A secret organization wants to help her. An ancient order wants her dead. And she doesn't even know what she is...
Kaylee Richards just blasted her first date with lightning. She has no idea how, but when the creep pulls a sword on her, what’s a girl to do?
Turns out Kaylee is a dragon-kin, a half dragon/half human with the rare power to summon storms. The problem? Her newly-discovered magic has attracted the wrong kind of attention: Slayers, a murderous ancient order dedicated to eradicating all dragon-kin. They’re planning something big. Something deadly.
And they need Kaylee to do it.
The last thing Kaylee Richards wanted to do on her final day of summer vacation was be charged with attempted manslaughter.
Arson, yeah, that was understandable. Because she had caught that historical barn on fire, and it was nothing but a charred mess now. But that had been an accident. Plus, the attempted manslaughter was completely justified.
But nobody would believe what really happened. She didn’t even believe what had really happened, and she’d done it.
The day had started well enough. Not a few hours earlier Kaylee had been in her room, doing nothing important except getting her closet torn apart as her best friend Jade dug through it, looking for the absolute perfect outfit for Kaylee to wear. Kaylee knew she didn’t own anything like that among her Gap store End-of-Summer sale pieces and consignment store pickings, but Jade was determined to try. After all, it wasn’t every day Kaylee got to go on a first date.
Jade’s hand emerged from Kaylee’s closet, holding a dress. “How ‘bout this one?”
“Too yellow,” Kaylee said.
A snort. “Too yellow? If you don’t like it then at least come up with a better excuse than that.”
An hour later Jade had fished out another sundress (not yellow) that Kaylee had stuffed somewhere way back in her closet. Jade then plopped her on the edge of her bed and took no less than another half hour to do what she claimed was the required amount of makeup for a first date. A first, first date. Like a for real, no joke, not middle school date that her mom had been forced to drive her to and then sit at the table with them like that wasn’t the most awkward thing in the world.
No, definitely not that kind of date.
“This is so amazing!” Jade gushed, in her excitement nearly jabbing Kaylee with an eyeliner pencil. Kaylee calmly gripped her hand to keep her steady, but really, it was to keep her own hands from not shaking so much.
“I mean, a date,” Jade went on, oblivious. “And we haven’t even started high school yet, and this is going to be so great, and you have to tell me everything when you get back because if you don’t I know where you live and I will make you regret it.”
Kaylee gave a slightly choked, forced laugh, causing the bed to bounce a little and Jade’s hand to almost skitter off track. Again.
Jade brushed aside her naturally straight black hair. The movement caused the light to shine on her skin that was the color of a deep-sea pearl. “You okay?”
“Fine!” Kaylee said brightly, her voice still coming off way too strained. She swallowed, hoping she’d remember how to talk before she left.
Jade gave Kaylee a pointed look, her sharp, narrowed eyes shifting into an expression Kaylee knew meant she clearly saw right through her.
“Right…Because if you’re nervous, that’s totally cool too. A first date, first day of high school tomorrow. It’s normal.”
“Because you’ve had so much experience,” Kaylee said, joking. Jade pretended to toss her hair over her shoulder.
“I am the queen of relationships. Just ask the string of non-existent broken hearts I’ve left in my wake.”
Kaylee laughed, but Jade’s joke had done the trick. She pushed off the bed and took a look in her closet mirror. An older girl stared back. Not the middle schooler that had been there when the summer began, but a high schooler ready to take on the world. Her chestnut hair framed eyes as gray as a storm-tossed sea. Her arms were tinted tan from days spent out in the sun, with a smattering of freckles across the tops that matched those on the bridge of her nose. She could see, just a little bit, why she’d been asked out.
The date had been totally out of the blue. Kaylee had heard of Brendan Jowkowsky in passing, mostly from the people she’d been friends with in middle school who were now going to the other high school. He was a junior. He played football. He went to Scarsdale Heritage High across town, the sister school to Kaylee’s Scarsdale Public High. She’d heard he was charming and nice, and yeah, Kaylee had to admit when she saw him, very handsome.
Kaylee had been finishing her drink in front of Smoothie Surprise at the mall when Jade had started hitting her arm like she was playing an impromptu game of Whack-a-mole.
“What is your problem?” Kaylee had exclaimed, yanking her arm back.
“That’s him! Jowkowsky at five o’clock! He’s spotted us! He’s—he’s coming over!”
Kaylee had turned, and indeed, Brendan Jowkowsky in all his handsome glory had sauntered right over to their table and, without any hesitation, asked Kaylee out. Next Sunday before the first school week started? Sure, Kaylee had squeaked out. A picnic near the old Clydeswick farm? Sounded great, Kaylee had managed. Pick you up at one?
When it was all said and done, Kaylee was left blinking in surprise and wondering how she’d been reduced to a blubbering idiot within the span of five seconds. She never got this flustered—not even when her lab partner had caught her backpack on fire—and definitely never about boys. That was just stupid.
So in the end Kaylee had assured herself that the whole date thing wasn’t that big of a deal. But Jade thought it was a Big Deal. In fact, she thought it was the Biggest Deal ever, and darn it if she wasn’t going to make Kaylee think that too.
“There!” Jade said when Kaylee fastened the final latch on her wrist bracelet. “Perfect.”
A honk came from the driveway and Jade made some sort of indecipherable squeak of surprise. “He’s here!”
“I noticed,” Kaylee said, picking up her small backpack (no way she’d be caught with a purse) from her bed. Jade stopped her in the hallway and straightened the jean jacket that hung over the straps of her sun dress. It acted both as fashion and a parent repellent in case Kaylee’s parents didn’t approve of the amount of shoulder the dress showed. Not that they were here right now to comment. Both were out buying school supplies for her younger brother Jeremy. And if she was lucky, they’d stay out for a while.
“For the last time, are you sure you don’t want me to come along incognito?” Jade said. “I promise I’m super compact, perfect for fitting into any trunk or crawlspace.”
Kaylee laughed again, but this time she couldn’t help feeling a little sad, too. This was one thing Jade wouldn’t—couldn’t—do with her.
She and Jade had been best friends since they were six, when Kaylee had moved to Scarsdale. Their families had been friends, which meant many afternoons hanging out, which turned into sleepovers, school project partners, and summer camps, though the last few summers Jade had been away at some private camp she never talked about. They always walked to school together, and they always walked home. These past few weeks especially they’d been nearly inseparable, as if trying to latch on to the last fleeting moments of closeness before weathering the storms of whatever the next four years would bring.
Brendan honked again. Kaylee took another deep breath and went downstairs. She gave Jade one last wave up the stairs before heading out the front door.
“Looking good,” Brendan said, grinning at her as she slipped into his Charger at the curb. Kaylee flushed. He’d complimented her. What did that mean? What was he saying? Did he want her to say something back? Should she—?
“Y-yeah, you too? I mean, you too! You look good too.”
Brendan grinned again, one arm draped over the steering wheel. He’d slicked back his normally long hair and tied it in a short pony-tail that somehow ended up longer than Kaylee’s own. He wore a casual button up with the sleeves rolled up to the elbows.
He’s very handsome, Kaylee had to remind herself.
“Let’s roll,” Brendan said. He shifted to drive and pulled onto the street. Kaylee glanced back at her house, and for a moment, swore she saw Jade in the upstairs window, a worried expression on her face.
“You nervous?” Brendan said.
They’d cruised straight through the main thoroughfare of Scarsdale and turned down a market road. It was only a ten-minute drive out to the pastureland and Clydesdale historical farm, and Brendan had filled it with idle chatter Kaylee had struggled to keep up with. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to talk to Brendan—she could keep up with useless conversation easily—it was she didn’t know what to say. Suddenly, unlike anything she’d experienced so far in her life, everything she did and said had to be analyzed. Was she answering his questions correctly? Was she smiling big enough? Laughing loud enough? Was she supposed to say something. What was she supposed to say? Would her foot ever stop tapping??
Kaylee clenched her hands in her lap and resorted to rubbing her right thumb and index finger together. A static tingle built up between her fingers and then let off a small snap! Kaylee sucked in a calming breath as a trill of electricity arched up her hand. Snap!
The habit had started last summer. Kaylee had no idea how she managed to create the electricity, but the effect was calming to her; like coming home to something familiar after a long day. Lately though, the sensation had been more…wild, as though something within her was coming unraveled, just waiting to escape. It didn’t seem dangerous, exactly, and Kaylee had chalked it up to pre-high school jitters.
Brendan cocked his ear, his brow furrowing. “You hear that?”
Kaylee buried her hands beneath her butt. “Did you ask me something?”
Brendan eased off the gas and let his car coast. Up ahead was the white siding of the Clydesdale barn. Beyond it the farmhouse and gravel walking trails led to some nearby woods. A couple cars were parked in the parking lot. Probably walkers, though there was nobody out.
“I was just saying,” Brendan said in that easy way of his, “Freshman year, right? You excited?”
“A little. I’m pretty nervous, to be honest.”
Brendan nodded sagely. “Starting high school can be rough. Making new friends, new classes, figuring out what you want to do with the rest of your life…”
Kaylee sank farther down in her seat. Static built up in her fingers but she ignored it.
“It can be a lot. But I have a feeling you’ll do just fine.” He flashed her a grin. “I mean, you’re with me right now. That’s got to count as a good start, right?”
“Right!” Kaylee said brightly, making sure she smiled wide enough.
Brendan wrinkled his nose. “Do you smell something burning?”
Kaylee cracked her window.
Brendan parked his car on the far side of the lot and grabbed a picnic basket from the trunk.
“I know a good spot we can have some privacy,” he said, taking her hand. A sudden jolt of electricity traveled down Kaylee’s arm and zapped him.
“Ouch! What the…” Brendan examined his fingers.
“What was that?” Kaylee said, pretending like she had gotten shocked too.
“I’m not sure,” Brendan said. He glared at his hand, then gingerly reached for Kaylee’s. “Shall we try again?”
Kaylee took a deep breath, swearing to keep whatever the heck that had been under control, and took it.
The sky was a clear azure, wisps of lazy clouds drifting back and forth overhead, creating pockets of shadows on the ground below. Bees buzzed through swaying bunches of grass as the wind rushed through them, spreading the lingering scent of late summer wildflowers.
Brendan took her behind the barn, out of sight of the parking lot, to a small patch of soft grass that looked padded down with use.
“Make yourself comfortable,” he said, placing the picnic basket on the ground and starting to unpack everything.
Kaylee examined the crest of the barn, trying to imagine what it must have been like out here when it was first built. Scarsdale was definitely a city, big enough to have two different high schools within the district. But there were still sections of countryside like this anyone could easily escape to. Often during the summers, she and Jade rode their bikes out of town down the winding country lanes, whittling away the time looking for nothing in particular at all.
“You’re lost in thought again,” Brendan said.
Kaylee’s head snapped back to him. He was holding out a sandwich. “Pastrami on rye. Hope you like it.”
“Thanks,” Kaylee said, internally cursing herself. She was being stupid. She never zoned out this much.
A sudden sensation of a power welled inside her. She pushed it back down and refocused her thoughts in the moment by tearing into her sandwich with such ferocity that Brendan momentarily stopped to watch.
“Ah, okay then. I guess pastrami is your favorite.” He winked. “I’ll have to remember that for next time.”
Kaylee’s stomach trilled at those words. Next time.
Brendan scooted a little closer. “So I was thinking—”
Something in the woods behind them snapped. A branch falling. Possibly a hiker on one of the trails. In a second Brendan had rolled to his side and slid his hand behind his back. Kaylee stared at the woods, then at him.
“What the heck was that?” She asked.
“Nothing. Probably a deer or something.”
“Not that, you. Why’d you freak out like that?”
Brendan cleared his throat and settled back on his side. He took a bite of his sandwich. “I didn’t freak out, I’m just cautious. There are some dangerous things out there in the world, Kaylee.”
“Sure, but not in Scarsdale.”
Brendan met her eyes, and instead of the sizzling heat she’d heard was so common when one was staring into the eyes of their one-true-crush, instead there was a growing sense that Brendan thought she was a complete and total idiot.
“There are things far deadlier out there than you think, Kaylee,” he said in a low voice. “Even in Scarsdale. That’s why it’s up to some people to make sure to keep the rest of us safe. That’s what I want to do once I leave high school.”
“What, you mean like join the police force?”
Brendan hesitated. “Yeah, like join the police force.” He leaned back and sighed. “Think about it: being the only person standing between someone and certain death. Has a sort of heroic quality, doesn’t it?”
Kaylee stared at him, trying to figure out if he was being serious or not. She was simultaneously glad they’d cut the small talk, and worried by the direction this conversation was heading.
The woods had grown quiet again and a large cloud covered the sun, cloaking them in a swath of shadow. “I…guess. I haven’t really given much thought to what I want to do after high school.”
“Of course you haven’t,” Brendan said. He scooted a little closer. One of his fingers traced down her leg. Kaylee found that the last bite of sandwich had stuck to the roof of her mouth. She quickly hurried to swallow it.
“New school, new everything,” Brendan said. “You must be nervous.”
“I’m not all that worried about school. Really,” Kaylee said, and found that she actually wasn’t that worried. She had a bad habit of creating imaginary scenarios in her mind that were a thousand times worse than the reality. High school wouldn’t be any different. It was just like, now that she was actually on a date rather than psyching herself out about it, the whole thing wasn’t so bad.
Except for Brendan continuing to push himself closer. That she hadn’t counted on. She’d imagined them kissing, yeah, because she wasn’t an idiot, but not…
Brendan scooted even closer and Kaylee’s stomach dropped. In the distance, thunder rumbled and the part of Kaylee’s mind that was paying attention to everything outside their little sphere wondered what a storm cell was doing appearing on such a beautiful day.
“You know, the first time I saw you was at our homecoming game,” Brendan said, continuing to move his finger up her leg, then to her arm. Kaylee’s sandwich lay forgotten at her side. She’d frozen up, unsure of what to do. “Remember that? Last year?”
“Y-yeah,” Kaylee breathed. “I went with my older brother’s friends. They let me come along.”
Brendan nodded like he knew exactly who she was talking about. “Then I saw you at the mall and I thought, ‘I gotta ask this girl out or I’m going regret it.”
“Regret not getting to know you more. You seemed so smart and funny.” He breathed in, like he was drawing in her scent. “And beautiful…”
“Did you?” Kaylee said, her voice higher. The wind had picked up, chilling her skin and raising goosebumps. Or maybe that was Brendan’s hand now on her arm, sliding beneath her jacket to her shoulder, then around the back of her neck. His other hand moved down her leg.
“Brendan, I don’t think—would you stop!” Kaylee finally forced herself to move, pushing him away. “Look, you’re nice and all, and I still want to have this date, but…can we take it slower? Please?”
Brendan’s face switched from shock, brushed over annoyance, and settled on haughty indignation. In an instant he wasn’t so handsome anymore. One arm lashed out and wrapped around her, pulling her close. “Kaylee, babe, you’re gonna be in high school. Might as well get some practice with this sort of thing, right? And it might as well be with me. I promise I won’t hurt you…”
He pulled Kaylee closer and his free hand wrapped around her wrist, holding her in place.
The wind blew harder, swirling around the barn and kicking up their picnic blanket. Overhead the sun was completely blocked out by a thick thunderhead that had appeared out of nowhere. Fat raindrops began plopping nearby.
“Where the heck did this come from?” Brendan said, glaring up at the sky.
But his words were distant to Kaylee. A charge was building up inside her. And not the pleasant, excited charge she’d wanted; the happy sensation of having her first kiss or being with a guy she liked. This was like the static in her fingers, only more. Much more. Shooting down her arms and legs, tingling through her senses, changing from cool numbness to anger. Anger at Brendan for doing this to her. Anger at herself for ever liking his slimy, lying face.
“Would you get over here?” Brendan snapped as Kaylee tried to struggle out of his grasp again. “Seriously, Kaylee, you act like you don’t even want this—”
“Let go of me!” Kaylee shouted.
Then she shoved.
The power building inside her answered, bunching at her outstretched hands as she pressed them against Brendan’s chest. There was a snap! louder than any she’d heard before. Blue light flashed. A strange power coiled like a snake and shot from her fingers. Brendan’s eyes went wide a second before he was hurled off her.
Kaylee gaped at his body lying in the grass, twitching a little, then at her hands which had begun to spark. Holy. Crap. What had she done? Had she killed him? Was he dead? Was that a bad thing?
Kaylee shook her head. Of course that was a bad thing! He was a creep, but she didn’t want him dead. Not really.
“Brendan!” Kaylee rolled him over. She pounded his chest. “Brendan wake up!” The storm clouds grew bigger. The wind blew harder. “Brendan? Can you hear me? Are you alive? Brendan I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do…whatever that was!”
Brendan’s chest didn’t move. His eyes remained shut.
Oh, this was so bad. She had to be the first girl in history to accidently (because it’d been an accident, right?) kill her boyfriend on the first date. Not that he was her boyfriend, and not that she’d ever get one now in Greenland or Australia or wherever she’d have to run to get away from the law.
She pushed his chest again. “Brendan, please! Get up! Get—”
Brendan’s eyes snapped open, filled with rage. Rage he focused on her.
“You lied to me,” he hissed, drawing a knife from his back. “You lied. You—”
Kaylee punched him in the nose. There was no thought to it, just pure instinct. She scrambled back, her hands grasping for a weapon to defend herself. She came up with a spoon.
Brendan growled and struggled up, clutching his bleeding nose and holding…a sword? Kaylee blinked, her mind trying to catch up. Yes, it was definitely a sword. It had been a knife, but now the handle was coming apart and reassembling, the blade extending and growing longer until Brendan held a blade nearly half his body length. He aimed the very real, very sharp point at her chest.
“All this time I’ve been searching for them and lo and behold one shows up right under my nose. I don’t know how you’ve stayed hidden for so long but your life ends today.”
“Brendan,” Kaylee managed, “I have no idea what you’re talking about, but put the sword down and let’s—”
He lunged at her and the earlier power inside her unleashed again. An electric charge rocketed from her body straight into the air. There was a boom of thunder, a bright flash, and a bolt of lightning shot from the sky, struck the barn behind them, and promptly set the entire place on fire.
Then everything exploded.