Of Flame and Light - Chapter One
You know it’s going to be a bad day when you wake up in the morning and the first word out of your mouth is “fuck.”
My right arm―or should I say my new arm generated after my real one was chewed off by a psycho werewolf (no, this isn’t a joke) ―buzzes me awake. That’s right, buzzes.
I do my best to hide my limb. Not just because it’s as white as alabaster. Or because of the fluorescent blue veins that run its length. But because it’s doing things I can’t control, like, interfering with my magic, glowing like a light saber, and now, making noise.
I lift my head, half-asleep, wondering how a wasp nest found its way beneath my pillow, but too exhausted to run away screaming, yet. If you were familiar with my life and world, you’d understand pissed off wasps in my bed wouldn’t be the craziest or scariest thing that’s ever happened to me.
My eyes narrow at the quivering pillow as my haze clears. Maybe I’m tired, or maybe it’s because I’m bitter as all hell, but I can’t help thinking that the arm and the pillow are laughing at me. I pull my glowing and buzzing arm from beneath the fluffy white pillow and swear.
“Really? Really?” I ask it. “What’s next, singing and origami?”
Apparently, my incandescent light saber arm isn’t a fan of sarcasm and proceeds to flicker on and off like a twisted strobe light. I shake it hard and smack it against the mattress, for all the good it does. “Knock it off,” I tell it.
It’s not that I think it listens, or that I manage to control it. There’s simply no controlling this thing, but somehow the glowing recedes and so does the noise, and my arm resumes its “normal” death-like tone.
It quiets, no longer casting light. I should be thankful, right? I should be happy, true?
Oh, I wish.
The color is startling and contrasts horrifically against my deep olive skin. But its eerie tone and its unpredictability aren’t the only things that trouble me. There’s something wrong with this limb. It doesn’t belong on me. And in a way, it doesn’t belong in this world.
Maybe, like me, it’s something that wasn’t supposed to be.
I sigh and clutch it against me. It feels like my old arm, the skin soft and smooth. It moves like my old arm. I’m not limited with either fine or gross motor skills. But it’s not . . . human.
When I lost my real arm, the Squaw Valley Pack Omega, created this new one using ancient werewolf magic. If I were a were, I think things would have been fine, peachy-keen, and all that good stuff. But I’m not a were, or human, or witch, or vampire, or anything. Not even a little bit.
My sisters and I may look human, but nothing like us has ever existed on earth. And, because of it, Earth’s ancient magic seems to really resent helping a weird girl like me.
I used to wield fire and lightning with ease, and catch glimpses of the future. I used to be a badass. I’m no longer a badass, and the only things I catch now are odd glances cast my way.
“Are you the punishment for my sins?” I ask my arm.
I don’t expect it to answer, but it does. Sputtering light and buzzing before abruptly ceasing its response and sinking into the mattress.
To anyone watching, this whole thing might be funny. To me . . . nothing’s been funny in a long time.
For a moment, I simply stare at it. There’s a part of me that wants to cry, wondering what it will start doing next. But I’ve already cried too long and hard for what it has cost me.
Or should I say, who it cost me.
I scan the room. Nothing of Gemini remains. Not his clothes, not our pictures together. I even deleted and blocked his number. For all my arm disgusts me, I never expected it to disgust him more. After all, this was the werewolf who claimed me as his mate. The same male who swore he’d love only me forever.
I suppose forever only counts so long as I didn’t change, so long as I remained perfect in his eyes. But I never claimed to be perfect, even if many believed I’d looked the part.
My arm flickers and zings, the electrified charge is strong enough to startle me and slap any remnants of sleep away. Yeah. No way am I perfect. Not by a long shot, especially with this thing constantly mocking me and reminding me of everything wrong in my life.
A sharp rap to the door has me glancing toward my right. “Taran?” my perky sister Shayna calls. “I heard your alarm clock go off. Want some breakfast?”
I lift the bane of my existence and sigh. Alarm clock? I suppose that’s one word for it.
“T?” Shayna presses. “I’m making waffles.”
She semi-sings her last few words which is a very “Shayna” thing to do.
“I’ll be right out,” I answer.
“Cool!” she responds. “I have plenty.”
It’s not that I want to eat. It’s that I know how worried my sisters are about me. So I sit with them when I can, and plaster on a smile when I need to, but even that’s burdensome, which sucks. I don’t want my time with my sisters to be a chore. I love them. But I’ve learned some things can’t be helped.
My arm fires with its haunting glow. Case in point.
With a groan, I slip out of bed, pulling on a fresh pair of panties and a bra before heading to my bathroom to clean up. After a few swipes of mascara and some lipstick, I yank on a form-fitting red dress and shove my feet into a pair of platform pumps, doing my best to strut and not collapse back in bed. Yet even though I’m almost to the door, there’s one more thing I need. Most women won’t leave their homes without their cell phones. I can’t leave my room without my elbow-length gloves. It helps me hide the ugly appendage and the light show that accompanies it.
But now that my arm’s buzzing . . .
I pause with my hand on the doorknob. What am I going to do about this thing?
I take a breath and wrench open the door, tugging on my gloves as I walk down the hall and into our large kitchen. Shayna abandons the waffle iron when she sees me and skips forward, her ponytail bouncing behind her.
She throws her arms around me like it’s been months, not hours, since she’s seen me. “Hey, T!” she tells me brightly.
I pat her back, wishing I could hug her for real. But real hugs lead to my very real tears, and I can’t keep doing this to my family. “Hey, princess. Wow, everything smells great.”
It’s the truth, yet my comment sounds phony and forced, even to me.
Her arms fall away slowly. Although she keeps her grin, I sense the worry behind it, as well as her fear. “You look hot,” she tells me, punching my good arm affectionately.
No. I look acceptable. I used to spend over an hour styling my dark wavy hair and applying my makeup. Now, I do enough so I don’t resign myself to sweats, watching made for TV movies, and stuffing my face with potato chips.
“Thanks,” I manage with yet another forced grin. I make a show of taking in all the breakfast foods, including the freshly baked muffins. “Yum. Do you need help setting the table or anything?”
“No. It’s all good.”
She says nothing more which is unusual for Shayna. Either she’s waiting for me to speak or she’s debating what to say. I can’t take another pity party so I lift a pan filled with eggs and plate stacked with waffles and bring them to the table. “Where’s your puppy?” I ask. Or in other words, where’s your gigantic scary werewolf husband, Koda?
“Oh, he already ate and left. He’s doing more at the Den since Celia’s been needing more ah, time with Aric.”
Okay, now I really grin, and so does she. Time with Aric is a mild way to describe what Celia desires from her husband.
Our youngest sister Emme walks out of the laundry room blushing, which tells me she’s heard us discussing Celia. Shayna’s grin quickly turns into a laugh. Emme’s shyness has that effect on her.
Emme clears her throat, but not her obvious discomfort. Where Shayna has dark straight hair, Emme has soft blonde waves and fair skin that reddens the longer we take her in.
“Emme,” I offer. “What’s the big deal? So what if Celia’s banging Aric like the lead drummer at a Fourth of July parade. They’re married. It happens.”
Emme holds up her hand. “Taran, please let’s keep their private life private.”
I reach for a glass of freshly squeezed juice. “I would if they weren’t so damn loud. I swear, I thought the walls were going to come down around midnight when they―”
“Taran . . .” Emme whimpers, shaking her hands like she can’t stand to hear another word.
Emme’s always been so sweet and angelic. Me? Not at all. “Hey, do you suppose Celia’s more flexible now, given how Aric knocked her up? As in ankles behind the head kind of flexible―”
Emme lifts a muffin with her force and sends it soaring. I catch it just before it rams me in the mouth. “Eat,” she insists. “Just eat.”
In other words, for once in your life, shut your inappropriate trap.
Shayna takes a seat beside me, laughing her skinny ass off. Emme sits, too, in time for Celia to stagger down the back steps.
Good God. Celia’s long curly hair is tousled from lack of sleep and the insane amount of sex she’s had. And her eyes are glazed with a hunger that warns me not to get too close. “Is there bacon? Please tell me there’s bacon,” she growls as if crazed.
Her entire face beams when Emme levitates a plateful of bacon and lowers it in front of an empty seat. Like a woman possessed, Celia sits and rams about four pieces in her mouth at once. The rest of us watch her in stunned silence as she chomps them down and reaches for another few slices. She freezes when she realizes we’re all gaping at her. “Sorry. Would you like some?”
Her tigress eyes replace her human ones, making it clear she’s only trying to be polite. And that only an idiot would get between her and her breakfast.
“No, nope, uh-uh,” the three of us answer at once.
This seems to settle her inner beast enough so Celia’s human eyes once more blink back at us. I pour her a glass of juice, while Emme and Shayna carefully place plates stacked with food closer to her reach. What can I say, we don’t want to be eaten.
“Are you all right?” Emme asks her quietly.
Celia slows her frantic munching. “I don’t know,” she admits, her husky voice trickling with concern. She lifts her T-shirt and shows us her tiny belly. “The baby’s not growing.”
We’ve noticed that, too. Her pregnancy had been unexpected, given she was incapable of bearing children. But within two weeks of finding out she and Aric had conceived, her baby bump had appeared and was visible through her wedding gown.
That was two months ago. And now, despite how this baby has been prophesized to rid the world of evil, we’re all pretty much freaking out that he or she isn’t growing.
“But your body’s changing,” I insist. I don’t exactly ooze optimism. In fact, I’m a the sky is falling and the earth is swallowing us whole kind of gal. But Celia doesn’t need to hear what’s wrong. My girl needs hope and that’s what I give her. I point to her chest. “If your hooters don’t scream ‘I’m knocked up’, I don’t know what does.”
She glances at her girls and then back at me, the tension in her shoulders lifting slightly. “They are a lot bigger,” she agrees quietly. She gathers her thoughts, appearing to want to say more despite her obvious hesitation. “And my body does feel like it’s becoming something more. Maybe not outwardly, but I can feel the difference inside of me.”
“What are you feeling, Ceel?” Shayna asks. “Is your magic changing?”
Celia nods. “The magic that helped me get pregnant seems to complement mine. But my hormones are out of control.” Her cheeks flush and she lowers her voice. “Poor Aric. I can’t stop having sex with him. It’s like every time I see him, I pounce.”
Aric bounds down the steps as if called, his eyes glassy from lack of sleep and his five o’clock shadow now a full-out beard thanks to his preference to satisfy Celia’s needs rather than shave. His face lights up when he sees Celia, kind of like she did at the sight of bacon.
“Yeah, poor bastard,” I mutter.
“Hey, beautiful,” he says to Celia, bending to kiss her lips.
She smiles against his mouth. “Hey, wolf,” she answers, stroking his beard lightly.
Emme inches away when Celia’s stare suggests the need for something more than breakfast. Aric, being Aric, returns that look with equal force. I start to laugh, not because of Celia and Aric, but because of Emme’s response. She’s glancing around at the food like she knows it’s going to end up splattered across Celia’s and Aric’s soon-to-be naked bodies.
My laugh lodges in my throat when my right arm jerks as if shocked. Shayna lowers her fork. “You okay, T?” she asks.
I shove my arm under the table. “Fine,” I say. I reach for glass of juice with my opposite hand, trying to stay calm. Celia and Emme didn’t notice my twitch, and I don’t think Aric did either, but something about me lures his attention away from Celia.
He cocks his head, his nose flaring as if his alpha wolf has latched onto something. “Taran, what’s wrong?” he asks.
Celia’s and Emme’s attention drifts my way. Shayna rises, fear crinkling her brow.
“I’m tired,” I say dismissively, feeling my pulse start to race. I push my chair out. “I should head back to bed. I didn’t sleep much―”
All at once, and without warning, pain burns its way across my affected limb, curling me forward in agony. My arm whips out, sending the table and all its contents soaring with freakish speed. Plates shatter on the floor as the table imbeds, with a loud bang, into the wall, directly above where Celia sat seconds before.
I lift my head as the burn recedes, searching for her, panicked I harmed her. Tears of relief and residual pain slide down my face when I see Aric lower her to floor and far away from me. She and our sisters stare back at me stunned. But Aric? Holy shit, he’s pissed.
“Taran, what are you doing?” he growls.
I shake my head, knowing he’s angry I almost hurt Celia. “I’m not doing anything . . .”
The burn returns and so does its torment. This time, I can’t bite back my screams. I stumble forward. Aric races to me. I don’t see him. I only feel his body and hear the crunch of bone when my arm flails and connects with his jaw.
He crashes against the granite counter with a grunt as my arm jerks wildly and the burn increases tenfold.
My vision fades in and out and my body thrashes, the erratic movements of my limb throwing me against the wall. I collapse, my arm still beating itself against the floor with enough force to splinter and punch through the wood. I’m not thinking. I can’t. Everything hurts.
No. Everything burns.
“Cut it off!” I scream.
Shayna reaches for a knife, elongating it with her power and manipulating it into a deadly sword. She lifts the blade above my spastic arm, her expression torn. By now I’m sobbing, and all but clawing at my face.
“Please,” I beg her. “Cut it off!”
“I can’t,” Shayna chokes out. “I can’t do this.”
“Pin it,” Celia yells. “Pin it to the floor!”
With a flick of her wrists Shayna changes the sword’s position and brings the point down toward my raging hand. I barely feel the prick before the room erupts in a ghostly light and Shayna goes flying.
Emme screams as Shayna collides into the far wall. Aric and Celia are scrambling forward, but all thoughts are lost in my torture. I’m retching with how hard I’m crying and from the anguish crawling from my arm and into my chest.
Just as the burn reaches my heart and I begin to lose consciousness, a pale yellow light surrounds me. Slowly, very slowly, the heat charring my insides is replaced with a soothing chill I welcome like a draw of fresh air.
My body shudders as the coolness spreads like a cascade of water from a gentle spring. My pain eases and my cries dwindle. It takes a long time for the ache to lessen, and even longer for my vision to clear. But eventually it does.
Not that I like what I see.
Blood cakes the side of Shayna’s face. She winces as the bone along her eye socket pops out and the cut above her eyebrow knits close. Bile churns my gut. If Koda hadn’t passed her a portion of his werewolf essence, I would have killed her. There’s no doubt. based on the amount of blood coating her skin, and what her body had to do to heal her indented skull.
I cover my mouth. “Oh, my God,” I gasp.
“It’s okay, T,” she says, as if I can’t see the pain tightening her small pixie face. “It’s okay.”
No. Not at all, sweetie.
Aric leans forward. Being a werewolf and of pure blood, his inner beast had healed him faster than Shayna. That didn’t mean I hadn’t made rubble out of his jaw or that I hadn’t hurt him.
Or that I won’t do it again.
I had no control over my arm. None. Nor do I believe I have it now.
Aric realizes as much. I don’t miss how he keeps Celia behind him, appearing to shield her and their child from whatever I’ll unleash next.
“What happened?” he asks, his voice riddled with anger, and maybe something more.
“I don’t know,” I respond, my voice trembling and my body strangely weak. “I felt pain and it-it went wild.”
“Your arm?” It’s a question, but he’s not really asking.
I nod as Emme’s healing light recedes and her hands withdraw from my shoulders. Her face is unusually pale. She swallows hard, struggling to speak. “It’s her fire,” she says, barely above a whisper. She looks at Aric. “It’s eating her alive . . .
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