Angel Leya, Jesse Booth, Joanna Reeder, Alessandra Jay & Tricia Barr
(Shifter Academy, #1)
Publication date: January 7th 2019
Genres: Paranormal, Romance, Urban Fantasy, Young Adult
Rule #1: Never go out after dark.
Rule #2: Never go into large bodies of water.
Rule #3: Stay off of social media.Myreen always knew her mom held some deep dark secret; the rules, the moving, the years of unanswered questions. But she didn’t think breaking one rule, just once, would lead to the death of her mother. And she never expected to find out that she was a mermaid shifter, or that her mother was killed by vampires.Whisked away in the middle of the night for her own safety, Myreen finds herself in a secret school for shifters. But starting over in a new school in the middle of the year–even if it is for the millionth time–is never easy. With rumors swirling, mean girls circling, and two incredibly attractive guys tugging her in separate directions, Myreen just wants to get through the school year without having a meltdown in front of everyone.She’s learning so much, but for every question answered, a new one bubbles up. Myreen will need to untangle the web of secrets surrounding her if she ever wants to find out why her mother was murdered. As she dives deeper into the mystery, she discovers a truth about herself that no one saw coming, and it will change the fate of the shifter world forever.
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Chapter 2 Myreen
“I’m sure everything will be okay,” Kenzie reassured her as the two of them walked back from the party. “I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve argued with my parents, and it always turns out alright.”
Myreen had tried to enjoy the party, but she spent the whole time wrangling a giant knot of stress in her gut. Her mom hadn’t even called or texted her, which was incredibly uncharacteristic of her. Even when Myreen was at school, her mom would text her at least once to check in. Had she broken her mother’s heart? Sent her into a nervous breakdown? Myreen was dreading going home, and she was grateful that Kenzie had offered to accompany her. She really needed that support right now.
“I hope so,” Myreen said. “My mom and I have never fought like this. I’ve never even talked back to her before. I know it’s a silly thing for a teenager, but she’s kinda my best friend—besides you, of course.”
“I don’t think that’s silly, at all,” Kenzie said. “I think it’s kinda sweet, actually. I wish I could say that about my mom. I mean, I love her, but I wouldn’t call us ‘friends’.” They continued walking in silence for a moment, and then Kenzie added, “I’ll stick around as long as you want me to, or I can leave right away to give you guys time to talk. Whatever you want.”
“Thanks, Kenz,” Myreen said, managing a half smile of appreciation.
Myreen’s house was in sight, and the stress knot constricted even tighter. She had no idea what to expect, and part of her hoped that they could just go back to the way things were. She’d rather have a happy relationship with her mom, even if it was shrouded in secrecy.
As they got closer, Myreen saw there was something amiss. The front door was wide open. Her mom never left the door open after nightfall; as soon as the sun went down, she would turn the deadbolt. So why was it open? The stress knot flared with a wave of panic, and Myreen picked up the pace, her brisk walk quickly turning into a run.
“What’s wrong?” Kenzie asked, running behind her. “I hope nothing,” Myreen said as they made it to the door. Nothing in the house was out of place, everything was just as it had been when she left. “Mom?” Myreen called out. No answer. Myreen made her way across the small living room to the last place she had seen her mom—the kitchen. “Mom?” she called out again, receiving the same empty silence in reply. “Myreen, something about this doesn’t feel right,” Kenzie said, hovering in the doorway and looking around. “We should go.” Myreen didn’t have time to wonder at the curious caution of her usually reckless friend.
“I have to find my mom,” Myreen said, as if the idea of leaving her house was ridiculous. She stamped into the kitchen, then froze. Lying on the floor, pale blue eyes open wide and beautiful face fixed in anguish, was her mother.
Myreen instantly dropped to the floor, her hands fumblingly finding their way to her mother’s face.
“Mom? Mom!” she yelled, trying to shake her mother awake.
Her mom’s body was cold and unresponsive. Remembering from movies she’d seen, Myreen pressed her index and middle fingers to her mom’s neck under her jaw, feeling around for a pulse. But there was none.
“Oh no!” Kenzie gasped as she came into the room behind her.
“Call 9-1-1!” Myreen shrieked, then turned her mother’s head the other way to search for a pulse on the other side of her neck. But as she did, her fingers ran into an angry red bite mark.
Panic spiked in her chest as she tried to comprehend what was happening. Something had bit her mom! But what? How could a bite hurt her this badly? Badly enough to...no, she couldn’t be dead. She just couldn’t!
Myreen’s head was a din of white noise as she fought the heavy sob that threatened to constrict her chest. But she couldn’t cry. Crying would mean admitting defeat, facing the reality that her mother was...
She was vaguely aware of the sound of Kenzie dialing on her phone as she paced nervously around the kitchen, and of the sound of heavy feet coming in through the front door.
A large hand landed on her shoulder, and she sucked in a breath and spun her head around.
“You have to come with me right now,” said a man she had never seen before. His build was threatening, and he could have easily attacked her mom.
She jerked her shoulder away from his hand. “Who are you? Did you hurt my mom?” she accused with a tremulous voice, her mind a clashing storm of sorrow, anger and paranoia.
“No, but if we don’t leave now, the ones who did will get you too,” he said.
“I’m not going anywhere with you,” she protested, lips twitching between a sneer and a pout. Don’t cry, don’t cry!
“If you don’t, you will die,” he said. “Please, we don’t have much time.” He held out a strong hand. “If I wanted to kill you, don’t you think I would have already done so? I’m not your enemy.”
Myreen looked up at Kenzie, who was staring at the stranger with intense eyes, holding her phone to a deaf ear.
“Please,” the man urged once more, and Myreen heard sincerity and desperation in his voice.
Her mother was dead. Someone or something had killed her. And Myreen believed this man when he said she was in danger of being next. She didn’t have a lot of options. Stay here and wait for the cops to arrive and risk whatever fate awaited her if the murderer returned, or take a leap of faith and trust this man who seemed to genuinely want to help her.
Without a word, she reluctantly accepted the man’s hand. He pulled her to her feet, and together she and Kenzie followed him hurriedly out of the house.
He charged toward a sleek black camaro parked along the curb and opened the back door. Trepidation rooted her to the sidewalk at the thought of getting in this stranger’s car, but she couldn’t find her voice.
“You never said anything about getting in a car,” Kenzie said, voicing her thoughts for her.
“We have to get off the streets,” he said, holding the door open. “We’re too exposed here.”
“Then we can go to my house,” Kenzie said. “It’s just down the street.” She pointed in that direction.
“It’s too close.” The man shook his head. “They will follow Myreen’s scent there.”
“Follow her scent?” Kenzie said. “Are you talking about what I think you’re talking about?”
He cut a narrowed gaze at Kenzie. “I’ll explain everything, but we have to get to a safe place first,” he said, his broad shoulders bristling with urgency. “Please, they may already be on to us.”
Myreen passed a hesitant look to Kenzie. “I’m not leaving your side,” Kenzie promised, taking her hand and squeezing it firmly. They nodded to each other and got in the car. The man closed the door and rushed into
the driver’s seat, wasting no time in starting the engine and speeding down the road. Now that she had a chance, Myreen took a good look at the man sitting in front of her. He looked to be in his late thirties, with short brown hair and handsome dark stubble framing his rugged face. He had the look of a gladiator, rough and strong, with scars marring the bulges on his arms. “Who are you and what do you want with me?” Myreen hiccupped, now wishing she had just stayed with her mom and waited for the police. He looked at her in the rearview mirror. “My name is Oberon. I came to personally invite you to a school for...special people like you. I had no idea you were in any kind of danger. I didn’t realize you were a target.”
“A target to who?” she asked, trying to remain calm. “Who did that to my mom?” Tears welled in her eyes, but she knew if she let them break, they would render her useless.
“Vampires,” Oberon replied, dead serious.
“Vampires?” Myreen asked, not bothering to hide her skepticism. “Do you think I’m an idiot?”
“This isn’t a joke, Myreen,” he said, radiating authority. “You don’t live in the world you think you do. Do you even know what you are?”
She narrowed her eyes. What was he talking about?
“What is she?” Kenzie asked beside her. Myreen turned to Kenzie, and she looked as if she completely believed every word this Oberon guy was saying.
“Myreen, have you ever experienced anything strange? Anything you couldn’t explain?” Oberon kept his gaze on Myreen in the mirror, ignoring Kenzie’s question.
Myreen’s mind flipped through screenshots of her life. There was nothing normal about the way she grew up, but nothing to indicate she was something otherworldly as this man was suggesting.
“No,” she answered honestly. “What about your mother?” he asked. Myreen shook her head, not yet ready to say anything relating to her mom. “You’ve never...been to the beach? Or had anything weird happen to you while swimming?” She met his steely gaze in the mirror. Why was he asking her about swimming? Was there really something to the stupid no-water rule?
“I’ve never been allowed to swim,” she confessed, leaning on the edge of her seat in anticipation of some explanation at last.
Oberon’s brows raised in an understanding that was completely lost to her. What did he know that she didn’t?
“So your mom knew, and she tried to keep you from it,” he said with a nod. “From what?” Myreen asked at the same time as Kenzie. Oberon sighed, flicking another look at Kenzie through the rearview mirror. “Myreen, you’re a mermaid.” The balloon of excitement that had been growing inside her popped, the sound like a whoopee cushion in her head. She didn’t know what she was hoping he would tell her, but that certainly wasn’t it.
“A mermaid?” she said flatly. “Okay, that’s it, just let me out of the car.” “It’s true,” he said. “First you say vampires attacked my house, and now you expect me to believe that I’m a mermaid?” she summarized in a mocking tone. “I don’t know if you’re crazy or just toying with me, but my mom just died! This is sick!”
“Think about it, Myreen,” he said. “I know you saw that bite mark on your mom’s neck. What do you think that could have been from? What other creatures out there do you know of with bites that big that result in death?”
“Not vampires,” she said, throwing up her hands in exasperation. “They don’t exist.”
“Actually, that’s not true,” Kenzie said, her voice low. She couldn’t even meet Myreen’s gaze.
Myreen rolled her eyes. She knew Kenzie was into weird stuff, but now wasn’t the time for her to defend this psycho. Myreen was not going to buy into this nonsense. Her mother’s dead body back at home was real, and she needed to do something about it.
“Please let me out of the car,” she said. “I can prove it to you,” Oberon growled, clearly getting frustrated. “And how exactly are you going to prove to me that I’m a mermaid?” she asked, all teenage sass. “Mermaids aren’t the only shape-shifters in the world,” he said, harshly turning the steering wheel. “There are more species than you can imagine. For centuries, we’ve been hunted down by vampires and certain humans, and we finally have a place where we can be safe from them.”
He reached back over his seat to hand her an envelope. She narrowed her eyes at it for a moment, then took it, afraid to leave him driving one-handed for too long. On the flat side of the envelope was a label that read “The Dome” with a strange insignia beneath it, a crest divided into four sections each with a different symbol inside: talons, a wing, a spiral and claw marks.
“Like I said earlier, I came here tonight to personally invite you to the school,” he continued as she inspected the envelope. “We don’t often get stray mermaids, so I knew it would be best to have this discussion in person. To explain to you who we are and why you should come to the school.” He looked back over his shoulder. “Open it.”
Myreen looked at Kenzie, who was watching with large eyes full of anticipation. Kenzie nodded in encouragement, so Myreen figured why not.
She ripped the envelope open and unfolded the letter inside. The same insignia was in the top right corner in full color. At the top were the words “The Dome” and under that “Academy for the Gifted”. But as she read it, impossibly the “G” turned into a “Sh” to read “Academy for the Shifted.” She blinked hard several times, and the letters kept changing back and forth. If this was a prank, it was a very well thought-out one.
Shrugging off that weirdness, she continued to read the letter:
We are excited to invite you to study at our most prestigious school for gifted individuals. You are receiving this letter because you have been found to be one of us, and we would be honored to guide you through your journey of self-discovery and make you a valued member of our community. The choice is yours, but we must warn you that failure to accept this invitation may put your family and others at risk. Please return your RSVP to the address below and a representative will be in touch to give you further instructions. We look forward to studying with you.
Sincerely, Oberon Rex, Director
“Normally, initiates either grew up in families that are already affiliated with the school, or have begun to exhibit abilities that would make them aware of their status, so the form letter usually suffices. We rarely have to meet in person,” Oberon said. “But like I said, you are a rare case.”
“You keep saying ‘we,’” Kenzie said. “Does that mean you’re a shape-shifter too?”
Myreen shot her a look that said, “Don’t be ridiculous,” but Kenzie was focused on Oberon.
“I am,” he said with pride. “Kenzie, you can’t really believe all this,” Myreen said. “Actually, I do,” Kenzie said. “Well, I don’t,” Myreen said. “And I want no part of this sick game he’s playing with us.
Please take me home so I can call the cops and find out what really happened to my mom.” “I said I can prove it to you.” He pulled the car over onto the side of the road. Then he got out of the car and yanked open her door. He waved out his hand in an invitation for her to get out. Myreen didn’t hesitate. She didn’t know what he was planning to do, but now was her chance to make a run for it. She got out of the car and realized they were on a long stretch of road that led to the city. There was nothing but green field around them for miles. It would be a long run back, if she even made it that far.
Kenzie hopped out after her, and it was clear that she had no interest in running; her eyes were trained unblinkingly on Oberon. Myreen stayed close to Kenzie so that she could grab her arm and drag her away if she had to when the time was right.
Oberon stepped away a few feet into the grass and began unbuttoning his black shirt. “What the!? Why are you stripping?” Myreen shrieked. “Just wait,” Oberon said with a hint of irritation in his voice. He threw off his shirt and pulled down his pants, and Myreen was now truly terrified of what he was planning to do. She grabbed Kenzie’s arm and squeezed, trying to tell her telepathically to escape with her now that his pants were around his ankles. Kenzie didn’t get the message, and Myreen’s sudden tug on Kenzie’s unmoving arm caused her to trip to the ground.
She pushed herself up with her hands in time to see something that just wasn’t possible.
Oberon had turned from a large, muscular man to an even bigger mythical beast in seconds. All over his skin sprouted small brown feathers. His rugged face transformed, his nose and mouth growing and twisting into a huge black beak with a dagger-sharp tip. His hands and feet enlarged to smooth black talons that dug into the grass as he landed on all fours. And out of his broad back emerged the most magnificent pair of brown wings, furling and expanding, making the air crack with their power.
Standing before her was a gryphon. A beast of legend. This creature didn’t exist, and yet here it was not three feet from her, looking at her with Oberon’s golden brown eyes.
Her heart was just about hemorrhaging in her chest, threatening to take the life right out of her. Oberon hadn’t lied about himself being a shape-shifter. And if this was true, maybe it was all true. Could her mom really have been killed by vampires? Was she herself a mermaid? Everything she knew about the world was now in question, and she didn’t know what to believe.