Authors: Christine O'Neil
Tags: #teen, #ember, #goddess, #young adult, #god, #Christine O'Neil, #romance series, #Chaos, #romance, #entangled, #mythology, #Entangled DigiTeen, #succubus
“Go Ducks?” Mac said in a tone drier than Hortense’s elbows.
I tossed my backpack onto the nearest table, wheeled around, and glared at him, infuriated as much by my body’s reaction to him as I was by his words. “Back off, Finnegan. I don’t know what I’ve done to deserve all this attention from you, but if you could let me know, I promise I’ll stop doing it immediately.”
His gray gaze traveled from the top of my head down to my toes and back again, and the skin on my arms prickled. “Can’t help myself. You just look so fine in your t-shirts and sneakers, I can’t help myself.”
The jab made my stomach burn, but I wasn’t about to let him get the best of me again. I held my arms up high like “look your fill” and smiled but the witty retort on my lips disappeared when his gaze shot to the strip of abdomen my move had bared and stayed there.
On a dime, the teasing fled and the cocky smile that had tipped his lips disappeared. His gaze shot back up and he jammed an agitated hand through his hair. A secret thrill shivered through me, and I stamped it out, lowering my arms.
Who cared what he said? I should be happy he didn’t like my clothes.
So turn the other cheek, stupid and walk away
, the rational part of me counseled wisely.
And then, right on its heels, from the irrational part?
I pushed down hard to squash the energy that whipped at me, struggling to get out. A wisp of power escaped in spite of my best efforts, and the air in front of me crackled.
He looked at me, I looked at him, and he tilted his head to the side questioningly.
I froze, waiting to see if he called me on it. The crackle had been so slight, like the shock when two people touch after rubbing their feet on the carpet over and over, but it was there. I had no explanation to give him short of the truth, and the odds of that happening were about as good as Hortense inviting me over for dinner some time.
Lucky for me, Mr. Foster had killer timing and came barreling in, wild-eyed with his brown vest and perpetually coffee-stained white button down shirt, looking like he’d just been called out of a super-villain’s meeting where they were discussing whether or not to deploy the nanobots.
Mac and I slowly backed away from each other, never breaking eye contact, like boxers at the end of a round. My knees hit the back of my chair and I sat with a thud, heart stuttering as he finally looked away.
“Good afternoon, class,” Mr. Foster said, adjusting his thick, round glasses. “We’re going to spend our period finishing up the decoupage project, so why don’t you get right to it. I’ll be at my desk grading papers,” —which we all knew was code for drinking whiskey from a coffee mug and posting on communist blogs. He motioned to the corner where the table he called his desk was tucked. “So feel free to come ask questions if you have a problem.”
I liked Mr. Foster, I just thought he would have done better if the seventies had lasted longer. Still, I was happy to do as he instructed and get down to work. The quicker I settled in and focused on trying to make some art, the quicker I’d be able to ignore Mac.
I wasted no time, glancing over the back countertop filled with half-finished projects and easily spotted my partially covered wooden music box. Surprisingly, it wasn’t the worst one—although, to be honest, decoupage is all pretty bad—and I plucked it from the pile. Crossing the room, I eyed all the tables to see where Mac had slung his backpack and saw it resting near Summer’s, so I beelined for the farthest table from theirs.
One thing I could say about art—I might have been bad at it, but it was really pretty soothing sometimes. Therapeutic.
The first thirty minutes of class flew by as I cut and squished and smoothed. Mindless work, and my brain so needed the break. I worked myself into a sort of meditation, where my fingers moved of their own accord. The dull hum of quiet chatter, the scent of glue and varnish and magazine paper.
I reached for another cutout and realized with a start that I’d run out. I was going to have to walk by Mac to get more. I considered not, but with another twenty minutes left to the period, I had no choice.
Standing, hyperaware of my non-descript T and button-fly jeans, I went up for more scraps, aggressively ignoring my new, self-appointed nemesis. Q: When had I become self-conscious about my look? A: Yesterday. Before then, I’d been all about dressing first for comfort and second for the barest hint of streamlined, no-fuss style. I lived in jeans paired with long-sleeve tees in the winter and shorts and camis in the summer, but even those made me feel a little bare lately. Contrary to Finnegan’s snide remarks, they looked fine. End of story. How that translated into a comment-worthy wardrobe was beyond me.
I pushed my nerves aside and stood, crossing the room, determined not to hide in the corner because he’d made me feel self-concious. In fact, halfway there, I added a little swing to my step just in case he was looking because screw him.
When I got to the table with all the decorative clippings and magazines, I noted Summer standing next to me at the sink. She’d pulled off her rings and put them next to the basin while she made “yuck” faces and tried to scrub the glue from her hands. All the calm I’d built up from Zen-decoupaging evaporated under the heat of need as my gaze flicked, unbidden, back to the tiny mound of jewelry sitting on the counter next to her. I took inventory quickly—a small aquamarine in a cushion cut surrounded by little diamond chips, a plain silver ring with the shape of a cross hammered into it, and a class ring. It was the last that set my heart racing and my palms tingling in an all too familiar way.
I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, but the lure was so strong, my knees nearly buckled.
My lids flicked open and the need to fight it—that twinge of conscience that always came first—dissipated. After days of battling myself internally for control, it all became too much, and I wanted…
this. I was in full-on hunt mode. An apex predator through and through, and there was no place for guilt.
I’d feel sick later, but it was better than what would happen if I didn’t feed the need. So much better.
Mr. Foster spoke, but his words didn’t register over the euphoric buzzing in my head. I watched as Summer patted her hands dry on the industrial brown paper towels she’d torn off the roll and chatted with a friend at the table behind her.
Walk away. Walk away.
The chant that started out as a mental plea aimed at Summer morphed into a command. A command from the brain of the world’s worst hypnotist. Color me shocked when she did it. Summer Bochino walked away, chattering to her tablemates, her little pile of treasures forgotten. I wet my suddenly sandpaper-dry lips and attempted to keep calm. To think clearly, but I was lost to the need.
I made a show of rifling through the magazines and pictures in front of me, stopping every so often like I’d found something I was considering, but the gaze trained on the countertop was unseeing. I was biding my time.
It was a huge risk. She could realize her mistake any second and my chance would be lost. The thought of it almost made me throw caution aside and leap toward the sink like Sméagol after his preciousss, but no good would come of that and my chances of getting what I needed would be obliterated. Another minute ticked by, and no one else approached the sink.
Heart pounding, I set the papers aside, clutching a small sheaf in my trembling hand. I cleared my throat to alleviate the choking sensation and sidled super casual-like to the sink. Once I was there, I was almost giddy. Home free, really. Because this part I was good at. When you take things that aren’t yours on the regular, you get pretty good at it fairly quick. And after months of what I had so creatively dubbed “collecting,” I think I could give The Artful Dodger a run for his money.
It was done in a flash. One second, three sparkling rings sat on the scarred Formica. The next, only two.
The euphoria I felt when I nabbed it was the closest thing I’d felt to joy since the change had started. The band of gold burned against my hip, a living thing in my pocket, and the power of it rocked me. I closed my eyes and let it fill me to the brim. Voices penetrated my glow, and I realized I needed to get moving. I slunk back the way I’d come and sat back in my seat.
I was still waiting for my pulse to stop kicking when a shadow fell across the table.
“Get everything you need, then, Magpie?”
I shouldn’t have worried about my pulse beating too hard because those words—spoken in the musical lilt of Ireland—made it stop altogether. Sure, he could be checking up on my project and if I’d gotten enough clippings to add to it. And sure, he could just be breaking my balls for shits and giggles. But he’d called me Magpie. Not Maggie, or even Mags or Raynard. But Magpie? WTF? A type of bird, I thought…
I shrugged noncommittally and focused so hard on my project I could feel a vein throb in my forehead. He stood there for what seemed like another full minute before he finally turned and walked away. The second he did, I tugged out my phone and peered at it under the table. I tapped out the letters into Google and waited while it loaded.
Please, for the love of all that is holy, don’t let him have seen—
The word popped up with a list of definitions, but my eyes were instantly drawn to the only one that mattered.
Magpie: N. A black and white bird of the crow family. Makes a large, round nest of twigs cemented with mud and is known for being attracted to and hoarding small, shiny objects.
The room spun, and I resisted the urge to bend low and put my head between my knees to make it stop. It was only the thought of giving up my new prize that had me gathering myself up and sitting straighter to crane my neck so I could stare at his profile. He was pretending to be engrossed in his work, and I turned away.
So he knew. Okay. I could handle this. One more thing to add to the ever-growing pile of stuff he had on me. Either way, I wasn’t copping to shit, and I sure wasn’t putting the ring back. It would have been easier to cut off a finger and, quite possibly, a lot less destructive. If he wanted to accuse me, he’d have to come right out and do it. If I got expelled, or worse, arrested, I’d get off with a slap on the wrist. This was just another reason to talk to Mom about homeschooling. Home and alone was probably where I belonged.
I waited in nauseating silence as the minutes eked by, but still not another peep from Mac. I wanted to slump with relief even if it was premature. Maybe I’d dodged another bullet, but in the middle of this clusterfuck of a war that I didn’t know the origins of, that wasn’t saying much.
One thing was for sure: Mac wasn’t done with me.
I only wished I knew what his endgame was. Libby’s theory about little boys pulling pigtails was a thin one, but in spite of my loathing for him, it was the least awful, even if it did complicate things. The other alternative—that this guy had it out for me and I was smack in the middle of a bad revenge movie and had no idea what my lines were—meant things were going to come to a head soon, and it wasn’t going to be pretty.
He knew I was
and now he knew I was a thief. I shuddered to think what other secrets I might give up before he stopped his attack. The thought was chilling.
And still? Through it all? My prize burned. Tingled. Pulsed with a curious and addictive energy that couldn’t be dampened by my near miss.
“Oh my God, my ring!”
I winced at Summer’s dismayed gasp, and my stomach went sour. I’d hoped maybe we’d get out of class before she realized, but lately my luck had been about as good as a Kim Kardashian song.
“Problem, Summer?” Mr. Foster stood from behind his “desk” and frowned.
“I took my rings off to wash my hands to get that gross goo off, and I forgot to put them back on and now one of them is gone.” She bent low and began searching the floor. Mr. Foster rounded the table and joined her, and several classmates followed suit.
I kept my eyes on my decoupage and may have even managed a murmur of dismay, but I didn’t move to help. That was too hypocritical, even for me. But that didn’t mean I didn’t feel bad. I felt terrible. Like super bad. And a part of me, albeit the weaker one, wanted to stand up, pull the ring out of my pocket, and hand it to her. But I just couldn’t. At that moment, I needed that ring like Katniss needed a sponsor.
“Do you think it could have fallen down the drain?” Mac asked, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes in feigned concern.
My gaze shot to his face, but his expression was blank. Throwing out a false trail for me? What was he playing at now?
“Maybe.” Summer shrugged helplessly, and her perfect bow of a mouth trembled a little. “But that was Alex’s class ring that he let me wear when we started going out.”
That was what gave it power, made it special, and, by default, irresistible to me. It was a symbol of love, probably first from Alex’s parents to him, then from him to Summer. My stomach pitched again, but I held strong. What I had done was awful. Disgusting. Truly terrible. And what I might do if I had to give it back? Made that look like a day at the fucking beach. So I kept my lips zipped and waited in silence.
When the bell rang a minute later, I shot out of my seat like it was on fire. Friday. A couple more classes to get through and I was out of here for two blessed days. That’s all I needed—a little time to recover, regroup, and reassess. I could handle Mac Finnegan just fine as soon as I got my shit together.
I stuck my music box onto the counter with the rest and all but ran out of the classroom. Summer, Mr. Foster, and a couple of other students hung back, still looking for the ring, but Mac wasn’t one of them.
“Me and you are going to need to talk,” Mac murmured as he moved in close, matching his gait to mine. I was in no position to argue, at least not then, so I settled for silence.
“Soon,” he pressed. “How about tonight?”
I shook my head. “Can’t. I’m going to the movies tonight.” We both knew he held all the cards, and if he wanted to, he could have told me that my plans were now broken, but he didn’t. He eyed me long and hard, his eyes going flat.