Book 2 in
The Crush Saga
Copyright © 2013 by Chrissy Peebles
Editor: Autumn J. Conley
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His precious touch could prove deadly…
When Taylor Sparks moves from
New York City to , her life is forever changed. Her attraction to Jesse, the hot guy with winter-blue eyes, is instant, their chemistry undeniable. But sadly, things aren’t adding up, and she wonders what her crush is hiding. Big Bear Lake, California
When Taylor Sparks moves from
When her new friend, Fred, tells her his suspicions about Jesse being a paranormal creature,
laughs. But then, when Fred turns up dead, she believes every warning he’s ever told her. Taylor
Taylor is shocked to learn that isn’t just a natural paradise of glittering lakes, towering pines, and breathtaking mountains. There’s far more than meets the eye among all that natural splendor, something far deeper going on. Big Bear Lake
dive into a paranormal world she knows nothing about to be with the one her heart can’t live without? Taylor
Jesse invited me to an indie rock band scheduled to play at the park. People spread out blankets and brought their lawn chairs and coolers, filled with plenty of icy beverages since the temperature was boiling at well over 100 degrees. The sun beat down on my skin, and after a while, I was sure I’d somehow been placed into a sauna or a microwave without my knowledge. Still, in spite of the heat wave, I adored listening to live music outdoors.
As the music blared, Jesse stole a glance at me. His denim shorts hugged his beautiful, tight, round butt, and his t-shirt clung to his muscular chest. His black, tribal tattoo peeked out and wound down his arm, something I found to be quite sexy.
We moved up to the front, by the main stage. When the song crescendoed up to its peak, everyone started dancing. I took one last gulp of the drink he’d bought me, then joined in. Sweaty strangers kept bumping into me, some of them clearly intoxicated.
Jesse had been out of town for a couple days, so I’d had some time to think and rein in my emotions. In that short time, I’d learned some very important things. Even if I didn’t understand Jesse, I knew I couldn’t live without him. I hated that he’d left, and I wasn’t exactly sure why he had, but I thought maybe he needed to give me some space. He had given me some lame excuse about a family emergency, but I didn’t push, knowing he’d already told me far more than he should have.
When he got back and called me, I jumped at the chance to meet him, so now, there we were, in the park, standing close to each other and jamming to the beat. I stared at Jessie’s handsome, chiseled features and determined that he was far too beautiful to be dangerous, but I was wise enough to know that looks could be deceiving. My Jesse, that gorgeous, blue-eyed work of art, was a vampire, and I knew I should run away from him, as fast and far away as possible. That was what any rational person would do, I told myself time and time again. The trouble was, one look at those eyes of his, at that tattoo snaking along the perfect curvature of his delicious muscles, and rationality went right out the window.
My gaze settled on his lips, and I shot him a seductive look. I just wanted to kiss him. I knew my lips needed to be on his, and it was pure torture to have to wait until the end of the night for one of his amazing kisses. I knew in that moment that I’d never be able to settle for couple of days a apart again. When he caught me staring at him, his eyes searched my face. I smiled as he grinned widely, flashing those pearly whites. I was as smitten by Jesse’s smile as I was by his gaze. There was something building between us, like hot, molten lava sputtering in the bottom of a volcano—and it was leading up to something big, huge, and explosive.
Suddenly, the heat seemed to climb ten more degrees, and I started fanning my face because it was so darn hot.
“Need something to cool you down?” he asked, almost in a mocking tone.
I nodded. I was dying for a drink from our cooler, and I was certain the temperature had little to do with it.
Smiling, Jesse led me back to our blanket, where it was less crowded. He slowly brushed the hair out of my eyes, then fixed his gaze on my lips. My heart raced as he wrapped his arms around me, embracing me, then met my lips in a heavenly kiss. Suddenly, I felt an odd sensation. His mouth, which had always been warm before, was suddenly freezing. I wondered if it was a vampire thing because vampires were known to feel cold to the touch. At least that’s what I read and saw in movies. It took me a moment to realize he’d sneaked an ice cube in it, making it the perfect kiss for a perfectly hot day—a kiss I would not soon forget. As the music blared, Jesse’s tongue dived into that passionate kiss. Then, slowly, with his tongue, he passed the ice into my mouth. I felt a sexy chill run down my spine as we passed the cube back and forth, each holding the melting cube in our mouths for only a few seconds. I got lost in the rhythm of this back-and-forth, and I could have sworn time was standing still as I tuned everyone out around me. It was such an erotic, sensual, playful French kiss. I’d never experienced such an exciting kiss in such a public place, and I was so totally wrapped up in the moment that the sun, the music, and the people around us didn’t seem to matter anymore, if they even existed at all. I was kissing the hottest guy at the concert, captured in a movie-perfect moment, a dream, like none I’d experienced before. What was so amazing about it was that it cooled me down but was hot and steamy at the same time. Jesse was not a boring kisser, and that was one outdoor concert I would never, ever forget, and the band had absolutely nothing to do with it.
The ice cube melted, and I smiled. “Who says a kiss is just a kiss, huh?”
His blue eyes blazed directly into mine. “You drive me wild, Taylor. Wanna try that again?” he said, almost breathed, in the sexiest voice I’d ever heard.
I shot him an excited look. “I thought you were never going to ask!”
After our intense icy-hot make-out session, Jesse ran an ice cube down my neck. I squealed; it was so cold, yet it felt so good.
When the concert ended, we packed everything up, and we zigzagged through the crowd, Jesse leading me to my car.
He looped his arms around me. “You’re amazing,” he said. “I’ve had the best time.”
Jesse made me feel like the luckiest girl in the world, and I decided right then and there that he was the only man I’d ever need. I glanced up at him. “I never stopped thinking about you, not once the whole time you were gone.”
“Aw. Thank you, Taylor. I’m sorry about leaving like that, but…well, it’s just that—”
“It’s okay,” I said. “You don’t owe me any explanations. Just because we kissed, it doesn’t mean you have to spill all your deep, dark secrets.” I smiled and touched his face. “Besides, you already told me your biggest one. Just know that I’m here for you. I do have a lot of questions, of course, but I won’t pry.”
“I’ve never met anyone like you,” he said, kissing my forehead.
“Well, I could definitely say the same.”
He chuckled, and I grinned.
“I’ve gotta go,” I said. “If I break curfew, my mom will go spastic.”
“I wish you would’ve let me drive you.”
“I was already over here anyway, running errands for my dad.”
He stroked the sweaty hair from my face and again gazed deeply into my eyes. “Wanna hang out tomorrow?” he asked.
“I’d love to.”
“Kiera’s making spaghetti, if you’d like to have dinner with us.”
“That sounds fantastic. Goodnight, Jesse.”
His hand grasped the back of my head and pulled me close. My heart raced at the thought of being captured in one of his mind-blowing kisses again. His lips brushed against mine, and all the nerves in my body danced in celebration as my blood thumped through my veins.
“Goodnight,” I said.
I started the car and pulled out onto the main road. It was difficult, almost impossible, to stop thinking about that kiss. No one had ever kissed me like that, so deeply and passionately that I could have sworn I saw fireworks. “Fireworks?” I said and chuckled at myself with a glance in the rearview mirror. It was so cheesy, but ultimately, it was true.
* * *
I pulled into the driveway ten minutes before curfew. Grabbing my purse, I hurried out of the car and locked the doors. Just as I started to walk up the driveway, I felt the cold steel of a muzzle against my neck. My heart hammered against my ribs.
“One sound, and you’re dead,” a harsh, male voice said.
I froze in panic as somebody slipped a black blindfold over my eyes, then gagged me. A man duct-taped my mouth, while another tied my ankles, legs, and wrists with rope. He hoisted me over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, and horror ripped through me. Help! I’m being kidnapped! my brain yelled, but I dare not cry out for fear of what they would do to me. I did try to fight back, at least to some degree, but I was tied and gagged and could do little about being manhandled.
“Put her in the trunk!” a man yelled.
As I fought, I was thrown, neck-first, into the trunk of a car, and my mind began to race. This can’t be happening! I tried to call out for my parents. If only they could hear me. If only I could scream, maybe Max would bark, and Mom or Dad would come to the door. If only…
Tires screeched, and the vehicle took off down the street. The smell of gasoline made me gag. I tried to kick and scream, but it was tight quarters, and I was still all tied up. I cringed at their muffled voices, wondering what they wanted from me.
“I’m tellin’ ya,” one of the guys said, “we oughtta just kill her now.”
My skin crawled at his nonchalance.
“He’s right,” the other said. “Just do it, right here, right now. We’ve outsmarted her protectors, but for how long? We need to do it swiftly and quickly, before they return.”
“You know the rules,” a low voice hissed. “If we just kill her, they’ll have the legal right to choose another, and we’ll be right back at square one again. We’ve gotta do this by the book.”
“I agree,” a woman said. “We need to stop that winter ceremony from happening.”
“I don’t want to kill her,” another woman said. “She’s just…an innocent victim in all this. It isn’t right.”
“If we don’t kill her, they’ll win,” another said. “They’ll gain the upper hand when she gives them what they need.”
“The Mantiver Clan will stop at nothing to destroy us,” another said tensely. “Killing her will keep them from becoming more powerful than they already are.”
“It will bring them to their knees!” another shouted.
Great, I thought. A case of mistaken identity is the last thing I need. By their talk, I assumed that killing me was some way to get back at their rivals, though I had no idea who those rivals were. The mafia? Some kind of…street gang? I had absolutely no idea, but I desperately wanted to tell them who I really was, to let them know they obviously had me confused me with somebody else. Maybe if I explain that, they’ll let me go. After all, I hadn’t seen their faces, so I wasn’t a threat. Then it dawned on me: Jesse had just revealed his identity to me. Maybe his clan wants to kill me because I know too much. I wanted to scream at them and tell them, to assure them that I’d never reveal Jesse’s identity, that I’d take his deep, dark secret to the grave with me. Jesse meant everything to me, and I would never betray his trust like that; unfortunately, my captors didn’t give me a chance to explain that to them. I wasn’t completely sure if it was vampires that had me. But they had heard me messing with my ropes and that took Immortal hearing. No human could hear that over the sound of the engine, the radio, and voices talking.
We drove down the lonely stretch of road, and I didn’t hear one car pass by. I considered trying to pop the trunk open so I could jump for freedom. I figured the car was going about eighty, but I figured it’d be easier to heal from a broken neck than a bullet to the head. The rope bindings cut into my skin and began to sting and burn. I wiggled my numbing hands, trying to find some relief, when a man yelled back at me.
“Stop it!” he said. “Or else I’ll kill you right here.”
I shivered at his voice, then obeyed his commands. There was no way he could have seen me no way he could have heard me picking at the ropes. I contemplated how they were going to kill me. It had to be a contract hit, but I wondered why there were so many of them there just to take out a defenseless woman. I also wondered how they could be so heartless.
The vehicle stopped, and my stomach dropped when I heard the doors swing open. This is it, I thought. My time has come. When footsteps approached, I held my breath. The trunk popped open, and strong arms lifted me out and set me down on a hard surface, maybe concrete, asphalt, steel. My legs were wobbly, but one of the men steadied me and untied my ankles. Gee. What a gentleman, I sarcastically seethed. The cold night air hit and my hair blew around. I tried to see through the blindfold, but all I could see was darkness.
A man shoved me forward. “Walk!”
I let out a trembling breath and stumbled to the edge of the hard surface, then felt my shoes sink in grass and damp earth. As I carefully walked forward, a towering fern brushed softly across my face. I took tiny steps because my imagination was in overdrive; I couldn’t help picturing all those pirate films I’d seen of people walking off the plank, and I knew there were a lot of cliffs around. The man behind me kept pushing and shoving, making me go faster than my hesitant feet wanted to carry me, forcing me to trip over what I assumed to be a very long log. Twigs snapped and crunched underfoot. An owl hooted, and crickets chirped. The smell of wet moss, damp dirt, and decaying leaves mingled with the scent of pines, wafting up my nostrils; any other time, the aroma would have been beautiful. My heart lurched. I was sure they were leading me to some isolated location for my execution, a place where no one would ever find me, and that thought sent droplets of nervous perspiration rolling down my face, perhaps mingled with tears.
I refused, however, to go quietly. I couldn’t do much to fight them off, but I wanted to make it harder on them. They’ll have to carry my corpse, because I’m not gonna walk out to the middle of nowhere and shovel my own grave. I’m not doing their dirty work for them! I took a huge step to the left, and then bolted.
Strong arms caught me within seconds, and I flailed and thrashed like a gazelle in a lion’s grasp.
“If we don’t keep movin’, we’re not gonna make it to the designated spot on time,” a man said.
“Maybe I oughtta just snap her like a twig, right here, right now,” said a deep-voiced man.
I screamed through my gag at the thought that the guy wanted to rush my demise.
“No!” another said. “She must be sacrificed at midnight.”
Trembling with fear, I thrashed even harder in the guy’s grasp. I suddenly realized that my abduction had nothing to do with a mafia hit, vampires, or a street gang initiation; rather, I was in the hands of some strange cult. I could barely breath, terrorized by fear.
“How much farther?” a man asked.
“We’re here,” another answered.
At that point, I was gasping for breath at the thought of being sacrificed in some weird ritual. I recalled what Fred had said about witches and realized it wasn’t so farfetched of a theory. My heart had never raced so hard. The man held me tight in his grasp, and I tried to fight, but he was so strong, and I was no match for him. My feet suddenly left the ground as he picked me up and carried me. I turned and twisted in his grasp, to no avail. He gently set me down on a cold slab of concrete and forced me to lie down, and I’d never been so terrified in my entire life.
Fingers gripped my ankles and wrists as the rope was tightened around me, securing me to a cold slab. It didn’t make sense to me that they left my blindfold on and my gag in, since they were clearly going to kill me anyway. For all I knew, maybe they thought it was more humane to kill me that way. Perhaps they want to spare me the misery of watching the dagger pierce my heart. I listened intently as they shuffled around, and then I struggled in my bindings.
“Just compel her to obey,” a woman said.
“We’re not allowed,” a man snapped back.
That was when it hit me like a ton of bricks: It was vampires! At that point, I was absolutely sure I was being killed because I knew Jesse’s secret. I wished he’d never said a word to me. My life had been much safer when I lived in the dark, believing that vampires were only part of some dark fairytale, the stuff of little boys’ and girls’ nightmares and epic Hollywood films.
“No fancy candles,” a guy said. “No chanting priests in hooded robes or spell books.”
“You sure we’re doing this right?” a woman asked.
“We’ve got the full moon,” another said, “and Jared is doing the difficult part.”
“It has to be done,” Jared said.
“Just be…gentle,” a man pleaded.
Gentle? How can murder possibly be gentle? I wondered. I was sure they meant humanely, but I wasn’t exactly a dog, and I didn’t feel I deserved to be euthanized like some unfortunate, sickly pet at an animal shelter.
“I’ll pierce her heart with the ancient dagger in one single stroke, right at midnight,” Jared said. “She won’t feel a thing.”
Tears began to stream down my face. There was no way to escape from the nightmare, and no one would hear my muffled screams. They offered me no last words and didn’t bother to ask about my request for a last meal. I let out a long sob. My life was going to end on a cold slab of stone. I recalled Jesse’s sister telling me I was marked, so I wondered if they’d specifically chosen me for the ceremony. Why didn’t she warn me though? Why didn’t she try to stop them, tried to help me? She had just left me to my fate, and I didn’t understand why they had chosen me.
“Don’t give me that look,” a guy said.
“I hate this,” a woman said.
“Do you think I like it?” he responded. “Killing young girls is just…it’s the worst thing I’ve ever been asked to do.”
“We could turn her instead,” one said.
“She’ll be wild and bloodthirsty for a long time,” a woman retorted. “We’ll never be able to control her. She’ll call too much attention to our existence.”
“That’s exactly why Drake says we’re not allowed to turn any more humans.”
“If we turn her without the permission of Drake and the council, we’re as good as dead.”
“Then let’s get permission,” another suggested.
“We’ve already been denied. They’ve authorized us to kill her. If we disobey Drake’s commands, he’ll hunt us down and kill each of us one by one. I don’t want to kill her, but I don’t want to die, and I sure as heck don’t wanna spend the rest of my existence on the run either.”
“If only Drake would’ve killed her at that party,” a woman said. “Then we wouldn’t be stuck with this.”
“He didn’t realize Jesse was going to help her escape.”
“Well, he and Jonathon should’ve acted faster.”
“You were out of town and don’t know the whole story, but the werewolves ganged up on Drake and the others and took ‘em down in a sneak attack. They thought that would stop us, but luckily, Jonathon got past them. He almost had Taylor, but another group of wolves came out of nowhere.”
I pondered their words as best I could, even though my head was spinning. Drake was the guy I had danced with at the party in the cabin in the woods. He was nice at first, but he’d quickly become quite bossy and controlling, and I didn’t like him one bit. I tried to play nice and did some shots with him, but there was something I definitely didn’t like. “If only Drake would’ve killed her at that party played through my head as I tried to put the pieces together. Drake had been stopped by the wolves. Were they really protecting me? Jesse had claimed they were, and Jonathon had gotten through them to kill me. But it wasn’t Julie who was tied down on that cold slab now; it was me! Then it struck me: Jonathon was after me and not Julie, as we’d previously thought. I couldn’t believe we’d been so off base. It had nothing to do with Jonathon being obsessed with Julie. I thought maybe he’d tasted her blood and couldn’t get enough, that he’d come back to finish her off, but in reality, it had nothing to do with her. It was all about me, and I had no idea why.
“It’s one mortal,” a man said. “Who cares? We used to kill them by the boat loads 100 years ago without even giving it a thought.”
I thrashed some more, and my blindfold lifted up a tiny bit, just enough for me to peek through.
“Get ready,” a man said. “We’ve got three minutes.”
“Do it precisely when I tell you to!” another man yelled. “We can’t afford any screw-ups.”
“I got it,” Jared said, “exactly at midnight.”I peeked through the tiny gap and shuddered. Moonlight glinted on a silver blade of a jeweled dagger that was hovering over top of my chest. I screamed under my gag, my heart thundered, and my life, entirely too short, flashed before my eyes.