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Burning Emerald: the Cambion Chronicles
Halloween with the gang was no casual affair and we took our sugar raid to almost militant proportions. Back in the day, Mia, Dougie, and I were the original A-Team, laying waste to entire junk food industries one block at a time, leaving devastation and candy wrappers in our wake. We outgrew plastic masks and pumpkin buckets, but those three kids laughing in the night stayed trapped in time. Which was why I resorted to blackmail to reunite the trio for one last stand.
Caleb managed to squeeze an extra invitation to Courtney’s party for Mia, and I dangled that carrot over her head until she called a truce with Dougie. The holiday just wouldn’t be the same without him, leaving Mia no choice but to put up or shut up.
It took me over an hour to get dressed, but seeing the results in the mirror was well worth the trouble. Covered from head to toe in my favorite color and five pounds of glitter, my costume revealed plenty of leg for Caleb to drool over. They were my best asset, Caleb’s Kryptonite, and a foolproof weapon against Courtney B.’s advances during the party.
Just after seven, Mia picked me up, wearing a short-cropped wig and a spandex suit with neon lining that had to be painted on. She spared no expense on authenticity, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if she bought the costume from a studio back lot.
“Why, if it isn’t Quorra, the rebel without a Clu.” I called from the top of the stairs.
She whirled a glowing Frisbee with her finger and watched my awkward descent to the foyer. It took true agility to walk through narrow passages while rocking a four-foot wingspan.
Crossing her arms, she conducted a MRI on my attire, her eyes missing nothing. “What are you supposed to be again?”
“The green fairy.” I twirled around, my frayed ballerina skirt and sheer wings danced around me.
Mia’s nose crinkled, her mouth shifted from side to side. “Like the one from Pinocchio?”
“That’s the blue fairy. Mine is more provocative.” I rolled my shoulders and swayed my hips.
“No, you’re definitely not a Disney character. More like Tim Burton.” She smirked.
I stopped mid-spin and frowned. “You ready to go?”
“Yep. I’ve got a score to settle and I wanna make Dougie squirm. Always let your ex see what he’s missing,” Mia replied and pushed up her cleavage.
I swooped up my bag waiting by the door when Mom entered the foyer.
“Oh, don’t you two look … nice.” She grimaced. “Won’t you be cold?”
“We’ll be fine, Ms. M. I got an extra coat in the car,” Mia said.
“All right then, you two be careful. Don’t touch any candy that looks tampered with and don’t eat anything people baked. I just saw on the news where this man slipped rat poison in his cookies and—”
“Thanks, Mom. We’ll keep that in mind. Later.” I opened the door and shoved Mia out before Mom gave us nightmares.
“Have fun, baby. And remember what I told you.” Mom tapped her wrist, indicating the bracelet on mine.
With a groan, I nodded then closed the door behind me.
A ten-minute drive across town led us to the back entrance of Kings Mill, an upper-class neighborhood with a guard gate, a dozen golf courses, duck ponds, and a plethora of wild parties. Set on top of the hill overlooking the James River laid the clubhouse where the big shin dig took place. Just pulling into the car show posing as a parking lot, I knew we were in for a night of pretension.
Mia was halfway to the door when she noticed I didn’t follow. “Sam, where you going?”
I didn’t answer and let her chase me around the building to the service parking lot in three-inch heels. I broke into a run, following the sound of heavy bass growing louder. When she finally caught up to me, she didn’t look happy at the change in plans.
Dougie’s Range Rover parked in the fire zone with the engine roaring. The tinted windows and metal framework shuddered under the sonic boom of gangster rap. On sight of us, he climbed out, unleashing lyrical turmoil and auto-tunes on the neighborhood. As if to enhance his street cred, Dougie wore the exact white suit that made Al Pacino infamous in the hip-hop world.
I shook my head. “Douglas, Douglas, Douglas, why do you do this to yourself?”
His lips twisted to the side of his face as he shrugged. “I gotta do me, naw mean man?” He said in an impressive Tony Montana parody. “What you ’spose to be?”
I threw my hands in the air in frustration. “What is wrong with you people? I’m the green freaking fairy! You know, the one that appears when you get high after drinking—”
“Absinth,” Caleb said behind me. Flashing a grin, he dropped his box of equipment and reached our side.
I bowed my head in gratitude and pulled him to me. “Thank you. Finally.”
With a look of indifference, Dougie said, “Okay, whatever. You look like Tinkerbelle with a drug problem.”
“Shut up, Dougie!” I hissed then wrapped my arms around the lost inhabitant of Middle Earth.
Wearing a long blond wig, pointy ears, and gray leggings, Caleb was a dead ringer for the arrow-slinging elf. He approved of my choice in costumes, judging by the subtle glow to his eyes. The luminous effect spoke volumes and brought this ethereal character to life. Strapped to his back lay a custom-made bow and arrow that I saw numerous times on his living room wall.
“Nice costume. You’ll use any excuse to show off your longbow, won’t you?” I joked.
His lips touched my ear as he whispered, “I don’t need an excuse, and you are more than welcome to see my longbow at any time. It’s quite impressive, if I do say so myself.”
Shaking off the delicious tingle, I backed away before I took him up on his offer.
“Caleb, hey.” Mia cut in and flung herself in his arms.
Holding her tight, Caleb took her for a spin before setting her down. He spread her arms wide to take in the full package. “Wow, great Tron outfit. You trying to get back on the grid?”
A nice shade of pink rushed to Mia’s cheeks, but drained away at Caleb’s next statement.
“Well, it’s closer than you think. Doug’s helping me set up, so you have plenty of time to talk to him.” Caleb tucked in his lips to hide his smile.
Mia cut her eyes at the group, now coming to the realization that this was a trap.
Dougie walked backward toward the main door, still wearing that hard look of thug life. “Y’all rollin’ or what?”
I could see Dougie was getting to her, but that chip on her shoulder put up a fight. I bumped Mia in the arm when she didn’t move. “Come on, Mia. One night won’t kill you.”
The next hour went by in a string of activity. While Caleb went to work, Mia and Dougie scattered to opposite sides of the hall to avoid killing each other. Stranded, I dove into the throng of the repetitive, half-naked clichés. Peppered throughout the skin parade stood the Dark Knight, six variations of Lady GaGa, Freddy, Jason, Shrek, Optimus Prime, and EVERY Anime character known to man.
Lost on the dance floor, I ate my fill on life, consuming the electricity in the air, licking the pulse that kept in synch with the throbbing bass. Bodies brushed against me, hot and clammy with their exertion and rolled with the current of the music. Shafts of light dragged over this living sea, capturing split-second flashes of movement within the surf.
After my meal, I went to the bar and ordered a hot drink. Instead of coffee, a mug of hot cocoa rested in front of me with pumpkin marshmallows floating at the top.
“Best I can do, kid. Sorry. Don’t wanna get you guys hopped up on caffeine,” the bartender in a Frankenstein costume said in remorse.
After one sip, I realized he did me a favor. This was gourmet hot cocoa with melted chocolate bricks and cream—no powdered mix crap. Its yummy warmth coated my insides, hitting all the right spots. I wasn’t that surprised at the high-budget fare. The party screamed of rich-girl decadence, including a punch fountain and a witch and broom ice sculpture. Black and orange balloons floated to the ceiling, blotting out the row of chandeliers. Platters of mouth-watering sweets sat on each cloth table, a dieter’s nightmare, but a Cambion’s utopia.
Lifting my head, I winked at Caleb who bobbed under his headphones in the deejay booth. Our eyes locked, and as always, the world disappeared only to return when he looked away. I could tell I was getting to him as he drained his bottled water. He was almost due for a break, so I called Mia to kill time. Yes, I was one of those people who called friends just to look busy, even when that friend was in the same building. I didn’t feel too bad about it because Mia did the same thing.
“Can you believe him? He’s rubbing it in my face!” Mia wailed. The hollow echo through the line told me she hid in the bathroom.
“What did Dougie do now?”
“First, he’s all over me on the dance floor, right? And he’s talking about ‘girl, I sure do miss how you move,’ and of course you know what he means, because you know I can’t dance, but I keep flirting and laughing. Then I turn my back for a second and he’s pushing up on some blue chick at the bar.”
I looked to my far left, and sure enough, Dougie was yuckin’ it up with one of the aliens from Avatar. Dougie was a fan of the movie and he seemed to have found a kindred spirit to geek-out with. Even from this distance, the body language appeared friendly, but Mia always had selective vision. This couple-counseling thing was going to be harder than I thought.
“Two can play that game, you know,” Mia fumed in my ear. “You just wait; he’s not the only single one around here…”
Mia wasn’t the only one with jealousy issues either. I looked to the booth and spotted Caleb talking to Courtney B., and standing a little too close together for my taste. Decked out in an ironic she-devil costume, she did everything but shove Caleb’s face in her chest. While her Wonder Bra did most of the talking, Courtney handed him a bottle of water, which he eagerly took. When he finished the bottle in a single chug, she readily supplied another.
No one was that damn thirsty.
I hung up on Mia, leapt from my stool, ready to throw my hot drink in Courtney’s face, when I spotted a man in a cape and mask watching me. That stare alone created its own gravitational pull, those rich brown eyes that gleamed like brass. My hands shook so bad that I had to set down my mug before I dropped it. It amazed me how one look could suggest so many things—and all of them indecent. The look alone sent nerve endings on high alert, the slight brush of air shot a cold rush over my entire body. Lilith hummed between my ears, begging to come out and play.
He moved quickly through the multitude, as if knowing I would drop everything just to follow him. Heads and shoulders drifted past us, only giving me the floating hem of his cloak to go by. His eyes followed mine as the crowd entangled us, his stare glazed over with undiluted hunger.
From what little I could see, he was tall with deeply tan skin and full lips that curled seductively. This stranger had me running in circles around the party solely to confuse me, yet the urge to just touch this man reached passed the bone to the marrow. I wanted, no needed, to see his face, to know him. But something in the back of my brain told me that I already did.
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