THE WEIRD GIRLS: A Novella Sneak Peek
An eSpecial from Penguin's New American Library, released on Dec. 4, 2012.
The music pounded hard enough to shake Emme's fuzzy navel, the umbrella in Shayna's piña colada, Taran's martini, and my Corona. I'd shoved pieces of cocktail napkin into my über sensitive ears the moment we sat. But I wasn't going to complain about the eardrum-busting music or the crowd of young men sitting across from us ogling my sisters. We were there to celebrate.
Two years had passed since we'd left our native New Jersey. Two years of roaming the States as travelling nurses. Two years of searching for a place to settle down. We'd stumbled into the Lake Tahoe region when our agency transferred us to a local hospital on temporary assignment. We'd thought it would be fun to check out the area. We hadn't expected to fall in love with the lush forests, the breathtaking mountains, or the mysticism of the lake. But we had, and collectively agreed to make it our home sweet home.
Shayna raised her girly drink; her blue eyes and grin sparkled despite the dimness in the booth. "To the Wird Girls finding an awesome place to live," she hiccupped.
"To a thirty-year mortgage and a shitload of remodeling," Taran muttered. She tried to complain, but couldn't hide that siren grin that made males trip over their erections. She was happy to settle down, and she damn well knew it.
"To beautiful Lake Tahoe," Emme added almost silently. She blushed when I glanced her way. I'd like to say she was just tipsy, but no. Emme blushed as easily as the wind blew fireflies. "W-well it is beautiful here, Celia."
"I know, sweetie." I tapped my bottle against her frou-frou drink. "Salud."
I polished off my beer. It was my sixth round, still no buzz. Then again I could chug a keg. Alcohol had no effect on me. My lightweight sisters already slurred their words after three. In their defense, they didn't have an inner beast with the metabolism of four linebackers to help them out. The waitress rushed over and slapped another Corona down before I could ask and hurried off. I snagged it before it tipped over. Ordinarily one might think of her as a diligent, fast, hardworking, go-getter-but she was just scared I'd eat her. Humans never knew what we were, yet they perceived we weren't anything like them. They didn't need the amplified senses of preternaturals to know were different. Problem was, different didn't appeal to most. And "weird" just plain terrified.
"Oh my goodness," Emme said. "You didn't even peek her way or anything."
My sisters had definitely received the less-daunting side of our backfired curse. I pushed my long hair from my face and shrugged. After years of being feared, I was almost used to it. Almost. "I don't think tigers have to necessarily look at their prey to scare them."
Emme placed a gentle hand on my shoulder. The jarring club lights further lightened her fair skin and blond hair and bleached out most of her freckles. "It's not you, Celia. It's these silly humans who never want to give you a chance. You're beautiful. And so is your inner golden tigress."
Taran rolled her huge blue eyes. "Tigers are beautiful, Emme. But most people aren't stupid enough to pet one." She sipped her martini as she gave me the once-over. "Or piss one off."
Or date one, I thought to myself, taking in the frat boys on spring break continuing to stare and whisper about my sisters.
"Salma Hayek is mine," one said of Taran.
"I'll take the blonde," the other murmured.
"I'll go with the cute brunette with the ponytail."
"Hey, I called dibs on her first," his friend complained.
There were four of them. Four of us. One of the guys fighting over Shayna had taken an interest in me. That is, until he looked at me. Reallylooked at me. He smiled, but his scent of anticipation and lust quickly evaporated, replaced by the aroma of fear. He'd seen beyond my green eyes, olive skin, and long wavy hair to spot the predator lurking within. He saw her ready to pounce, ready to shred, ready to kill. Beautiful or not, tigers had that effect on humans.
Taran shimmied out of the booth. An impressive feat in the tiny, curve-hugging yellow dress she wore. If the hem lay an inch shorter, she'd end up on the Internet. "Shit. I have to pee."
Shayna grinned at Taran as she ambled out, her eyes alternating from sparkly to glassy. So not a good sign. "I think that's an oxymoron, dude." She threw in a giggle, just to further clarify she was snockered.
I shook my head. Emme smiled softly. "I'll go with Taran." Emme was only five feet tall, and just shy of a hundred pounds soaking wet and bloated. Taran, although only three inches taller, towered over her in those step ladders she affectionately referred to as "shoes." Me? Nothing said comfy like jeans, Uggs, and a long-sleeved tee.
The minute they disappeared into the hall leading to the ladies room, one of the good ol' frat boys approached Shayna, careful to avoid eye contact with me. "Hey, hot stuff. How about a dance?"
Shayna's glee faded when she realized I'd be alone if she went to dance. I smiled as best I could without scaring her potential date for the evening. "It's okay. I'll just hang and wait for Emme. Go on," I urged when she hesitated.
The guy snaked his arm around Shayna and led her onto the dance floor. Her sleek black ponytail whipped behind her as she shot me one more tentative glance. She watched me for a while. At first I thought she might return to hang with her spinster-in-the-making sister until the call of Beyoncé loosened the hesitant muscles of her slender frame. It didn't take long for Shayna to move like the world's happiness depended on her booty shakes. It did, however, take a hell of a long time for Emme and Taran to return from the bathroom. The waitress dropped my eighth beer down just as I spotted Emme's hands waving madly amidst the crowd forming near the ladies' room. "Celia! Ceeeeeelia!"
What the hell?
I slipped out of the booth and rushed toward the crowd. The throng of horny and drunken patrons parted as I stalked, my hips swinging like a predator staking out her turf. That's right. Stay back. Scary female approaching.
As I reached Emme, a deep buzzing sound vibrated from the bathroom, followed by a high-pitched squeal, topped off by Taran's oh-so colorful language. I half-groaned, half-growled. Crap. How much trouble can someone get into in the bathroom?
I froze. Apparently a lot.
A fiery redhead stomped out of the restroom smelling like burnt toast, sporting a spiky new hairdo most porcupines would envy. I swore under my breath. Taran must have struck her with a mini-bolt of lightning. Her tresses stood out like wires, and the singed tips smoked. And God only knew what Taran had done to the rest of her dress. Scorched pieces of fabric barely covered Red's pricey and fricasseed bra.
Her crazed eyes scanned the crowd. "Who's with the slutty brunette?"
Emme glanced my way before raising a cautious hand. "Sh-sh-she's my sister."
The redhead stormed to Emme and jabbed an irate finger in her face. "Your sister's a bitch."
Maybe. But Emme certainly wasn't. I shoved my way between them. "Leave her alone, and get out of our way." My raspy voice remained deceptively calm. Yet Red easily picked up on my underlying threat: Mess with her, mess with me.
Red's finger slowly lowered and her jaw slackened. She stumbled back, tripping over her feet and shoving her way through the crowd and out the exit. The ladies in line quickly followed suit and gave us ample room to pass. Perhaps there was a nice fir tree they could use out back. Emme stayed close to my heels as I shoved opened the door to the bathroom, her meek little voice shaking. "Should I get Shayna?"
"No, I think-"
My first clue should have been that Taran's swear words had stopped bouncing off the stark white tiles like ping-pong balls. My second? The waft of dry herbs that filtered into my nose and screamed a warning. Witch. Witch magic. Taran was going head-to-head with an official worship-the-earth-talisman-wearing-broom-humper extraordinaire.
Taran's blue irises blanched to crystal from the gamut of power tingling around a sandy-haired witch's aura. "Sandy" smiled though it lacked any hint of warmth, friendliness, or love. In fact, if she was going for, "I'll skin you alive and use your flesh as bedroom slippers," one might say she pulled it off.
"Silentio. Non vide," Sandy muttered, all the while smiling and calling forth her bladder-releasing power.
Knowing Spanish helped me translate the Latin words. Silence and . . . don't look?
Every muscle and tendon in my body tightened. She'd cast a spell to conceal any sound, any image from the club patrons. Jesus, what did she plan to do?
The aroma of crushed thyme thickened the air as her spell accelerated, coating my taste buds with a hint of her power. Yup, definitely not a good sign. My inner tigress circled restlessly, pawing at my ribcage with her claws, demanding out. "Taran," I warned, "time to go home."
Taran met the witch's smile with one that sent Emme running, hopefully to get Shayna, the car, or both. The heavy door swung shut behind Emme. A loud click told me Sandy locked us in, and anyone who could possibly help us out. Sparks sizzled from the tips of Taran's elegantly manicured hands as she gathered her magic. "No worries, Ceel. This will only take a minute."
"Taran," I warned again. My fangs protruded without my consent. Another sign proclaiming deep shittiness awaited.
The sparks magnified into mini bolts of lightning as Taran stretched out her fingers. A small funnel of wind gathered around Sandy, sending bits of abandoned toilet paper circling around her. The fluorescent lights hummed and flickered just before everything went black.
I tackled Taran into the handicapped stall as the equivalent of a supernatural cherry bomb took out the wall instead of my sister. The hole, roughly the size of our new dining room table, gave a great view of the dance floor where Shayna continued to shake her tiny, yet obviously shimmy-able butt. The crowd of onlookers had returned to their drunken debauchery, swallowing poor Emme as she jumped up and down trying futilely to get Mini-Shakira's attention. It might have been funny, had I not feared we were finally about to die that miserable death we'd spent a lifetime avoiding.
Taran rubbed her head. "Son of a bitch."
A deep growl thundered in my chest. My tigress eyes replaced my own and locked on the witch's feet. She casually walked across the checkered floor, her red stilettos clicking like the pendulum of a grandfather clock, tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock.
She reeled into the black stall where we lay. Time was up.
I kicked the door right in her face.
She flew backwards into the sink and smashed her head into the mirror. Sometimes, I couldn't control my strength. Fear of dying in a public bathroom will do that to a gal. I hauled Taran up by her elbow while her latest fan seemed down for the count. The cracks in the mirror spiderwebbed from her bleeding skull. I secretly hoped since it was technically her head that broke the mirror, the bad luck would fall on her.
When Sandy lurched from the sink and a second, equally pissed-off version of herself appeared to block the door leading out, I knew I was very much mistaken. Taran's head whipped back and forth between them. "It's the same person," I snarled. She smelled the same, looked the same, and also bled from her forehead the same way. The only difference was she'd divided her magic in two.
Taran gathered her power once more. "I'll take the bitch at the door. You take the bitch at the sink."
Sandy-both of them-surprised me by laughing. "Mures," they both spat.
That one pretty much got lost in translation. I prowled toward her. My claws shot from my fingers like bullets from a chamber. She didn't move. She didn't gather her magic. She didn't blink. She simply laughed. Either she'd hit her head a little too hard or she didn't fear us. The latter scared the hell out of me. My beast remained sure we could take her. My human half knew something sinister lurked beneath, bubbling with a touch of dark and a spoonful of evil.
A transparent heaviness filled the air, reeking of garbage and festering meat. The ten plastic soap dispensers lining the wall of the mammoth counter exploded one by one, like a row of bottles being shot to bits. Paper towels fluttered in the air around us like birds. The pipes beneath us clanged and a toilet flushed for no reason.
I hated when my human side was right.
I heard the first squeak and the scratch of tiny clawed feet followed by a few more. A lot more. Taran heard it, too. In her panic, she blasted a bolt of lightning into her psycho witch, taking out the obviously evil tampon dispenser in the far wall. Chunks of cardboard and cotton pelted me in the hair and back, and still I heard the squeaks getting louder, getting closer, getting scurrier.
The Sandy Taran attempted to fight had somehow appeared on the sink next to her other half. She sat on the counter with her legs crossed, swinging them merrily as the result of her enchantment reached a creepy crescendo.
The large brass drain near the sinks began to stir. "Taran. We need to get out of here."
"Damn it, Celia-"
I clutched her arm when the brass drain tipped and a pink whiskered nose poked through. Mures. . . . Rats.
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