Possessing the uncanny ability to fry a television set from twenty paces can really wreck a girl’s social life.
If you’re looking for proof, just ask sixteen-year-old Alexandra Parker. After catching her boyfriend in the arms of the prettiest girl in school, she made the journey from social elite to social pariah in a haze of electricity and exploding electronics. But finding herself at the bottom of Bay View High’s social hierarchy was nothing compared to the shock of discovering who—and what—she really is.
After being zapped out of a burning bookstore by the mysterious Declan—a hero nearly as handsome as he is infuriating—Alex finds herself under the protection of the powerful Grayson family. It’s through them that she learns the truth: that the world she’s always known is nothing like it appears to be... and that she has far more in common with them than she might want to believe.
Now, on the run from a fire-wielding hit man and a secretive government organization, Alex must navigate a strange and treacherous new world filled with superhuman mutants known as Variants. As she begins to unravel the many secrets of her family’s past, she uncovers the real reason for her parents’ death twelve years earlier—and finds out that the threat to her family, and to everyone she cares about, is still dangerously real.
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“Alex? What in the world are you doing in there?”
Alex Parker’s elbow collided with the dressing room wall, resulting in a loud thunk and a spike of pain that radiated through her forearm. She let out a grunt.
A deceptively lightweight, three-quarter sleeve, eggplant sweater—the very latest in spring fashion according to her best friend Cassie—was currently holding her captive. The fabric had wrapped itself around her neck and shoulders in some strange, cloth imitation of an Amazonian anaconda. The more Alex struggled to pull it off, the tighter its hold became.
She craned her neck from side to side, hoping to wiggle her head free from the material. No such luck.
This was why Alex didn’t do shopping.
This. Right here.
Alex stopped struggling and let out a sigh of defeat.
“Cassie?” She turned toward the curtain. At least, she thought she was facing the curtain. The world around her was being filtered through midnight-colored cashmere.
Curtain hooks scraped across a dingy metal rod as Cassie pulled aside the canvas partition and slipped inside the tiny dressing room.
“What in the…” Cassie mumbled. “How did you even…?”
Alex could feel a gentle tugging at the fabric and tried to hold still as Cassie worked the material loose.
“Scratch that,” said Cassie, pulling the sweater off of Alex with one final yank. Her expression was wry. “I don’t want to know.”
A wayward lock of hair fell into Alex’s line of sight and she blew it out of the way. Sweeping her noncompliant curls back up and into a ponytail, she tugged her muted gray tank top back into place.
With a sigh, Cassie tossed her the man-eating sweater. “So much for bringing a little color back into your wardrobe.” She frowned at the purple material as Alex worked it back onto the hanger. “I understand your desire to be invisible, Lexie, but a little color never hurt anyone.”
Cassie’s original suggestion had been a pink and white RVCA dress that cost a fortune and barely made it past Alex’s hips. The sweater had been a compromise.
It’s not that Alex particularly liked the dark colored shirts and jeans that had overtaken her closet in the last few months. They just seemed safer. Less likely to attract attention.
“Have I earned my lunch yet?” Alex asked, daring to sound hopeful.
Four months ago, a day of surf, sun and shopping at the boardwalk with her best friend would have sounded like the perfect way to spend the first day of spring break. Now it was just another cruel reminder of how much things had changed.
“Alright,” said Cassie. “Enough outlet shopping for one morning. When the clothes start fighting back, it’s definitely time for a lunch break.”
Relieved, Alex reached for her messenger bag and made her escape from the dressing room.
“Pizza?” Cassie asked, working her way toward the register. Alex trailed a few steps behind her, eyeing a lime-green bikini hanging on one of the mannequins. Her hand traced the three-inch scar that marred her right side.
“I was thinking seafood.” Alex tore her gaze away from the tiny swatches of fabric. “What do you think? In the mood for lunch at The Mainsail?”
Cassie’s march to the checkout had come to an abrupt halt. She now stood stock-still in the middle of the aisle, staring openly at a guy perusing the men’s section on the opposite side of the store.
“Hello, gorgeous!” Cassie said under her breath. She snagged Alex by the arm and spun her around so that they were facing each other. “Lexie my love, I think I’ve found your rebound man.”
Alex fought back the urge to roll her eyes. The grimace, however, wasn’t about to be contained.
This made the third rebound man Cassie had picked out for her today and it was only lunchtime.
“I don’t need a rebound man, Cass.”
“It’s been four months!”
“And you need to get back in the game! A little bit of romance is exactly what you need to get you out of this ridiculous funk that you’ve been in.”
“I’m not in a funk!”
Okay, so she’d been single for a while now and things hadn’t exactly been going her way in the love department. Or, for that matter, in any department.
That didn’t mean she was depressed.
“I’m not exactly prime dating material right now, Cassie,” she continued. “Or have you forgotten about my little affliction?”
Little affliction was putting it kindly. Alex usually referred to it as her one-way ticket to life in a traveling freak show.
Cassie huffed. “Would you at least look at the fine specimen of masculinity I’ve picked out for you before you start in on all the reasons why it won’t work?”
Resigned, Alex glanced over her shoulder at the guy in question.
And, okay, wow.
There was no questioning Cassie’s taste.
He was tall, with tousled dirty blonde hair, a couple days worth of stubble, and the most beautiful hazel eyes Alex had ever seen. The gray military-style jacket, dark jeans and motorcycle boots were a bit unwarranted given the 80-degree weather on the beach today, but the look definitely worked for him.
It obviously worked for Cassie, who couldn’t stop stealing glances at him from over her shoulder.
He was certainly interesting. And maybe Cassie was right. Maybe interesting was what she needed right now.
Seeming to sense that he was being observed, he glanced up from the t-shirt he’d been inspecting, fixed his gaze directly on Alex… and smirked.
“Ack, crap!” Alex whipped back around to face Cassie before he could see the blush creeping into her cheeks. Nothing like getting caught staring to start the blood pumping.
Alex took a deep breath and worked to calm her nerves. She could feel a charge building in the air around her and knew that she needed to relax before it built into something more destructive.
“Well that was embarrassing,” Alex mumbled.
Cassie didn’t respond. Her attention was fixed on something behind Alex, near the front of the store—something that had caused her eyes to narrow and had twisted the corners of her mouth into an angry scowl.
Before she could locate the source of her friend’s aggravation, a heavy hand came to rest on Alex’s shoulder.
“Lexie,” said a familiar voice.
Alex couldn’t help it… She jumped.
The tingle of static electricity that had begun seeping into the air of the shop a moment earlier rose quickly to a crescendo.
No stopping it now.
Two computers at the register kiosk shorted out with a fizzle and a pop. Alex listened to the salesperson cursing behind her as he attempted to resurrect the fried machines.
Alex turned around.
Her ex-boyfriend, Connor, was staring down at her with an apologetic expression. His gaze traveled between the register and Alex.
He, of all people, knew better than to sneak up on her like that.
She risked a glance toward the guy in the military jacket just as the bell attached to the shop’s front door chimed. Her mystery man was already making his way out and onto the boardwalk.
Great. Well, so much for that.
Could this morning get any worse?
Connor’s hand still gripped her shoulder. The heat radiating from his palm had her remembering a time when his touch hadn’t been quite so unwelcome.
“Connor.” Alex did her best to mimic Cassie’s scowl. “Where’s Jessica?”
He winced and had the good sense to look abashed.
As if the mere mention of her arch-nemesis was enough to summon the creature out of the darkness from whence it came, the long-legged, bleached-blonde bombshell sashayed through the front door of the shop. Her bright green eyes locked on the two of them.
Alex wished she were somewhere else. Anywhere else.
“We need to talk,” Connor said to her quietly.
She held tight to her anger and ignored the charge that was once again building in the air. Nothing left to fry… Except maybe the cell phone Connor carried in his pocket. The thought of it going nuclear while still trapped in his shorts almost made her smile.
Alex sighed. Connor was a jerk. But even he didn’t deserve that. She took another deep breath to calm herself and the static in the air began to dissipate.
Those big brown eyes of his were not going to suck her in again. He was a jerk. And he certainly didn’t deserve her pity.
Even if he did somewhat resemble a kicked puppy.
He took hold of both her shoulders then, and she was loathe to discover that his grip was still as warm and reassuring as it had been back when they were still together.
“What do you want?” asked Cassie, her voice dripping with venom on Alex’s behalf.
Still unsure of what to say to him, Alex stole a moment to look him over while Cassie had him distracted.
He definitely hadn’t waited until spring break to get to work on that tan. And judging from the wet sheen of his jet-black hair, he’d just come from the shore. He’d spent the morning surfing with Jeff and Tyler, no doubt. She tried not to picture the rock hard abs and perfectly toned shoulder muscles lurking beneath Connor’s black t-shirt.
She tried. And she failed miserably.
What was it about exes? Why were they always twice as attractive after a break-up?
Meanwhile, after her run in with the wrap-sweater-of-doom, Alex’s frizzy curls and flushed expression probably had her looking like she’d just finished the Boston marathon on a humid day.
How was that fair?
“Please, Alex,” he was saying. “I’ve got to talk to you. Just five minutes… Please.”
Alex could feel her resolve cracking around the edges.
What was wrong with her?
Before she could figure out the reason behind the traitorous emotions, Jessica’s shrill voice cut the air like a knife.
“Connor! There you are!”
Connor dropped his hands from Alex’s shoulders.
That did it. The inexplicable urge to forgive him evaporated as quickly as it had appeared. Her determination suddenly restored, she gave a nod in the direction of the irate girl stalking toward them.
“If you want someone to talk to, I’d try your girlfriend,” she said.
“Sorry, Connor.” Cassie dropped her would-be purchases onto a nearby display and grabbed Alex by the wrist. “You lost that right when you made the exceptionally bad decision to cheat on my girl here. So you can take whatever it was you wanted to say to her and shove it up your ass. She’s not interested.”
Alex turned on her heel and followed Cassie out of the store. As they emerged into the bright sunshine of the boardwalk, Alex let out a breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding.
“Ugh!” Cassie led the way down the promenade at a steady clip, her blonde hair whipping around in the breeze. “The nerve of that guy!”
Alex sucked in a deep breath of the warm salty air, grateful to be walking out onto the pier and away from any more electronic equipment. The last thing she needed right now was to accidentally barbecue another computer.
She sighed. So much for a peaceful start to their vacation.
Declan O’Connell had been reduced to babysitting.
This was so humiliating. He was going to have to have a talk with Grayson when he got home. Surely his punishment for last month’s misunderstanding should be nearing an end.
It wasn’t his fault they needed a new roof in the atrium. That had been entirely Nathaniel’s doing. Declan had merely supplied a little motivation. It was the Golden Boy that did the glass breaking.
So how was it that the Golden Boy kept picking up all the choice jobs, while Declan was stuck trailing around after high schoolers?
He leaned heavily against the brick wall of the alley and watched as his target disappeared into a restaurant across the street, only to reappear a few moments later on the wraparound patio, trailing after a hostess. They settled in at a table overlooking the water.
At least with this vantage point he wouldn’t have to follow them into the restaurant.
She’d spotted him twice already. Not that he was particularly trying to hide from her at this point. It made things easier when the target didn’t know he was there, sure, but there wasn’t any hard and fast rule about it.
Declan had been shadowing the pair for nearly an hour before he’d realized that something was off.
Usually, his job involved protecting innocent humans from the monsters that walked amongst them unnoticed. From the things that went bump in the night. Things a whole lot like him, just without the charm … or a functioning moral compass.
Judging from the haze of static electricity that followed the girl around like a rain cloud, however, there was something very different about this mark.
Playing a hunch, he’d broken his cover and followed the two girls into a clothing shop. Ten minutes later the store’s registers were toast and his suspicions had been confirmed.
He wondered if the girl knew what she was.
Better yet, he wondered if Grayson had known when he’d given Declan the assignment and just hadn’t said anything.
“I want you to keep an eye on the girl, Declan.”
“No other specifics?”
“Just keep her away from bookstores, if you can.”
Thanks, Grayson. That helps.
Apparently whoever said, “no harm ever came from reading a book” hadn’t met this girl.
Grayson’s orders were usually pretty detailed. The fact that these weren’t could mean a couple of things. Either Grayson didn’t know the specifics of the danger the girl was facing, or he did, but for whatever reason, he felt Declan didn’t need to know.
It was the second possibility that worried him.
He didn’t think that Grayson would ever intentionally send him out on an assignment at a disadvantage—but if Grayson felt like he couldn’t trust Declan with the details, then Declan wanted to know why.
The cell phone tucked in his jacket pocket began to vibrate. He fished it out and checked the screen.
The caller ID read “GRAYSON.”
Declan narrowed his eyes at the shuddering phone. Weird. Grayson never called anyone while they were in the field. He knew better.
Returning his gaze to the restaurant patio, Declan answered the call. “Miss me already?”
“I want an update on the girl.”
Declan considered telling him what he’d learned about her, and then thought the better of it. That could wait. “She’s spending the day shopping with a friend.”
“Clothes shopping. No bookstores in sight. Not so far, anyway.”
“You going to tell me why this girl is so special you’re calling me for updates? My next check-in’s not for another two hours.”
“Just do your job, Declan. Keep her safe.”
The line went dead.
If Declan had been suspicious before, now he was outright convinced that something was up.
What was so important about this girl?