Ashlyn Snow is on the hunt to discover whether the shocking news the Garderia delivered is real, or a deceitful way to trick her into joining forces with them. While she fights to discover the truth, the Garderia has begun plan B, and it could put everyone at her school in danger.
Read Chapter 1 below!
Read Chapter One!
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It was all Brooklyn Kennedy could do to pay attention to her history teacher. As fascinating as the teacher found the middle colonies to be, Brooklyn didn’t care. Not today. Today, Brooklyn didn’t care about English explorer Henry Hudson or how he sailed into what is now the Hudson Bay. She didn’t care that it was first owned by the Dutch and later surrendered to the English. Today, Brooklyn was going on her very first date with the boy she’d been crushing on ever since running into him at the bookstore in the mall two months ago.
Okay, she silently scolded herself. Maybe it wasn’t an actual date. It was a study group for a boy who went to a completely different school and who needed help in a class Brooklyn didn’t even take. In her mind, those technical details made it a date but were conveniently left out when she told her parents that she had a study group.
Brooklyn stared at the clock, willing it to move faster. The longer she stared, the slower it seemed to tick by. She chewed on her pen cap as she thought about what she was going to wear, what she was going to say, whether or not she should touch his shoulder when he made her laugh. Would that seem too forward? Would he get the wrong impression of her? Should she play it cool? Act like she wasn’t that into him?
Brooklyn felt completely out of her league with this boy. He said he was a junior at rival high school Hurricane High, but Brooklyn would have initially pegged him to be closer to 21 or 22. Then again, Hurricane boys grew up faster. They had to. They were often outside working with their dads at a young age, whether in construction, on the farm, or learning the automotive trade. The boys of Hurricane didn’t get their strength from a gym or a workout bench; they got it from lifting hay and working outdoors since they could walk. Hurricane was a smaller town only twenty minutes away from St. George, but everything they did in Hurricane, they made sure they were the best at it. The basketball team was already pegged to take the region title and it was somewhat of a shock they didn’t beat the Desert Hills football team earlier this year. The Desert Hills Thunder had barely beat Hurricane during the region playoffs and the Thunder went on to win the state title during a rare Hail Mary pass. The Hurricane Tigers didn’t take the defeat well and promised to get their revenge on the basketball court.
Brooklyn didn’t care about such things though. She wasn’t into sports and it made no difference which schools won which championships. She wasn’t even into boys all that much until she met Liam. She had been carrying a stack of books in her arms when she quite literally ran right into him and her tower of fiction novels went crashing to the floor. She wasn’t sure which she was more embarrassed by: that she was caught not paying attention to where she was walking, or that the cutest boy she’d ever met had seen her favorite genre of books when he helped her pick them up.
Brooklyn blushed at the memory. She could remember every detail, from the way he ran his fingers through his shaggy blonde hair to the way her skin had tingled when he brushed against her arm to hand her the books. He had large calloused hands, but had touched her so gently, as if she was a fragile piece of glass. He had walked her to the cash register, carrying some of her purchases for her, before asking her if she wanted to grab a coke at the food court before going home. Brooklyn had never felt her heart race like that before. Maybe it was because of his muscular build, his icy blue eyes, or his sly smile that had a hint of mischievousness to it, but she couldn’t fight the feeling that it was more than his good looks that drew her to him. She couldn’t yet put her finger on it, but he was the only boy she’d ever paid attention to who wasn’t the protagonist in one of her books.
Brooklyn realized she’d been daydreaming and immediately looked around to see if anyone had noticed, but as usual, no one was looking at her. She picked up her pencil and began doodling on her notebook.
Sam watched the painfully shy girl as he did most days. He sat in the back corner, preferring to go unnoticed. It also gave him the vantage point of watching her each day. She liked to sit near the front and pay attention to the teacher. She was the kind of girl who always got straight A’s while he skated by on D’s most of the time. She kept to herself, sitting with the same two girls at lunch each day and never drawing attention their way. He was even more of a loner, sitting by himself usually outside near the parking lot and away from the other students. He preferred being alone because then he never got caught smoking or had to share the cigarettes he stole from his mom’s purse. But he often wondered what it would be like to sit next to the girl with the three shades of blonde in her hair, skin so pale that any attention her way caused the slightest blush on her cheeks and made her stand out from across the room. Her hands were delicate with the fingers of an elegant piano player. He had no idea if she played the piano, but he often imagined her sitting in her living room, eyes closed while gracefully playing a Brahms piece or something equally sophisticated.
He drummed his pencil on the desk quietly, not wanting anyone to look his way, but unable to sit still. Sam played the drums and sitting through class day in and day out without making any noise was not something he was particularly good at. His favorite class of the day was in the morning: band. He didn’t particularly like the class or the other kids in it, but he liked that it was the one class where he could move, fidget with his drumsticks and make music. History class was about as boring as they came, except that Brooklyn Kennedy was in that class. It was a nice way to end the day if he had to sit at school. Today, Brooklyn was drawing in her notebook instead of taking notes like she usually did. He watched her delicate hands glide across the corner of the page carelessly, clearly not drawing anything in particular. He wondered what had her distracted today, but he knew he’d never find out. She didn’t even know he existed.
When the bell rang, he nearly jumped from his seat as he always did, eager to get out of the building that felt like a prison most days. In his hurry, he nearly ran into a group of students in the hallway.
“Hey! Watch it!” a girl yelled after him as he barreled through the students meandering in the hallway.
Sam ignored her. She was the blonde cheerleader who thought she was better than everyone else. Kylee or Kimmie or something equally annoying. He couldn’t understand why they all weren’t in a hurry to get out of there. He exited the school through one of the side entrances and inhaled. A full day of school was equivalent to being suffocated for eight hours. He would’ve preferred to drop out, but he wasn’t 18 and couldn’t legally leave yet.
One more year, he thought to himself. Then I can go wherever I want.
Sam walked through the parking lot, looking for the banged up blue truck that he always caught a ride in on Mondays. On Mondays, he had to serve community service for the last time he got caught skipping class to grab a smoke. The empty beer can in his possession hadn’t helped much either. Sam just needed something to calm his nerves to finish the day, but the school principal didn’t see it that way. The judge in juvenile court must have had some pity on him though and gave him once-a-week community service for six months. His mom had thrown a tantrum right in the courtroom about how she couldn’t handle him anymore and how he cost her too much. He knew his dad paid child support, but what his mom did with it Sam would never know. He’d stolen his last pair of shoes after being unable to even walk in his old ones he’d outgrown by several sizes. Luckily, he had yet to get caught shoplifting. That was all he needed.
But Sam had gotten lucky by getting caught skipping class. His probation officer helped him get a part-time job after school. As long as he finished his community service and went to each class with a passing grade, he could keep his job. He hid the money from his mom and used it to buy food most days and sometimes clothes. He was trying to save enough money to leave town as soon as he turned 18. He was even considering staying the extra few months for graduation, too, depending on how stable things were at home at that point.
Sam found the truck and leaned against the passenger side. One of the guys at school had been stuck on community service detail, too, and offered to give him a ride each week. Sam had gladly taken it, not wanting to completely wear out the now semi-new shoes. He didn’t mind walking but he needed them to last for awhile. He stretched his arms over his head lazily and looked at the sky. It was a typical bright day, as it usually was in southern Utah, but it was still chilly. He’d heard kids at school saying they even expected a white Christmas this year, which was a joke because it never snowed in St. George. Sam would love to see a snowy Christmas for once. He even had an aunt who lived an hour north. They already had several inches of snow and it was only mid-December. But Sam never got to see her. He never got to see anyone.
“Hey, man. How’s it going?” Chase Denier asked as he walked up to the truck.
Sam gave a nod. “What’s up?”
That was the extent of their conversations on most days. Sam got in when Chase unlocked the truck and then waited. Although Chase never said anything, Sam knew they weren’t leaving the parking lot until the dark-haired short girl got into her SUV and drove away. With a car like that, Sam figured she was a rich snob Chase had fallen for who wouldn’t give him the time of day. On days Sam couldn’t find the truck, he’d find the rich girl’s Land Rover first and then knew the truck would be within sight. Luckily, the dark-haired girl didn’t like being at school any longer than Sam did. She was usually in her SUV and leaving the parking lot before Sam could even get his seat belt on. Today was no different. Sam saw her unlock her car, swinging her long hair over her shoulder to remove her backpack and throw it on the passenger side before getting in. She started the ignition and started backing up while simultaneously putting on her seat belt. Chase started the truck and followed her out of the parking lot.
Sam shook his head, but never said anything. He didn’t know anything about Chase or the girl and he didn’t want to.
Ashlyn Snow parked her Land Rover across the street from the home for troubled youth – or at least, that’s what the general public thought it was. In fact, it was a home for teenagers like Ash who had magic. Ash still wasn’t comfortable with the fact that she was a witch, but at least she didn’t have to be housed in a special home like she was a locked-up psycho ready to attack. Although she knew the house was run more like a college dormitory, Ash thought of the teens as prisoners who possibly deserved to be shut away from the rest of the world.
Ever since hearing her parents could still be alive, Ash looked at the world in a completely different light. Anger. Every inch of her filled with rage. She didn’t know how to find out if Derek, or Damont if that was his real name, was telling her the truth. She didn’t know if her Aunt Viv knew because she hadn’t been able to talk to her since being dropped off two months ago at her cousins’ home in Utah. She also didn’t know if the Protectors knew anything about her parents, but that piece of information she was hoping to find out.
Ash glanced at the clock. She had just enough time to demand answers from the home’s legal guardian, Shawn, before she had to go to work. It wasn’t that she cared any longer if she made it to work on time or not, but since she’d been caught sneaking out last week, and subsequently grounded, she knew she had to obey the rules. School. Work. Home. That was her life. Except at least at work she could see her boyfriend. That made going much more worthwhile.
Ash sprinted to the front door, knocked once and then let herself in. She didn’t have time for pleasantries and she wasn’t in the mood to be polite anyway. The Protectors, or at least HER protector, wasn’t on her good-mood list anymore. She nodded to a few kids who said “hi” to her, but went straight to Shawn’s office without stopping. The door was open and she walked in without hesitation.
“Well, hello, Ashlyn,” Shawn said cheerfully. “Haven’t seen you in a few weeks.”
Ash tilted her head toward the door. “Glad to see you got everything patched up.”
The last time she’d been at the house, they’d been chased by Witchfinders. She’d been kidnapped while Shawn had been injured in a blast that took out the front door.
Shawn stood. “We have some skilled carpenters in the house. What can I do for you today? You seem like someone on a mission.”
Ash paused, feeling nervous for the first time. She didn’t know if she was ready to hear the truth.
“Someone came to see me last week,” she said. “At the winter dance.”
Shawn pointed to the seat across from his desk, then sat in the one next to it. “I recall Chase was very frantic trying to find you. You apparently pulled a disappearing act. Do we know who this someone is?”
Ash scoffed. “For someone who is supposed to be my protector, he sure gets distracted easily.”
Ash’s cheeks burned at the memory of looking for Chase at the dance, and finding him in the hallway kissing his ex-girlfriend. She’d left the dance, and her date, behind when Demont had found her in the parking lot and dropped the bomb that her parents were still alive. Only moments later, her own ex had called to say he’d moved to town. As far as dramatic nights went, that had to be at the top of the list. But now she and Kurt were back together and her previous boyfriend, Aidan, the quarterback of the football team, was out of her life. Ash didn’t bother even talking to Chase, who she’d secretly liked and thought he’d liked her back. For the drama she’d been through the last couple months, things were actually getting back to normal – as normal as they could be when one discovers she’s a witch.
“Anyway,” Ash continued, “his name is Demont.”
She saw Shawn visibly stiffen.
“And he said something about my parents.”
She waited for Shawn to offer up any information before she continued.
After a few moments, Shawn stood and began pacing. “Ash, I don’t know what Demont said or what he thinks he knows, but I do know that you can’t trust anyone from the Garderia. They are not our friends. Anything he said to you was probably a lie to get you to trust him.”
Ash swallowed. Logically, she knew that. The Garderia was a group of witches that hated any non-witch and blamed them for having to go into hiding. They worked together to gather up the most powerful witches in hopes of taking back their rightful place in the world some day. The Protectors actively worked to stop them, while holding off the Witchfinders, non-witches, as well.
“He said my parents are still alive,” Ash said quietly.
Shawn turned to face her in shock. Slowly, his face turned to sorrow and he gave Ash a look that told her he pitied her. It infuriated her.
“I want to know the truth,” she said slightly louder than she’d intended. “Are my parents alive?”
Shawn shook his head. “I have no reason to believe they are, Ash. Where would they be after all these years?” He crossed the room toward her and she stepped back. “Ash, the Garderia will say anything. If your parents are alive, I’ll do everything in my power to find out, and find them.”
She involuntarily scoffed again. “Big words for someone with no actual powers.” The second the words were out of her mouth, she felt awful for saying them. Shawn wasn’t a witch, but his brother had been. Shawn had spent his entire adult life dedicated to protecting the teens in his care after losing his brother. “I’m sorry,” she mumbled. She quickly walked out and went to her car with tears stinging the corners of her eyes.