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Book 3 in
The Crush Saga
Copyright © 2013 by Chrissy Peebles
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Jesse took my hands in his and, for a moment, regarded me in silence. His gaze connected with mine, and he took a deep breath. “Taylor, you’re so—wow—just so beautiful.” His finger trailed down my cheek, stopping on my upper lip. “How’d I manage to get so lucky to have somebody as wonderful as you in my life?” he asked.
My heart soared when the words left his lips, because I’d been feeling the exact same way. I stared at his angelic face. I wanted, needed that amazing guy in my life, because I simply couldn’t breathe without him. “No, I’m the lucky one,” I said, staring deeply back at him.
Jesse held my gaze and wrapped his arms around my waist, drawing me closer. Shivers ran up my spine, and goosebumps pimpled my skin; his touch always affected me that way. With a grin, he lowered his face to mine. When his lips softly touched mine, passion ignited. His mouth opened, engulfing mine in a slow, tender kiss, his lips hungrily exploring my mouth. My heart skipped a few beats; the soft caress of his lips and the gentle touch of his tongue, dancing with mine in perfect harmony, was pure heaven. Emotion poured in from his mouth to mine and vice versa.
When a knock came at the door, Jesse suddenly broke our kiss.
“Hey, guys,” Julie said. “How’s the packing going?”
I smiled. “Um…we got a little, uh…distracted.”
“Ya know, if we’re gonna get anything done around here, I’m gonna have to split you two up like a couple of misbehaving kindergartners,” she scolded.
“Kindergartners don’t misbehave the way we do,” Jesse said, then winked at me, poised with confidence.
I couldn’t do anything but blush and laugh, because he was definitely right. I envied his calm demeanor, because I was anything but.
“I’m gonna load some of this stuff in the car,” he said. “We’ve gotta hit the road soon.”
“Okay, baby,” I said, smiling.
Julie turned to face me. “I’d be floating to the moon after a kiss like that.”
“I am. He’s the best kisser, and…hey! You’re just trying to distract me from leaving
, aren’t you?” Big Bear Lake
She blinked and shrugged. “That depends. Is it working?”
“Kind of…but not really.”
“Maybe I should try to endear you with one of my lame jokes,” she said.
I eyed her up and down, taking notice of her sequined tank-top and shorts with glitter sewn into the denim. “Why are you so dressed up anyway? Is there some special occasion I don’t know about?”
“I’m alive. Isn’t that special enough?”
“Right. I guess I never realized until now how easily someone can be…swept off the planet,” I said. “Life is so uncertain. Not even our next breath is guaranteed.”
“Yeah, but getting outta here, as far away as we can from Big Bear Lake, might help us keep breathing for a while. I mean, we might have to face other immortals and witches out there, but at least we’ll put some distance between ourselves and that nutcase, Drake.”
I gave her a fist-bump. “True dat!”
“I’ve got a new motto, and I intend to stick to it.”
“Simple. Just live.”
“That’s mine too, especially since so many people seem to want to stop me.”
“Nobody’s gonna stop us from living, as long as we stay hidden as vampires in the eyes of the witches, vampires, and werewolves. Going vamp, even if we’re just fakin’ it, is our ticket out of this dreadful curse.”
At that point, Julie started to tell me about everything she’d packed, most of it entirely unnecessary, but my mind was elsewhere. I was too much of a ball of nervous energy to explain to her why no one needed that many pairs of earrings when they were on the run from supernatural enemies.
“Hey,” she said.
I glanced at her. “What?”
“You’re pacing back and forth, like a caged tiger. You’re not even listening to me.”
I waved my hands in the air. “I heard you. You’re packing a dress suit for—”
“A business suit? I said bathing suit.”
“Oh. Sorry. I’ve just got so much on my mind.” I felt like my life literally flashing before my eyes, like a DVD on fast-forward. I reached for my last few belongings, stuffed them in my bag, and zipped it, which was no easy feat.
“Gosh. And you’re telling me there’s a big difference in what I want to bring and what we need,” she said. “You’re hauling your entire wardrobe.”
I laughed. “I guess you’re right. I oughtta practice what I preach, huh?”
She sat down on top of my suitcase. “Hey, I’m just trying to be the voice of reason.”
“It’s too hard to choose between all my favorite things.”
“Even a celebrity can wear the same outfit more than once. You realize that, right?”
“I know, but what if I run out of clean underwear in the middle of the Amazon rainforest?”
She chuckled. “I don’t think Jesse is taking us there.”
“Why not? It’d be a great place to hide.”
Julie looked at me strangely. “I know what this is all about. You’re afraid you might never make it back here, aren’t you?”
I froze as I contemplated her words. “Maybe, at least a little.”
“We’ll come back to
Big Bear Lake, ,” she said. “Just think of this as…an extended vacation.” Taylor
“Well, this little road trip’s gonna totally mess up my senior year,” I said solemnly.
“It’s gonna save your life,” she retorted. “If I have to choose, I know I like breathing a whole lot better than being some prom queen in a fluffy dress.”
I blew a stray strand of hair from my face. “I know. You’re right.”
“Besides, we’ll be back before prom anyway. Unfortunately, coming back in February won’t give me enough time to campaign for the crown. What a bummer. I bet I’d look hot in a tiara.”
“You’d look…perfect,” I said. With one last tug, I managed to get the zipper all the way around. “I’m gonna break my back carrying this suitcase.”
“Nah,” Julie said. “That’s why you have a big, strong boyfriend.” She walked to the door and called for Jesse.
He plodded up the stairs, walked into the room, and smiled at me. “You rang?”
“No, I rang,” Julie said. “Her Highness’s royal belongings are all packed,” she said, pointing at the suitcase.
He walked over and picked it up with a groan. “Wow. Sure you didn’t forget anything?” he joked. “This thing weighs as much as…
“Thanks for your help, Jesse,” Julie said, since he grabbed her huge bag too. “I don’t have a big, strong man in my life, so I’m glad my BFF does.”
I laughed. “See what you’re gonna have to put up with, Jesse? Are we sure we wanna bring her along?”
“Well, if I move the bags around, we might be able to fit her in the trunk,” he joked.
Julie just grinned at him, as if she dared him to say another word.
“Of course I don’t mind,” he finally said with a coy smile of his own. “We’re gonna need some comic relief.”
I kissed his lips. “You’re the perfect boyfriend.”
Julie pushed the curtains aside and peered out the window. “It’s almost dark out.”
“I guess that’s our cue to get ready to go,” Jesse said.
I swallowed past the knot in my throat. Walking out that door would be one of the hardest things I’d ever done, and the thought of leaving
about killed me. I was just beginning to feel at home there, and leaving would destroy the happy lives we’d built. Part of me desperately wanted to stay, but I knew I’d eventually be discovered. I couldn’t possibly pretend to be a vampire in a place where there were so many immortals watching me suspiciously, just waiting for me to slip up. If I stayed, it would only be a matter of time before I’d make a mistake that would prove fatal. Once word got out, I’d be back on the chopping block. Leaving was the only way to ensure that no one would ever find out the truth, that I wasn’t really a vampire and that it was all just a ruse, a glorified act for me to escape my grim heritage. The witches and werewolves didn’t want me, since they considered me tainted; the second I’d sported a pair of fangs, I’d let them know my blood was no longer pure. Of course it was all an elaborate hoax, that Jesse, Julie, and I had pulled off perfectly, and no one was the wiser. Big Bear Lake
Still, it felt like my whole world was collapsing before me. The idea of all my dreams being crushed was unbearable. Butterflies fluttered in my stomach as my nerves took their toll on such a high-pressure situation. I was overcome with anxiety, all jittery and not knowing what would happen next, crippled by fear of the unknown. What if Drake saw through our guise and chases us? What will he do to me? I couldn’t even let my mind go there. I’d lost all control of my life, and I was about to go far from everything familiar to me. The only thing that kept me grounded at that point was having Jesse was in my life. I knew he wouldn’t let anything happen to me, that he would fight with me until the end.
I took ten slow, deep breaths to calm myself. I peered through the curtains at the last few rays of light. In the woods, not too far away, a deer was grazing peacefully. Overhead, on a branch, two large great horned owls began hooting to one another. I smiled, staring with intensity. It was an awesome sight, glorious, serene, and breathtaking. The world is beautiful, I thought, watching the woodland creatures. Life is such a gift, and I’ll never let it go to waste.
I pondered everything. My life hung in the balance of every action we took. I couldn’t believe how philosophical I’d become in the face of death. I’d also never valued life so much before, not until I was faced with a very real death sentence. I’m not done yet though, I thought. There’s still so much more I want to do, and to do that, I have to get out of here. I wanted to do every single thing on the bucket list I’d created in my head, and to do that, I’d have to fight for my life. No matter what, I couldn’t succumb to the witches’ and werewolves’ wishes; they just wanted me to die an honorable death, but I still had an honorable life to live.
I refused to let that undeserved death sentence ruin or destroy my life. Obstacles are meant to be overcome, I thought, and I intended to jump over those hurdles like a marathon runner, to live my life the way I wanted to live it—even if that meant pretending to be a bloodsucker. Life is meant to be lived, like Jules said, not just plodded through. I didn’t know what the future held, but I knew I’d face it head on, bravely and strongly. Above all else, I would never, ever give up hope, no matter how scared and nervous I was. I was born a fighter, and I would die as one, even if I put a big dent in the universe. I knew I’d been put on Earth for a reason, and that reason wasn’t to just be sacrificed.
A knock on the front door startled me. I had no idea who it would be at that time of night, when I was in the middle of making my escape. My heart fluttered, and I hurried down the stairs to answer the door. “Who is it?” I asked nervously.
“It’s Kira. Can I come in?”
I opened the door and quickly motioned her inside.
She pushed her long black hair back. “I just wanted to say goodbye to my brother and to wish him and all of you good luck. I already gave him my long-winded speech about why I’m so against this, but he’s too stubborn to listen.”
“I’m so sorry about all of this,” I said. “I didn’t mean to sweep Jesse up in my mess.”
Jesse walked up behind me and shook his head. “No, this is my decision. I want to go, to keep you safe,” he said, staring at me with love in his eyes.
Kira looked at him and shook her head. “You haven’t changed one bit, Jesse. You’ve been stubborn since the day you were born.”
“Thanks for not telling Mom and Sam.”
“You know they’d stop you,” she said.
He nodded. “I know.”
“I just hope you don’t hurt Julie or Taylor,” she said.
“I won’t. I could never—”
She gripped his hands. “If an episode rears its ugly head, just…remember everything I taught you.”
He nodded. “I know what to do. Don’t worry, sis.”
“That’s good, because their lives depend on it.”
“I’ve got it all under control.”
She nodded. “I scouted out the area around the house,” Kira said. “It’s werewolf free. Julie and Taylor have lost their immortal guardians, so they must have fallen for the story, hook, line, and sinker. They truly believe the girls have transformed into creatures of the night.”
Julie gave her a fist-bump. “Fantastic!”
“I did see a few of Drake’s spies, but I took most of them down pretty easily.”
“You did?” Julie asked.
“Yep. We can’t have them following you now, can we?”
“Thanks,” Julie said.
Kira handed me a blue bottle.
“What’s this?” I asked.
“A vampire serum I obtained, but not as potent as the one you took before. It won’t make your eyes glow, and your fangs will be very temporary and will only show up when you’re angered. For the most part, you won’t be stuck with the effects like last time, but it will give you the scent of the vampire. It’s good for a couple weeks.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“I went through a lot to get it,” she said as she latched her purse shut.
“We can’t thank you enough,” Julie said.
“Take it now,” Kira said. “I can’t let you go out there unless you smell like vampires, especially if more of Drake’s spies are lurking.”
“How much do I take?” I asked, eyeing the nasty-smelling potion.
“Just a swig.”
I gulped down a bit. It tasted like prescription cough syrup, only a hundred times worse, without any cherry flavoring to help it go down easier.
Julie frowned after she took her drink. “That’s nasty!” she said. “How long does it take to work?”
“It works immediately,” Kira answered. She then pulled me into a hug. “Be careful out there…and take good care of my brother. I know he thinks he doesn’t need a bodyguard, but please don’t let anything happen to him.”
“I won’t,” I said.
Julie wrapped her arms around Kira. “Thanks for everything,” she said. “You’re a real lifesaver.”
“I hope so,” Kira said, looking lovingly at her little brother. She turned and embraced him tightly. “You take care of these two. I don’t agree with what you’re doing, but I understand wholeheartedly. As long as you stay off the radar, everything will be okay. Don’t come out of hiding until February. Tabby will keep you safe, so do whatever she tells you to.”
“Everything will be fine, sis,” he said.
“There are dangerous immortals out there who will have no problem hurting you, Jesse. Please don’t take this lightly. No matter what, you can’t let them find out that Julie and Taylor aren’t really vampires.”
“We’ll make the world believe they are,” Jesse said.
“Good. Sam and Mom don’t even know. They fell for the story like everyone else.”
“Keep it that way. The fewer people who know, the better,” he said.
Kira nodded. “My lips are sealed.”
Jesse hugged her one last time.
Tears welled up in her eyes, and she turned to leave. Kira opened the door, then looked over her shoulder and blew a kiss to each of us. In a blur, she was gone.
Julie glanced out the window, into the woods. “Sure is dark out there,” she said.
My stomach clenched; I hated the thought of going out there at night. “Yeah, we shoulda left before all the vampires woke up,” I said.
“Why?” Julie asked. “They don’t want to kill us anymore. They think we’re like them. They’re probably celebrating. As far as they’re concerned, the fewer petals there are, the better. As for the witches and werewolves, they think we were turned when we got attacked, so they’re not after us. Right now, we don’t have any enemies after us.”
“Unless they discover our secret…or there are any of Drake’s people out there. Then all bets are off.”
“And that’s exactly why I wanted to leave at night,” Jesse said. “We have to do this right. We’ve worked too hard, given up too much, to screw up now. If one immortal had seen you out in the daylight, it would have ruined our entire plan.”
“We coulda hid in the back seat, under a blanket,” Julie said.
He shook his head. “If you would’ve taken one step outside to get into the car, Drake’s spies would have alerted every one of their findings.”
“You’re right. I guess I’m forgetting my role. If we’re gonna escape in one piece, we’ve gotta play by the rules.”
I let out a long breath.
“You’re shaking,” Jesse noticed.
“It’s just so hard to leave,” I said quietly, my lower lip trembling.
He squeezed my hand tightly. “Everything’s gonna be okay,
I gazed in his eyes, desperately hoping he was right. I so wanted to believe his reassurances, but my heart was beating a million miles a minute. I knew we had to leave, because my parents would be back any minute. I sighed deeply. I hated leaving them, but I really had no choice; it was for their good as much as mine. With a trembling hand, I placed a note on the kitchen table. I had no problem with my parents, and they’d given me no reason to become a runaway. I loved them with all my heart, and I truly hoped they’d forgive me, because I had to do what was best for me. If I wanted to keep breathing for the next eighty years or so, I had to leave them for a few months, even if it hurt. Still, as I imagined the tears my mother would shed over that note, a couple of my own fell onto it.
Jesse packed the last of the bags in the trunk of his car as I cautiously stepped off my porch. The moon was shining extra bright, illuminating everything in a silver-white glow. It was a hot, humid night, and the crickets seemed to chirp more loudly in protest; those nighttime symphonies were another part of
that I would truly miss. Once again, I couldn’t believe I was actually leaving, without even knowing the final destination, since Jesse had thought it safer not to disclose that to me. From what Kira had said, we’d be meeting someone named Tabby. Regardless of how badly I wanted to stay, I knew we had to hurry and leave; if my parents pulled up, I wouldn’t know what to say to them to explain what I was doing and why. Big Bear Lake
Then, in a blur, hands wrapped around my waist. Before I could even yell, I was being whisked away, against my will, deep into the forest, with the wind slapping mercilessly against my face. Trees zoomed past me, twigs whipping against me with stinging pain. In horror, I realized I’d been captured by a supernatural being. My first thought was that Drake had found out I was leaving and intended to punish me for it. He’d almost killed me the last time, so I was pretty sure he was there to finish the job. My heart lurched at the thought, but there was nothing I could do but hold on tight.