The following is an excerpt from Danni, a work in progress by Melissa Rogers.
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“Good morning,” Uncle Liam said, pausing in his singing to send me an insanely cheerful smile. He didn’t look tired either. He’d probably been up all night. I comforted myself with the knowledge that he would eventually collapse and be as grumpy and fuzzy-eyed as a normal person ought to be. He turned off his screeching rock music and pushed a fork into a plump, greasy sausage.
“Morning,” I replied, hating the croak in my voice. “What are you making?”
“Eggs on toast, bacon, sausage, and beans. Hungry?”
“I could eat,” I allowed with a grin. “But no beans. That’s just gross.”
He sniffed, insulted, flipping over a piece of egg-covered toast. He looked utterly at ease as he moved around the kitchen. His hair, the same deep, rich red as Mom’s, was just long enough to make a spiky mess around his head, but he somehow carried it off and made it look deliberate and attractive. He was one of those men who aged disturbingly well. His clean shaven, angular face didn’t look precisely boyish, but made it harder to tell exactly how old he was. In a sensible business suit, he looked very much like his thirty-seven years, but in the loose jeans and black polo shirt he currently wore, he could be taken for much younger. Slight creases around his almond-shaped blue eyes added charm rather than years, and his easy smile was as appealing as my mother’s. It was unnerving how similar they were in appearance.
His short sleeved shirt only revealed one of his three tattoos. Uncle Liam constantly reminded us that he didn’t want to know about what my parents were doing, but he knew better than to ignore that world altogether. That was why he’d been trained nearly as rigorously as any hunter by my grandparents, who were hunters themselves. He has protective tattoos, like mine. His, however, are carefully woven into three dark blue tattoos that look like they have nothing to do with faeries or magic. I envied him that, since my arm markings are so obvious, but mine are stronger because of it, so I guess it’s a trade off.
My favorite of his tattoos is a Celtic cross on his left forearm. I suppose it could have been linked to faeries, since everyone seems to think they all live under rocks in Ireland, but crosses are such a common tattoo choice that no one would think twice about the circle of tight, detailed weaving inside it. He has a small dragon on his right shoulder that I’ve only seen once or twice. It too has a tiny circle of protection built into it. The third is on his heel, like mine. The heel ones are necessary for those of us who don’t want anyone to be able to follow us using magic. My parents are quite happy to be followed, because they can simply turn around and let the hapless faeries fall into their waiting, lethal arms.
I sometimes wondered if Uncle Liam wished he could go to Faerie and meet some of the people there. Even if he has very little magic in his blood, he is still half-faerie. He has the rare chance allowed to few to visit either world. A lot of half-breeds become Transworld diplomats for that very reason. But he didn’t seem at all interested in crossing dimensions. He preferred to make eggs on toast in a perfectly human kitchen for his completely human niece.
He presented a plate to me with a flourish and I sat at the kitchen table to eat. I would probably miss cereal in a few weeks, but for now, it was nice to have breakfast cooked for me. Neither of my parents were very good at it and I was a devout follower of instant macaroni and cheese and Poptarts.
“So why didn’t you let me know you were coming?” I asked when we were both nearly finished eating. I nibbled on the last bits of cool toast.
He took a swig of coffee and shrugged. “I was busy taking care of something and I thought I wouldn’t be able to come for a few more days. But it was suddenly cleared up and there was a convenient flight, so I took it. I didn’t plan on coming so late. It was delayed. I was supposed to get here around eight. Didn’t think I’d wake you, so I went ahead and tried to sneak in.”
I imitated his shrug. “It doesn’t matter. What’ll you be doing while you’re here, anyway?”
“I’m your nursemaid. It’s a full-time job. I think there was talk of a dental plan and retirement benefits.”
“Hilarious. Besides cooking me breakfast—”
“And lunch and supper. Full-time, remember?”
“Did you bring any work with you? I mean, from your job in London?”
“Some, yes. I’ll stay busy, don’t worry.” He smiled and finished the last of his coffee. “So what are you doing today?”
I shrugged again. “School doesn’t start until Monday. I don’t have any plans until then.”
“We should go out!” Uncle Liam declared. He gestured toward the door, as if pointing out the wide, wide world we had to explore. “We could see a movie. Or buy some ridiculously over-priced coffee and pillage the bookstores.”
I smiled at that. We both loved books. But I felt compelled to remind him, “I don’t like coffee.” I pointed to his cup. “And you just finished yours. It’s not healthy to drink so much of it.”
“Starbucks is the reason God let this country win that revolution of yours,” Uncle Liam said firmly. “At any rate, I do need to go find a car.”
“You can use Mom’s. They left it here for you.”
“That big, silver thing?” he asked with an unenthusiastic look out the window. His eyes lit. “Or was it the little, blue one?”
“The silver one is Mom’s. They said you could use it. The blue one is mine.” I added the last with relish. My car. He slumped a little.
“It’s very large,” he said sadly, looking out the window toward the driveway where my mom’s Audi sat. It was a sleek, expensive four door sedan and it wasn’t that big.
“I think I will buy a car today,” he declared, rising and gathering the dishes. “I’m going to be here for some time, I’m sure. And I’ve been meaning to buy a car in the States. And a house.”
“A house? Here?”
“Well, not here here,” he said. He methodically rinsed the dishes and put them in the dishwasher. There were definite benefits to having him around, I decided. “But not far from here. I have business that takes me to D.C. quite often. I’m tired of hotels and taxis.”
I knew my uncle was rich, but I didn’t know he could just buy another house on a whim. And a car. I was impressed. Of course, I should’ve known since he always sent me huge checks on my birthday and at Christmas. The small mercenary part of me rejoiced at the thought of the funds I could plead out of him if I didn’t want to risk my mother’s wrath by using the credit card.
“So let’s go out and find me a car,” he said, kicking the dishwasher door shut.
“Sure. I’ll drive.”
“I don’t know if I feel safe with you driving. How long have you had your license?” he asked as we headed out the door.
I grinned. “Long enough. And Dad’s the one who taught me to drive.”
“That’s what I was afraid of. Of course, your mum is even scarier behind the wheel. Are you sure you don’t want me to drive?”
He gave me a pleading glance from the passenger’s side of my car. I shook my head and we climbed in.
“You’re not used to driving on the right side of the road yet,” I informed him. “I don’t want to die today.”
“I am perfectly capable of driving American cars, my dear,” he objected as I slid out of the driveway. “I’ve been out of England before, you know. I’ve driven in the States and in Europe. Everyone else does it the wrong way too. I have adapted.”
“Uh huh. Just put on your seatbelt and let me show you around. There’s a Honda dealership nearby that I know of. What were you looking for?”
“Something small and flashy,” he said decisively. “It is not supposed to be a practical car and it’s just for me. Do they sell Porsche’s anywhere around here?”
We whizzed down the highway and I frowned thoughtfully. “I think so. Let me see. There might be one near…”
Two hours later, I followed Uncle Liam out of the dealership and back down the highway toward the nearest movie theater. His gleaming, red Porsche convertible clashed atrociously with his hair, but I certainly wasn’t going to tell him that.
We bought a massive tub of greasy popcorn, two large Diet Cokes and two bags of Skittles. Uncle Liam insisted on seeing the most violent, explosion-filled action flick showing. I didn’t object, although I knew from the title of the movie “Vegas Revenge” that it wasn’t going to impress me with its amazingly complex plot.
I sat and watched the movie, eating popcorn and Skittles and enjoying how effortlessly the hot, heroic main character wiped out villains with a small handgun that never seemed to run out of bullets, despite the fact that he never reloaded. I could only imagine my mother’s disdain. It had enough satisfying explosions to please Uncle Liam. He was quiet for the most part, only once remarking in loud, caustic tones that the valiant hero “couldn’t possibly construct a bomb out of tissue paper, champagne, and a shoe lace in only two minutes.”
I passed him a green Skittle and he was quiet again. After the movie ended, we filed out, discussing the plot holes and zealously arguing about the best ways to build a bomb out of common household items.
That’s when I saw them for the first time.
We were strolling along the sidewalk just a couple blocks down from the fountain. The theater opened up into the same large shopping center where I’d seen the faerie my parents were hunting. It was a nice afternoon and lots of people were outside. The objects of my attention were walking along together just across the street, deep in conversation. They were going the same direction we were. That made it much easier to study them without looking like the crazy stalker that I might have become otherwise. Uncle Liam’s voice faded a bit as I concentrated on the pair.
The taller one was dark blond. He wore jeans and a forest green collared shirt that he left unbuttoned to reveal a white t-shirt. He was muscular in the best sense of the word, his arms filling out the sleeves of the shirt as he walked easily, confidently, up the sidewalk. His hair was a little shorter than Uncle Liam’s and didn’t look like a hurricane would stir it from its perfect, gelled state. He was attractive in a cool, almost untouchable way. Like a movie star who was just too good to share the same air with us lesser mortals. It helped that his eyes were hidden behind undercover movie star sunglasses. He gestured to his companion, and I thought he looked irritated.
His friend, shorter than the blond and downright small in comparison, was the one I was really interested in watching. He was probably only a few inches taller than I am. He was slender and dark and absurdly good-looking. He looked about my age, I thought. He had sleek, straight black hair that fell in attractive disarray around his face. The ends brushed his collar and cheeks and effectively hid his profile when he ducked his head. But I’d already had a glimpse of the smooth, almost delicate features and the dark, dark eyes. He didn’t even need sunglasses to look like someone famous.
“Danni, are you even listening?” Uncle Liam demanded.
“Of course,” I replied automatically. The boy was wearing black jeans and a white t-shirt that was long-sleeved despite the heat. He had his hands shoved in his pockets and he was nodding slowly to whatever his friend was saying. They suddenly turned a corner and I lost sight of them. What a pity. I heard a plaintive sigh and realized that it was me.
“No, you’re not,” Uncle Liam said, mildly indignant. “But you know I was right anyway, so it doesn’t matter. Do you want to get ice cream, or something? This feels like the sort of place that would have complicated ice cream with exciting toppings. I want butter pecan.”
“There’s a place over that way,” I said, trying to keep the eagerness out of my voice. I pointed toward the corner around which the beautiful boy and his friend had disappeared.
“I hope they offer Skittles as a topping,” Uncle Liam added as we crossed the street and headed for the ice cream shop.
We had to stand outside because it was so crowded with determined sugar-seekers. I pushed my hair off my shoulders, wiping a trickle of sweat off my neck.
“Cool tat,” a rough voice said from behind me. I turned to face a biker looking guy who must have had a total of about three square inches of non-inked surface on his arms and face.
“Thanks,” I said, coughing. “Yours are…nice, too.”
The biker solemnly thanked me before walking past. Uncle Liam was snickering beside me and I ground my heel into his foot. He slung an arm around my shoulders, causing the neck tattoo to start tickling again.
“I love watching you make friends.”
“I’m never sharing my Skittles again,” I warned him, shoving his arm off. Uncle Liam is like Dad. He likes hugs.
I turned, casually scoping the busy sidewalks. And there they were, standing in front of a small clothing store, still talking. I wondered if they would notice me if I went over and pretended to be looking at the clothes in the window. They would probably notice if I was staring at them rather than the clothes. That could be awkward. And yet worth it. I sighed again.
“Well, come on. We’re not going to get anything standing out here. I think it’s cleared up a bit.”
I spared one last glance at the two boys and went to get my chocolate chip cookie dough. Uncle Liam ordered butter pecan and raspberry sherbet with gummy bears, Skittles, and Reese’s bits. I will never understand him.
When we came out of the ice cream parlor, I looked immediately across the sidewalk, but they weren’t there. I turned to ask Uncle Liam if he wanted to go throw our change in the fountain. It was the sort of thing that he liked to do.
Instead of Uncle Liam, I found myself bumping into someone. And imagine who that someone was.
“Oh, sorry,” he apologized with an endearingly, amazingly, gorgeously perfect, apologetic little smile. His eyes were soft and dark and they were trained right on me.
“No problem,” I replied, not moving. If I didn’t move, maybe he wouldn’t move either and I could keep staring like an idiot.
He took a little step back, reaching up to ruffle the hair at the nape of his neck, smiling at me. I was staring in fascination at his perfect smile when, for some reason, my eyes tore themselves away from his face to glance at his moving arm. The white sleeve slid back from his hand, revealing something dark wrapped around his wrist. A bracelet?
He was still staring at me, looking like he wanted to say something else. But I was looking at his arm. That wasn’t a bracelet. It was a tattoo.
I recognized the pattern immediately. It was a protective ward, one that focused small amounts of internally generated magic. But humans don’t have internally generated magic.
I carefully slid the arm not holding the ice cream behind my back so he wouldn’t see the pale gray of my own tattoos. I realized that my overwhelming admiration for his ridiculously gorgeous face had distracted me from the tickling at my neck. It was tingling in an insistent way, a way it only ever tingled when I had come in physical contact with a faerie.
He was eyeing me uncertainly now, and I wondered if my expression had changed, if he saw the understanding in my eyes. I hoped not. If he saw the tattoos, he’d think I was a hunter. And he would run.
And I would never see him again.
Yes, that was my reasoning. The fact that I wanted to actively stalk an illegal crosser because he had a pretty smile – well, a pretty everything, actually – was pathetic, but I couldn’t quite bring myself to care. I backed away from him with a carefully blank smile.
“Sorry,” I murmured, ice cream clutched like a shield as I turned and looked for my uncle. He was standing by the fountain, watching me expectantly. He’d already begun to toss pennies in the water. I edged backwards in that direction.
“I’m Alexei,” the faerie offered, following me with that annoyingly wonderful smile still in place. And his beautiful eyes were imploring, like a hopeful puppy. A hopeful, adorable puppy. The kind you couldn’t help taking home with you and smothering with your love and affection.
I kept backing away, hoping I didn’t bump into somebody, but unwilling to just turn away from him.
“Nice to meet you,” I replied. “Really nice. I have to go now. Bye.”
His crestfallen expression made me want to give him a hug and apologize for hurting his feelings, but I resisted that ridiculous urge and turned away. As I reached the fountain, I glanced back once and saw him standing there, slumping a little, but not looking at me anymore. His blond friend appeared around the corner and went to meet him. They walked away together.
“So not fair,” I muttered.
“What’s that?” Uncle Liam asked, dropping a nickel and two pennies into my hand. “Who were you talking to?”
“No one. He bumped into me,” I said, a little hastily. Uncle Liam’s smile was bland, but he studied me for a moment longer than I liked before turning away and hurling a coin up at the water-spewing stone bird perched at the top of the fountain.
I tossed the nickel half-heartedly. Suddenly, ice cream just didn’t taste good anymore. What was ice cream, anyway? Cold, melting, sugary stuff. I wanted to find the boy… what was his name?… and introduce myself.
But he was a faerie. That was just my luck. It was such a waste of beauty, in my opinion. Naturally, he’d have to be sent back to his world before he started causing residual magic damage and wreaking havoc on this peaceful suburban corner of the world.
But did it have to be right away? Couldn’t I let him have his fun little jaunt in the human world for, I don’t know, a few weeks? Months? No more than a year, certainly. Unless he behaved himself. Besides, there weren’t any hunters in the area anymore. I certainly didn’t have the skills to bring him in. Well, maybe I could have. But my parents didn’t want me doing that sort of thing. I remembered their strict order from years ago. I was not to deal with a faerie myself. I was to tell them.
But they were busy. Very, very busy. I doubted this faerie was as dangerous as the one they were chasing. They were better off focused on their target, rather than distracted with some no account faerie here.
I glanced uneasily at Uncle Liam. I knew I ought to tell him. Then he could decide what to do about it.
But Uncle Liam didn’t want to deal with magic or the Transworld Peace or anything involving faeries. He was content just to make sure I didn’t get hurt or throw wild parties or whatever other messes the teenage offspring of faerie hunters were likely to get into. I was doing him a favor by not telling him.
I was doing myself a favor too, naturally. I blamed the faerie’s unnatural, probably illegal beauty. No one had the right to be that good looking and not be on tv sharing it with the world. It wasn’t going to help him blend in either.
Despite what many people have thought or written, faeries aren’t naturally more beautiful than humans. I’ve heard that some of them use magic the way we use plastic surgery to improve their appearance, but all in all, there are probably as many plain faeries as there are attractive ones. This boy was gorgeous enough to turn heads in two worlds.
It was a pity I had been too preoccupied with his prettiness to remember his name. Then again, it was probably a good thing. I might’ve started doodling it in my notebooks like all those girls do in movies. Mrs. Whatever Whatever. Mrs. Illegal Faerie. Mrs. My Parents Would Definitely Kill Me If They Found Out.
Mrs. It’s So Worth It.
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