Authors: Alyson Noël
When she’s not crossing and uncrossing her legs, fussing with her cuticles, and/or riffling through her bag, Jennika tries to engage me in a conversation I’d rather not have. A wad of gum smacking between her back teeth when she says, “Reminds me of Vegas.”
I survey the place. Taking in walls glossed with pale green paint—the color of cucumber meat—the color of calm—along with worn linoleum grey tiled floors left to bubble in the places where they’re not already torn. Her assessment so far off the mark, so opposite the seedy glitz and glam of Vegas, I don’t even respond.
I just close my eyes and slide toward the edge of the curved plastic seat that’s attached to both the floor and the wall. Everything in this place is bolted to something. It’s an attempt to keep the crazies from hurling the furniture at the white-coated doctors prowling the halls.
This is the house of crazy.
A place to contain the insane.
“Doesn’t it remind you of Vegas?” Jennika’s tone grows louder, more insistent. More than anything, my mom hates to be ignored, especially by me. So I throw her a bone, decide to play along.
“You mean because of all the slot machines? Or is it the ridiculously long line for the all-you-can-eat prime rib buffet?” I prop an eye open, watching as her eyes roll in their sockets, her brow shooting well past her platinum blond bangs with the chunky pink stripe. Then I close my eyes again, try to focus on something more pleasant, try to conjure the beautiful boy from my dreams. But the drugs they’ve been feeding me, only serve to keep him at bay.
“I meant the absence of windows. And, if you’ll notice, there’s not one single clock—not anywhere!” She shakes her head and scowls, annoyed with the decor as much as the predicament I’ve sunk us both into.
“What’d you expect? Ocean views and whirlpools? It’s a mental ward, Jennika.” My voice sounds listless and bored—as though I can barely drum up the energy to participate. “Best not to keep track of how many days they lock you away.”
Jennika sighs, and leans toward me. Her fingers fussing at my long dark hair, arranging it around my shoulders as though it’ll make some kind of difference to anyone other than her. “It’s not a mental ward, Daire—it’s…”
I slant my gaze toward hers, waiting to see where her hunt for the perfect euphemism will end.
“It’s a hospital.” She huffs. “A renowned research center. Nothing more, nothing less. Besides, it’s not like you haven’t been here before.”
When she starts to dig through the contents of her purse, searching for some blush to brighten my cheeks, I know it’s time to flee.
In “The World According to Jennika” there’s nothing a good make-over can’t cure. As one of Hollywood’s most sought-after make-up artists, she’s seen first hand the kind of magick a little spackle and glitter can work. But no amount of fluffing and shading is going to change the fact that this place is, indeed, a mental ward—and that we’re here because of my recent diagnosis as crazy.
I push off, eager to leave Jennika in her happy place of denial. Eager to get as far from her and these “mental health experts” as I possibly can.
“Where you going?” she asks, her voice rising and anxious. Calling after my retreating back when she adds, “Don’t go to far—the doctor will call for you soon…”
I flee down the hall in search of an exit. Needing to fill my lungs with fresh air.
Needing to remember a time when my life consisted of something more than a never-ending series of mind-altering drugs and mental evaluations.
Needing to get far away from here.
I pick up the pace. Following the lighted signs with green arrows, I round the next corner, and plow smack into a girl so beautiful, so radiant and luminous, I can’t help but wonder if she’s one of the glowing people who stalk me.
If so, it’s just a matter of time before the place floods with crows. And once that happens, they’ll be shoving me into a straight jacket and a padded white room where I’ll live out my life.
“You okay?” The girl places a hand on each of my shoulders in an attempt to steady me. “I’m so sorry—I wasn’t even looking, and…”
She tilts her head in a way that allows a stream of golden blond hair to spill down her side as her bright blue eyes narrow on mine. And though I try to pull away, try to tell her I’m perfectly fine, I’m far too startled by the jolt of her touch to do either one of those things.
It’s like her fingers are streaming with electricity that wraps all around me.
She grips my shoulders tighter and lowers her voice to a whisper. “Don’t let them tell you you’re crazy,” she says, glancing all around, as though afraid of being overheard. “Don’t let them tell you the glowing people don’t exist, because they do. The crows too. It’s all real, you’re not imagining any of it.”
I jerk back as though I’ve been shocked. Yanking free of her grip as my mind reels with questions.
Who the heck is she? And how could she possibly know about the visions? Has she read my case file? Is she some crazy escapee impersonating a staff member?
She smiles, standing steadily before me as she says, “I’m none of those things. My name’s Ever. Ever Bloom. I’m psychic, telepathic, but as far as I know I’m not crazy. Nor am I a patient impersonating a staff member. And though I’m probably the only person willing to believe you—trust me when I say, you won’t always feel so alone. There are plenty of us who realize the world isn’t anything like we’ve been trained to believe.”
“What are you doing here?” I ask, well aware how I just skipped over her more outrageous claims, only to focus on the benign.
“I’m taking part in a study on NDEs.” Fielding my blank look when she adds, “People who have had a near death experience.”
?” My gaze flies down the length of her, thinking she is surely the strangest girl I’ve ever met, and yet there’s something about her that’s so calming, I have no desire to flee.
“More than once.” She lifts her shoulders, her eyes glinting with mischief when she says, “As will you.”
I shift from foot to foot, not really knowing how to respond.
“Listen,” she says, checking her watch and glancing toward the door just behind her. “All you need to know is that you’re
crazy. Not by a long shot. So please don’t believe them. Listen to your heart, it’ll never steer you wrong.”
I nod, sensing the truth behind her words.
“I wish we had more time to talk but—” She turns, smiling as the absolute personification of Tall, Dark, and Handsome pushes through the door and stands right beside her. “We’re late,” she says.
“That’s what happens when you won’t let me manifest a parking space.” He hands her an unopened bottle of water, grinning in a way so heart-melting, I have to force myself to look away.
Remembering too late how she claims to read minds, and the knowing smile she gives me, pretty much proves she just caught me mentally ogling her boyfriend.
“This is Damen. Damen Auguste,” she says, leaning against him and fitting into his side so easily, they’re like puzzle pieces—book ends—made to be together.
“I’m Daire,” I say, realizing I hadn’t gotten around to introducing myself earlier.
“Looks like your mom’s looking for you.” Damen gestures at a point just beyond my shoulder, where, sure enough, Jennika waits with a scowl on her face and a hand on each hip.
“Here.” Ever places her bottle of water into my hand. “Tell her you went to get something to drink. Don’t let her know you were about to run away. It’ll only make her mad, and that’s the last thing you need. Besides, you’re ready to face them now, right?”
I start to return the water, but it’s only a second later when a new one just appears in her hand. And I’m so busy blinking and gaping, I almost miss it when she says, “Remember what I told you: Believe what you see—what you know in your heart to be true—and discard everything else they try to tell you.”
I nod, taking one last look at Ever and Damen, hoping I can carry some of their optimism and magick with me wherever I go. About to make for Jennika now calling to me from her end of the hall, when Ever says, “You’re headed for great things, Daire Santos. You just have to believe in yourself.”
I stop, shoot her a quizzical look. About to tell her that my last name is Lyons, not Santos, when she smiles and nods and urges me on.
I hurry toward Jennika, allowing her to wrap an arm around me and lead me away as I cling to Ever’s assurance that the glowing people are real. The crows too. And the fact that I’m the only one who can see them doesn’t mean I’m insane, but rather that I’m headed for something extraordinary.
I can only hope that it’s true.
Copyright (C) 2011 by Alyson Noël
I can’t tell you how excited I am to introduce you to Daire Santos—the gutsy protagonist of my new YA series,
THE SOUL SEEKERS
, debuting with
series with the publication of
last summer, I was itching to create a new supernatural world with a brand new cast of characters. And since New Mexico has always been one of my favorite places to visit, with its interesting cultural mix, breathtaking landscapes, and mystical legends, I decided to place my story there, in the fictional town of Enchantment.
The world of
THE SOUL SEEKERS
is brimming with magick, mystery, and, yes—intoxicating romance! And I have to admit that when I first started writing Daire’s journey, I was a little jealous of the life she lived—it’s filled with just the kind of excitement and glamour I dreamed of as a kid.
As the daughter of a Hollywood make-up artist, Daire’s spent her entire life traveling the globe, moving from movie set to movie set. Getting lost in a Moroccan medina, getting kissed on the Pont Neuf in Paris by a young actor destined for the big time—it all seems so exciting on the surface, but after a lifetime of it, all Daire knows is that she’s never attended a real school, never enjoyed a real home-cooked meal, never spent a holiday in a place where she could actually speak the language, and she’s never stayed in any one place long enough to make a real friend.
But all of that changes on her sixteenth birthday when the visions and dreams that have plagued her in the past, return with a vengeance, and she is sent to live with the grandmother she has never met but who recognizes the signs as Daire’s true calling as a Soul Seeker—one who can navigate between the worlds of the living and the dead.
There, on the dusty plains of Enchantment, New Mexico, Daire will make friends, fall madly in love, and confront an enemy so dark, she’s not only forced to embrace her fate as a Seeker, along with the sacrifices that go with it, but also to discover if Dace, the boy from her dreams, is her one true love—her fated one—or if he is allied with the enemy she is destined to destroy.
Every six months brings a new Soul Seekers novel, so be on the lookout for
I’ve had so much fun creating this world—I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it!
There are moments in life when everything pauses.
The earth hesitates, the atmosphere stills, and time shrinks and folds onto itself until it collapses into a big tired heap.
As I push through the small wooden door of the
where Jennika and I have camped out the past several weeks, trading the hush of the rose-and-honeysuckle-scented courtyard for the chaos of the serpentine maze of medina—it happens again.
But instead of mimicking the stillness like I usually do, I decide to go with it and try something fun. Easing my way along connecting salmon-colored walls, I pass a small, thin man caught in midstride, press my fingers against the soft white cotton of his
and gently spin him around until he’s facing the opposite way. Then after ducking beneath a mangy black cat that, caught in midleap, appears to be flying, I stop at the corner where I take a moment to rearrange a display of shiny brass lanterns an old man is selling, before moving on to the very next stall where I slip a pair of bright blue
onto my feet, decide that I like them, and leave my old leather sandals along with a fistful of crumpled-up dirhams as payment.
My eyes burning with the effort of keeping them open, knowing the instant I blink, the
-clad man will be one step farther from his destination, the cat will land on its mark, and two vendors will gaze at their wares in total confusion—the scene will return to one of perpetual chaos.
Though when I spot the glowing people hovering on the periphery, studying me in the careful way that they do, I’m quick to squinch my eyes shut and block them from view. Hoping that this time, just like all the others, they’ll fade away too. Return to wherever it is that they go when they’re not watching me.
I used to think everyone experienced moments like that, until I confided in Jennika who shot me a skeptical look and blamed it on jet lag.
Jennika blames everything on jet lag. Insists time stops for no one—that it’s our job to keep up with its frantic forward march. But even back then I knew better—I’ve spent my entire life crossing time zones, and what I’d experienced had nothing to do with a whacked-out body clock.
Still, I was careful not to mention it again. I just waited quietly, patiently, hoping the moment would soon return.
And it did.
Over the past few years they’ve been slowly increasing, until lately, ever since we arrived in Morocco, I’ve been averaging three a week.
A guy my age passes, his shoulder purposely slamming into mine, his dark eyes leering in a way that reminds me to arrange my blue silk scarf so that it covers my hair. I round a corner, eager to arrive well before Vane, so I can catch the
Djemâa el Fna
at dusk. Banging into the square, where I’m confronted by a long line of open-air grills bearing goats and pigeons and other unidentifiable meats, their skinned and glazed carcasses rotating on spits, shooting savory clouds of spice-laden smoke into the air…the hypnotic lull of the snake charmer’s tune emanating from cross-legged old men perched on thick woven mats, playing their
as glassy-eyed cobras rise up before them…all of it unfolding to the spellbinding pulse of
drums that continuously thrum in the background—the sound-track for the nightly resurrection of a bewitching square returning to life.
I take a deep breath, savoring the heady blend of exotic oils and jasmine, as I cast a final glance around, knowing this is one of the last times I’ll see it this way. The film will wrap soon, and Jennika and I will be off to whatever movie, on whatever location requires her services as an award-winning makeup artist. Who knows if we’ll ever return?
Picking my way toward the first food cart, the one beside the snake charmer where Vane waits, I steal a handful of much-needed seconds to crush that annoying ping of weakness that grabs at my gut every time that I see him—every time I take in his tousled sandy blond hair, deep blue eyes, and softly curving lips.
I think, shaking my head, adding:
It’s not like I don’t know any better. It’s not like I don’t know the rules.
The key is to not get involved—to never allow myself to care. To just focus on having some fun, and never look back when it’s time to move on.
Vane’s pretty face, just like all the other pretty faces before him, belongs to his legions of fans. Not one of those faces has ever belonged to me—and they never, ever will.
Having grown up on movie sets since I was old enough for Jennika to sling me into a backpack, I’ve played my role as the kid of a crew member countless times: Stay quiet, stay out of the way, lend a hand when asked, and never confuse movie set relationships for the real thing.
The fact that I’ve been dealing with celebrities my entire life leaves me not so easily impressed, which is probably the number one reason they’re always so quick to like me. I mean, while I’m okay to look at—tall-ish, skinny-ish, with long dark hair, fair-ish skin, and bright green eyes that people like to comment on, I’m pretty much your standard issue girl. Though I never fall to pieces when I meet someone famous. I never get all red-cheeked and gushy and insecure. And the thing is, they’re so unused to that, they usually end up pursuing me.
My first kiss was on a beach in Rio de Janeiro with a boy who’d just won an MTV award for “Best Kiss” (clearly none of those voters had actually kissed him). My second was on the Pont Neuf in Paris with a boy who’d just made the cover of
And other than their being richer, more famous, and more stalked by paparazzi—our lives really aren’t all that different.
Most of them are transients—passing through their own lives, just like I’m passing through mine. Moving from place to place, friendship to friendship, relationship to relationship—it’s the only life that I know.
It’s hard to form a lasting connection when your permanent address is an eight-inch mailbox in the UPS store.
Still, as I inch my way closer, I can’t help the way my breath hitches, the way my insides thrum and swirl. And when he turns, flashing me that slow, languorous smile that’s about to make him world famous, his eyes meeting mine when he says, “Hey, Daire—Happy Sweet Sixteen,” I can’t help but think of the millions of girls who would do just about anything to stand in my pointy blue
I return the smile, flick a little wave of my hand, then bury it in the side pocket of the olive-green army jacket I always wear. Pretending not to notice the way his gaze roams over me, straying from my waist-length brown hair peeking out from my scarf, to the tie-dyed tank top that clings under my jacket, to the skinny dark denim jeans, all the way down to the brand-new slippers I wear on my feet.
“Nice.” He places his foot beside mine, providing me with a view of the his-and-hers version of the very same shoe. Laughing when he adds, “Maybe we can start a trend when we head back to the States. What do you think?”
There is no
I know it. He knows it. And it bugs me that he tries to pretend otherwise.
The cameras stopped rolling hours ago, and yet here he is, still playing a role. Acting as though our brief, on-location hookup means something more.
won’t really end long before our passports are stamped
And that’s all it takes for those annoyingly soft girly feelings to vanish as quickly as a flame in the rain. Allowing the Daire I know, the Daire I’ve honed myself to be, to stand in her place.
“Doubtful.” I smirk, kicking his shoe with mine. A little harder than necessary, but then again, he deserves it for thinking I’m lame enough to fall for his act. “So, what do you say—food? I’m dying for one of those beef brochettes, maybe even a sausage one too. Oh—and some fries would be good!”
I make for the food stalls, but Vane has another idea. His hand reaches for mine, fingers entwining until they’re laced nice and tight. “In a minute,” he says, pulling me so close my hip bumps against his. “I thought we might do something special—in honor of your birthday and all. What do you think about matching tattoos?”
I gape. Surely he’s joking.
“Yeah, you know,
Nothing permanent. Still, I thought it could be kinda cool.” He arcs his left brow in his trademark Vane Wick way, and I have to fight not to frown in return.
That’s my theme song—my mission statement, if you will. Still,
’s not quite the same as a press-on. It has its own life span. One that will linger long after Vane’s studio-financed, private jet lifts him high into the sky and right out of my life.
Though I don’t mention any of that, instead I just say, “You know the director will kill you if you show up on set tomorrow covered in henna.”
Vane shrugs. Shrugs in a way I’ve seen too many times, on too many young actors before him. He’s in full-on star-power mode. Thinks he’s indispensable. That he’s the only seventeen-year-old guy with a hint of talent, golden skin, wavy blond hair, and piercing blue eyes that can light up a screen and make the girls (and most of their moms) swoon. It’s a dangerous way to see yourself—especially when you make your living in Hollywood. It’s the kind of thinking that leads straight to multiple rehab stints, trashy reality TV shows, desperate ghostwritten memoirs, and low-budget movies that go straight to DVD.
Still, when he tugs on my arm, it’s not like I protest. I follow him to the old, black-clad woman parked on a woven beige mat with a pile of henna bags stacked in her lap.
Vane negotiates the price as I settle before her and offer my hands. Watching as she snips the corner from one of the bags and squeezes a series of squiggly lines over my flesh, not even thinking to consult me on what type of design I might want. But then, it’s not like I had one in mind. I just lean against Vane who’s kneeling beside me and let her do her thing.
“You must let the color to set for as long as it is possible. The darker the stain, the more that he loves you,” she says, her English halting, broken, but the message is clear. Emphasized by the meaningful look she shoots Vane and me.
“Oh, we’re not—” I start to say,
We’re not in love!
But Vane’s quick to stop me.
Slipping an arm around my shoulder, he presses his lips to my cheek, bestowing the old woman with the kind of smile that encourages her to smile back in a startling display of grayed and missing teeth. His actions stunning me stupid, leaving me to sit slack faced and dumb—with heated cheeks, muddied hands, and a rising young breakout star draped over my back.
Having never been in love, I admit that I’m definitely no expert on the subject. I have no idea what it feels like.
Though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t feel like this.
I’m pretty dang positive Vane’s just cast himself in yet another starring role—playing the part of my dashing young love interest, if only to appease this strange, Moroccan woman we’ll never see again.
Still, Vane is an actor, and an audience is an audience—no matter how small.
Once my hands are covered in elaborate vines and scrolls, the old woman reminds me to allow the stain to take hold while she gets to work on Vane’s feet. But the moment her attention turns, I use the edge of my nail to scrape away little bits. Unable to keep from smiling when I see the paste fall in a loose powdery spray that blends with the dirt.
It’s silly, I know, but I can’t risk there being even the slightest sliver of truth to her words. The movie will wrap soon, Vane and I will go separate ways, and falling in love is an option I just can’t afford.
With our hands and feet fully tended, we make our way along the sidewalk grills, devouring five beef and sausage brochettes, a pile of fries, and two Fantas between us, before drifting among the square’s nightly circus that includes snake charmers, acrobats, jugglers, fortune-tellers, healers, monkey trainers, and musicians. There’s even a woman who’s set up shop removing black rotted teeth from old men, which the two of us watch in horrified fascination.
Arms slung around each other’s waists, hips rubbing together on every other step, Vane’s breath tickles the curve of my ear when he slips a mini bottle of vodka from his pocket and offers me first swig.
I shake my head. Push it away. In any other place I might be game, but Marrakesh is different, and mysterious, and a little bit scary even. Not to mention I have no idea what the local laws are, though I’m guessing they’re strict, and the last thing I need is to end up in a Moroccan jail for underage drinking.
It’s the last thing he needs too, but it’s not like he listens. Vane just smiles, unscrews the cap, and takes a few swallows before he tucks it back into his pocket and pulls me into a dark abandoned alleyway.
I stumble. Squint. Grasp at the wall as I fight to find my way. Steadied by the warmth of his hands at my waist, and the reassuring phrase that flits through my head—the one Jennika used to wean me from my night-light back when I was a kid:
You gotta adjust to the dark so the light can find you
He pushes the scarf from my head, leaving it to fall around my neck, as his face veers so close all I can really make out are deep blue eyes, and the most perfectly parting lips that are quick to claim mine.
I merge into the kiss, tasting the lingering traces of vodka still coating his tongue, as my hands explore the muscled expanse of his chest, the taut curve of his shoulders, the clean edge of his jaw. My fingers twisting into his silky mane of hair, as his slip under my jacket—under my tank top—seeking, discovering—bunching the fabric higher and higher as he works his way up.
Our bodies melding, conforming into a tangle of grinding hips—a crush of lips. The kiss becoming so heated, so urgent, my breath grows ragged, too fast, as my body ignites like a freshly struck match.
So delirious with the feel of him—the warmth of him—the promise of him—I surrender to the nudge of his fingers working inside my bra—circling, pulling, as my own fingers move south. Wandering over a well-defined abdomen, then lower still, down to his waistband. Ready to venture to places I’ve yet to explore, when he breaks away, his voice no more than a whisper when he says, “C’mon, I know a place.” The words thick, eyes bleary, as we fight to catch our breaths, fight to keep from pressing forward and claiming the kiss once again. “Seriously. I can’t believe I didn’t think of it before—it’s gonna be epic—follow me!” He finds my hand, pulls me out of the dark and back into the bright, lively square.