the now-gaping hole, swinging left, right. One eye was rolled back, the white branched with red, while the other was gone, revealing the muscle underneath. Large patches of hair were missing. Its cheeks were sunken, its nose hanging by a few threads.
Bile burned Aden's stomach, threatening to double him over. His fingers tightened around the hilts of his blades, and he finally quickened his step. Almost... there... That haggard face sniffed the air, obviously liking what it smelled. Toxic black saliva began dripping from its mouth and its struggle for freedom increased. Shoulders appeared. A torso quickly followed.
A jacket and shirt bagged around it, torn and dirty. A male, then. That made what he had to do easier. Sometimes.
One knee shot onto the grass, two.
Closer... closer still... Again, he increased his pace.
Aden reached it just as it stood to full height, a little over six feet, which put them at eye level. His heart slammed in his chest, a frantic drum. Breath blistered his lungs, scalded his throat. More than a year had passed since he'd had to do this, and the last time had been the worst of all. He'd needed eighteen stitches in his side, had worn a cast on his leg for a month, spent a week in detox, and had made an involuntary blood donation to every corpse at Rose Hill Burial Park.
Not this time, he told himself.
A hungry growl burst from the creature's ruined lips.
"Lookie what I have." Aden held up the blade, and the silver glinted in the light. "Pretty, isn't it? How 'bout a closer look, hmm?" Arm surprisingly steady, he reached back and struck, going for the neck. To kill a corpse—permanently— the head had to be removed. But just before contact, the corpse gained its bearings, as Eve had feared it would, and ducked. Survival instincts were something that never died, apparently. Aden's knife whizzed through empty air, his momentum spinning him around.
A bony fist pushed him face-first to the ground, and he soon found himself eating dirt. A hard weight immediately pounced on him, crushing his lungs. Fingers encircled his wrists and squeezed, and he lost his hold on the blades. Thankfully—or not—those fingers were disgustingly wet and couldn't maintain a strong enough grip to keep him still.
No, it was the teeth in his neck that subdued him, chomping toward his artery, wet tongue sucking. For one pained second, he was too dazed to move, burning up, dying, awakening, burning some more. Then he snapped into focus—win, had to win—and used his elbow to crack the fiend's ribs.
It didn't budge.
Of course, his companions just had to comment.
Wow. Are you out of practice or what? Caleb said.
Laid low by a toe tag, Julian scoffed. You should be embarrassed.
Do you want to be dinner? Elijah added.
"Guys," he gritted out, his struggles increasing. He managed to roll to his back. "Please. I'm fighting here."
I wouldn't exactly call this fighting, Caleb replied. More like being spanked like a girl.
Hey! I take exception to that.
"Don't worry. I've got this."
Guess we'll see about that, Elijah said grimly.
Aden tried to squeeze the creature's neck but it kept moving, kept pulling from his grip. "Be still," he commanded as he punched it in the cheek with so much force that what was left of its brains rattled—but that didn't weaken it. Actually, the action might have strengthened it. Aden had to anchor both of his hands against its jaw to prevent it from swooping in for another bite.
"You, more than anyone, know this isn't the way I'm going to die." The words were broken with the force of his panting breaths.
About six months ago, Elijah had predicted his death. They didn't know when it would happen, only that it would. And it wouldn't be in a cemetery and his killer wouldn't be a corpse. No, he would die on a deserted street, a knife in his heart, the tip cutting the organ every time it beat, until life slipped from him completely.
The dire prediction had come the same day he was told he was being sent to the D and M Ranch just as soon as there was an opening. Maybe that should have deterred him from moving here. But...
At the same time, he'd begun having visions of a dark-haired girl. Of talking and laughing with her... of kissing her. Never before had Elijah foretold anything other than a death, so Aden had been shocked to know—or rather, hope—the girl would one day enter his life. Shocked but excited. He wanted to meet her for real. Was desperate to meet her, actually. Even if that meant coming to the city of his death.
A death that would happen all too soon, he knew. In the vision, he hadn't looked much older than he was now. He'd had time to mourn his own passing, though, and had even had time to accept his fate. Sometimes, like now, part of him even looked forward to it. That didn't mean he'd roll over and take whatever the undead wanted to dish.
Something stung his cheek and he blinked into focus. Unable to get its yellowed teeth within range, the corpse was now clawing at him, nails cutting deep. That's what he got for allowing another distraction.
You've got this? Really? Well, prove it, Julian said, the challenge probably meant to strengthen him.
Roaring, Aden reached for one of his fallen blades. Just as the corpse broke free from his hold, he slashed forward. The blade slid through bone... and caught. Useless.
There was no time to panic. Hungry and oblivious to pain, his opponent made another play for his throat.
Aden threw another punch. There was a growl, another baring of teeth, and a stream of that thick, black saliva seeped from the corpse's mouth onto his cheek, causing his skin to sizzle. He struggled, gagging at the fetid smell.
When a long, wet tongue emerged, inching toward Aden's face, he once again grabbed the corpse by the jaw, fending it off while reaching for his other knife. Mere seconds after his fingers curled around the hilt, he began sawing at its neck.
Finally, the head detached from the body and fell to the ground with a thud. The bones and tattered clothing, however, collapsed on top of him. Grimacing, he swiped them off and scrambled to a clean patch of grass.
"There. Proven." He, too, crumpled.
That's our boy, Caleb said proudly.
Yes, but now isn't the time for rest, Eve added, and she was right.
"I know." He had to clean up the mess or someone would stumble upon the desecrated remains. News stations would swarm the place like flies, begging the entire town to help locate the evil, twisted person responsible. Plus, others were going to rise whether he stayed here or not. He needed to be ready for them. But as he lay there, squinting up at the sky, hurting, the sun glared down at him, draining what little energy he had left.
By the end of the day, the saliva's poison would have worked through his system and he'd be hunched over a toilet, his cornflakes nothing but a fond memory. He'd sweat profusely from fever, shake uncontrollably and pray for death. Here, now, though, he had a moment's respite. It was what he'd been searching for all day.
Up and at 'em, sweetheart, Eve urged.
"I will, I promise. In a minute." Aden didn't know his real mother, his parents having signed him over to the state at the age of three, so he liked—sometimes—that Eve tried to fill the role. Actually, he loved her for it. He did. He loved all four of the souls, in fact. Even Julian, the corpse whisperer. But every other kid in the world could walk away from their families for a little "me" time. They could do things other sixteen-year-old boys were doing. Things like... well, things. They could date and attend school and play sports. Have fun.
Not Aden. Never Aden.
Whatever he did, wherever he went, he had an audience. An audience that liked to comment and critique and offer suggestions. Next time do this. Next time do that. Idiot, you shouldn't have done that.
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Book Description Harlequin. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0373210027 New hardcover book. Seller Inventory # SKU1015316
Book Description Harlequin, 2009. Hardcover. Condition: New. Seller Inventory # DADAX0373210027
Book Description Harlequin, 2009. Condition: New. book. Seller Inventory # M0373210027
Book Description Harlequin, 2009. Hardcover. Condition: New. Never used!. Seller Inventory # P110373210027
Book Description Harlequin. Hardcover. Condition: New. 0373210027 New Condition. Seller Inventory # NEW7.0109856