Book Two Excerpt

Since it’s my birthday and I feel like sharing, I’m going to give you all a sneak peak at Evan Elemental: Book Two. Enjoy!

Prologue

I do not recognize the person that I see in the mirror. No longer the tomboy who preferred to race in the fields and climb fences, I look the picture of a refined princess; a refined princess on her wedding day.

The thought makes my stomach spasm and bile rise in my throat. My wedding. In a matter of hours I will be married to a man I do not know; a fierce warrior of a man who has my people convinced that they need him to survive this terrible plague. I am his price and I am willingly given away. I cannot blame them: people are dying every day, victims of something strange and dark and horrifying. The freedom of a young privileged girl is a small price to those who still survive.

My fingers stray to my collarbone where my stone should rest. I am not wearing it today because mother did not deem it appropriate. With a sigh, I tear my gaze away from the image in the mirror of the strange girl with wide dark eyes and hair piled carefully in ornate curls on the top of her head.

I cross the room to my bookshelf, lift the heavy wooden box that stores my keepsakes from tis resting place, set it on my vanity, and carefully open the lid. I sink onto the plush stool and take in the contents of the box. My eyes search out and immediately spot the rough, oddly shaped chunk of purple crystal set in silver that is my dearest possession. It was given to me when I was just a child, playing in those fields.

The image of Alastair floods my mind: Alastair filthy from crawling into the caves, the dirt-caked stone in his hand that he proudly offered me, Alastair as a young man growing serious about taking his father’s place in the Emperor’s militia, Alastair dressed in his uniform, pale in a coffin.

I let the lid of the box snap shut and push it away from me. It is time to put away childish things. The course of my life was permanently altered the day we received word that Alastair had fallen to the same mysterious death that has now claimed thousands. In death, Alastair appeared angelic, a stark contrast to the energetic adventure-seeking man with an unwavering joy for life that he was.

Before he left on assignment to the Third Kingdom two years ago, he had the stone set in a necklace for me as a surprise; a token of our childhood adventures and a promise for the future we were meant to spend together. He was not gone even six months before my worst nightmare came true.

My eyes stray to the open window. Night has already begun to descend and the Second and Third Kingdoms are becoming increasingly visible. This is why the ceremony is held at night: even though they are faintly visible during the day, the Kingdoms are at their glory in the night sky. The Second Kingdom glows a lovely rose pink and the Third Kingdom shines an ethereal gold. Our kingdom, the First, is the green kingdom, the wealthiest and most verdant. We were also the last hit by the plague and have the most to lose.

I inhale and call the spirit of the wind to me. Instantly, I am flooded with a heady sense of calm. I am going to need all the strength I can summon to make it through tonight. With my eyes closed, I begin to center myself and tap into my place of inner power. I can feel the quiet hum of earth against my skin; it fills me with a sense of power that is both dark and light. It is timeless and uninitiated to the weakness of human emotion.

“Impressive.”

I open my eyes to the sight of thick vines and leaves curling their way in through the window. The ghost of the first genuine smile I have felt in days touches my lips. I turn to face my mother who is watching me from the doorway with a satisfied smirk. The gift of the Elemental Sprits is one many of our people are blessed with, but none as strongly as me.

“Come, Beatriz. It is time. The festivities have already begun.”

“Please, give me a moment, mother,” I respond, my voice sounding more desperate than I would like. She sighs and nods her head slightly before turning to leave the room, shutting the door softly behind her.

All of my former resolve is rapidly crumbling. I cannot do this. I will not do this. Even as I think it, I know I will do what is best for my people, no matter the sacrifice. If Kai can save them, then I must pay his price to ensure that he does.

A gentle knock on the door stirs me from my dismal thoughts. “Bea?” the soft cadence of my sister’s voice calls out.

I manage to stand even though my heart is so heavy it threatens to keep me anchored to the stool. “I know, I am coming,” I answer reluctantly.

Fiorella cracks open the door and slips inside, closing it behind her. She looks worse than I feel: her eyes bloodshot and her face sickly pale.

“Tell me sister, what is it that disturbs you so?” I plead, taking her hands in mine; she is ice cold.

“I cannot let you go through with this,” Fi whispers hoarsely, fresh tears spilling over her dark lashes.

I give her a consoling smile and do my best to set aside my selfish feelings. “It must be done, Fi. The fate of our kingdom is at stake. If this is the way to save us, then it must be done.” I am proud of how strong my voice is even though I am breaking inside.

“No,” she says fiercely, shocking me. My passive, ever-gentle younger sister looks more determined than I have ever seen her. “There is a way,” she says, pausing, “to stop this.”

I shake my head and begin to pull away, but she grips me tightly. “Listen to me, Beatriz. Let me help you.”

The sound of voices in the hall startles us. Fi lets go of my hands and checks the door making sure that it is locked. When she turns back to me her eyes are wild and her mouth is set into a grim line.

“Fi, what has gotten into you?” I watch as she reaches into the pocket of her dress. What she produces from its depths causes me to take a step back in shock. My lips part, but I am speechless. Fiorella rushes forward and presses the object into my hand. My fingers curl automatically around the silver hilt encrusted with red stones. The slender, curved blade of the dagger glints in the fading light of day.

I tear my eyes away from the menacing thing and take in my sister, the girl I have known nearly all of my life who is a stranger to me now.
“How-”

Chapter One

I sit up, gasping. The last remnants of the dream fade as my eyes adjust to the flood of sunlight. A dream, that’s all it was. Only, it felt so real I’m having a hard time separating myself from the role my mind had me playing.

I inhale deeply and am surprised by the salty tang of ocean air. I swing my legs over the edge of the bed and slowly lower my feet to the floor, waiting for my body to rebel. I expect to feel sore and cramped, but I feel completely refreshed. I’m not sure how much time has passed, but I know that it’s been at least a couple of days since Ezra knocked me out and took me from Price; I can feel the passage of time in my bones.

My eyes adjust to the light and I’m able to take in more of my surroundings. The room I’m in is simple: white walls, sheer white curtains, even a white bedspread. It’s all very airy and light and I would normally appreciate the elegant simplicity, but right now not so much. No, right now I’m pissed as hell.

Tentatively, I push myself up off of the bed. Even though I feel refreshed, I falter when I try to stand. Just when I’m about to hit the floor, hard, a burst of wind rushes by my face and I’m suddenly being supported.

“Morning, sunshine,” Ezra says softly, looking down at me with a smug grin.

I try to push him away, but he tightens his grip. “Let go of me,” I spit through clenched teeth.

He gives me a wicked smile and releases me. I sink back onto the bed- my legs still Jell-O- and lay back, pressing my palms to my eyes. “Jesus, do I have some sort of sign above my head that says ‘Fuck with me’? Because it sure as hell feels like it.”

I feel the bed sink next to me under Ezra’s weight. I know I should be trying to escape, but I honestly don’t know where I would go if I did. “Where are we?” I ask my voice muffled under my hands.

“South Carolina,” Ezra responds casually. I giggle because he says it more like “Caroliner.” Then I freak out.

“South Carolina?” I shriek jumping up from the bed. My legs wobble a bit, but I can finally stand. The questions I should have already asked bubble up and flow out of me in a rush. “What did you do to me? Why did you take me? What are you going to do?” I start for the door expecting Ezra to try and stop me, but he doesn’t. Curiosity beats out panic and I pause in the doorway looking back at him.

Ezra is lying on the bed with his hands folded behind his head as if he’s the most relaxed he’s ever been. I take a half step backwards into another dimly lit room, my eyes still trained on him, but he doesn’t even flinch.

“What? You’re not going to try and stop me?” I ask incredulously. His lack of concern is making me nervous.

After a beat he speaks. “No, you’re free to leave if you want.” I watch as he sits up and looks over his shoulder at me. “I didn’t kidnap you and you’re not my prisoner.” His mouth turns up at the corner and his eyes sparkle with amusement.

“Then, why did you take me?” I demand. “Oh, and hey, why the hell did you kiss me?”

Ezra’s mouth splits into a full on smile. “I was hoping you’d forget about that.” He scratches the back of his neck and tries to look contrite despite his smile. I bite my lip to hide a smile of my own. What the hell is wrong with me?

I narrow my eyes at him. “Yeah, well I didn’t. It was weird and confusing. Why did you do it?”

Ezra pats the bed beside him indicating for me to sit down. I hesitate only momentarily before complying. There is something so disarming about him right now; he seems more at ease and less shifty than he did back in Price. I eye him warily making sure to keep some space between us.

Ezra sighs and takes my hand in his, sending a dark, primal surge of energy straight through me. “Because I wanted to? And because you looked like you needed comforting.” Ezra gives me a crooked grin and squeezes my hand. I yank it out of his grip immediately.

“At least you’re being honest,” I sigh. “That’s not something I’m used to. Still, it was wrong of you to touch me like that.”

“I know, and I am deeply sorry for taking advantage like that. It won’t happen again.” I pry my gaze from the polished wooden floor and meet Ezra’s eyes. He looks sincerely sorry and I relax a little despite my better judgment.

“Can I try something?” I ask hesitantly.

Ezra’s eyes light up with humor. “Of course,” he answers with a smile.

Gingerly, I place my hand on Ezra’s bare forearm; his sharp intake of breath is his only response. Slowly, the dark feeling swells from him to me. It’s indescribable, the way it feels, the way the darkness unfurls and fills me until I feel solid and whole.

“What is that?” I gasp. “What are you doing to me?”

Ezra shakes his head slowly. “I’m not doing anything,” he answers, his voice low and thoughtful.

I tear my hand away like it burns. “Don’t lie to me. I know you can do things, mess with people’s minds, like you did with my aunt. What are you doing to me when you touch me?” I’m aiming for harsh and demanding, but I just sound desperate.

Ezra strokes his chin looking bemused. “Can you describe for me what it is you think I’m doing?” he asks, sounding like he’s indulging the fantasy of a child or a mentally ill person.

“Fine,” I spit through clenched teeth. I stand up and head back to the door. “You know,” I say, stopping and looking over my shoulder at Ezra who continues to look thoroughly amused, “for a second I actually thought you might not be the creepy psycho-kidnapper that I thought you were, but I guess I was wrong.”

I take a step toward the door, but am suddenly blocked by the sheepish-looking form of Ezra. His shoulders slump under my accusing glare. “Evan, I didn’t kidnap you, not the way you’re thinking. And I’m not ‘messing’ with you. I can assure you that I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

I grit my teeth in frustration. Everything that’s logical and rational tells me I shouldn’t believe him, but I do. This whole thing is so messed up. The look on my face must say exactly that, because Ezra’s expression softens with sympathy.

“Just, come back in and sit down. I’ll get you something to eat. You must be starved.”

I cock an eyebrow at him. “Kind of. Since I’ve been knocked out for, what, days? Thanks to you.”

Ezra goes from concerned to amused in a flash. The cheeky glint in his eyes and the sudden appearance of a dimple at the left corner of his mouth causes my breath to catch. I shake my head to clear away the disturbing thoughts flashing through my mind.

“You’re right. I’ll explain everything to you, just sit down and collect yourself,” he says, taking my shoulder and gently urging me back into the room.

I slip out from under his grasp and turn to head back to the bed. “Fine. But I need to take a shower. And change these clothes. Seriously, I stink.”

I flop down on the bed and my body immediately thanks me. Maybe I am sore after all. “You better have a really good explanation for what…” I stop mid sentence when I look back and see that Ezra is gone. “Right,” I mutter to myself.

Even thought it feels good just to sit here, I’m suddenly restless, my body all too aware of how sentient I’ve been. I stand up wander over to the window. It’s slightly open allowing a soft breeze to filter into the room. Outside is the picture of a warm summer day on a pristine beach. Tourists mill about in various states of undress, some lugging chairs and umbrellas, others attempting to keep anxious children from running headfirst into the surf.

It’s a relaxing scene, but it does little to soothe my budding anxiety. Now that I’m alone and fully conscious, the gravity of what happened back in Price is beginning to set it; that, and the fact that I’ve apparently been kidnapped. Not that I couldn’t just…

I close my eyes and feel the familiar buzz of power crackle against and under my skin. I know that if I turn around and take a step I’ll be back in Price. That would be the responsible thing to do, head back and face the disaster that’s waiting for me. But, Ezra did say he would explain things…so maybe I should hear him out? If I go back to Price right away, I’ll be going back to locked doors and dead ends; to a guy that I supposedly love who can’t bother to tell me the truth about anything. So, I’ll stay, just a little bit longer. Then I’m out of here.

I feel Ezra before I hear him. “I hope you like stale bagels, because that’s all they had left over from breakfast,” he says as he pushes through the door. I glance over my shoulder to see him standing frozen just in the threshold, a Styrofoam plate holding a couple of dry looking bagels and a few packets of cream cheese clutched in his left hand.

“Something wrong?” I ask, noting the way he’s standing perfectly framed in the shimmering arch.

Ignoring my question, Ezra leans forward and squints. “What is that?”

In an instant the arch disappears. “What’s what?” I figure, if we keep answering questions with questions we can avoid this conversation altogether, because I have no idea how he could see that when no one else has.

Ezra frowns after a moment then his mouth folds itself into its usual smirk. “Must have been a trick of the light.” The calculating glint in his eyes says I’m not fooling him, but he lets it slide.

I try not to look too relieved as I sit back down on the bed. Ezra sets the plate beside me and proceeds to look amazingly hot. Ugh, what is wrong with me? When we were in Price his looks were easy to ignore, especially with Lex around to distract me. Now, alone in this sparse and tiny room, there is no denying how beautiful this man really is. Focus Evan. This guy friggin kidnapped you.

“So, you said you would explain. Explain.” I stand up, cross my arms over my chest, and attempt to stare Ezra down. He may have almost a foot on me, but I’m packing some serious heat and he doesn’t know that. Sure, I haven’t exactly figured out how to use my abilities as a “weapon,” but I’m sure I could improvise if I’m put to the test. I’m thinking, electrocution.

To his credit, Ezra has the decency to look mildly impressed. “I will,” he says softly. “Please eat.” Ezra gestures to the plate of bagels that look seconds away from growing mold. I wrinkle my nose and he smiles. “Come on, Evan. I feel bad enough as it is. I don’t need to have you starving, too.”

“You feel bad,” I say incredulously.

“Of course I do. Despite appearances, I’m not exactly a criminal. I had a job to do, so I did it. Nothing more.”

“A job?” Ezra raises his eyebrows and gestures toward the plate. Reluctantly, I pick up the least offending piece of bread, tear off a chuck, and chew. It doesn’t taste nearly as bad as I was expecting it to. Ezra nods, a pleased look on his face, before continuing.

“Yes. I was sent to secure you and bring you back to your home.”

I snort a laugh and half choke on my bagel. “Uhm, you do realize that I was at home. I mean it’s where I live now. Before that, I lived in Connecticut. I know you’re a foreigner and all, but a quick glance at a map would have told you that South Carolina is a long ways off from Connecticut.”

Ezra smirks. “As it happens, I am very familiar with American geography. That being said, I am taking you to your true home.”

I open my mouth to make some sort of asinine retort, but I stop before saying anything. When it comes down to it, I don’t really know anything about who I am or who my family really is. The weight of emotion that I’ve been struggling to repress comes crashing down on me and I suddenly feel very weak and vulnerable. Tears pool in my eyes and begin to fall with shameless abandon. Ezra’s eyes widen in a horrified expression.

“Please, don’t cry. I didn’t mean to upset you.” He sits down next to me and awkwardly pats me on the back. When his hand lingers for a second too long, I’m slow to react. There’s something about his touch that fills me, that seeps into all of my emptiest corners. I manage to shake the feeling.

“Can you please not touch me,” I say quietly. My voice lacks the conviction I wish it had, and I can tell Ezra senses that too.

“I’m sorry,” he says pulling his hand away and placing it on his knee. “It’s sort of like a compulsion.”

I raise my eyebrows. “What? Touching people?”

“No,” he answers with a small smile, “comforting you. I can’t seem to tolerate seeing you in distress.”

I shake my head, unable to comprehend what he’s saying. “If that’s the case, then why the hell were you being so creepy back in Price? Because that was pretty damn distressing.”

“Was I?” he smirks giving nothing away.

“Whatever. Tell me why you brought me here. I can and will hurt you if you keep fucking with me.”

“I believe you, what with those amazing elemental abilities you have.”

I drop the stiff bagel back on its plate and fold my arms across my chest, narrowing my eyes at Ezra. “What are you talking about?”

Ezra presses his lips together to hold back his laugh. “I had my suspicions before, but you definitely confirmed them last night. Within an hour of us being here every electrical socket and light bulb in this room was fried. I suppose it didn’t happen on the place because I had you in a deep state of unconsciousness. Once we got to the hotel, I lifted my hold so that you could wake up naturally. As soon as I did that, it was like fireworks in here.”

“What are you talking about?” I ask again blankly.

Ezra rolls his eyes. “They really haven’t told you anything. What are they playing at?” he asks more to himself than me. I slap his arm to get him to focus.

“Start talking, pretty boy, or I will not hesitate to drop you in a hole in Siberia.” Instead of being terrified like I intended, Ezra laughs.

“You should learn to be patient.” He leans back on the bed and rests on his elbows. The clouds shift in the sky outside the window and the room is cast in shadows. I ignore Ezra’s comment and stand up and head to the door where the light switch is. I flick it up and down but nothing happens.

“I told you,” Ezra says softly, his breath warm on my neck where he now stands behind me, “fried.”

“Why?” I ask turning. We’re standing so close I can see the delicate blue veins beneath his too pale skin. I don’t remember him being this pale since the first time I saw him.

When he speaks, his breath is soft and sweet on my face. “One of the main telltale signs of a fledgling Elemental is the inability to control new powers during sleep. Since you fried the sockets and the bulbs, I’m assuming you have the power to summon and control electricity. You’re among a very small and elite group of Elementals. I’d expect no less from someone so captivating.” Ezra smirks and begins to back away. Without thinking, I reach out and grab his wrist stopping him.

“There are others, like me? That can control them all?” I don’t even care how vulnerable and desperate I sound, because I feel vulnerable and desperate. Never once have I ever felt the need to belong, not until now when the hope that I’m not alone is so strong and tantalizing.

Ezra tilts his head to the side and regards me with a curious expression. “What do you mean, ‘them all’?” He takes a step closer and takes my free wrist with his free hand. “Evan,” he persists, “what do mean?”

I swallow hard and ignore the intensity of feeling that pulses through our unbroken connection. “I didn’t mean anything. Forget it.” I drop his wrist and press myself against the closed door trying to put distance between us.

“I see you there, under that mask,” he says reaching up and placing his fingertips on the side of my face. “You can’t hide from me.”

I take in a shaky breath and laugh. “You’re being creepy again.”

Ezra nods slightly, that curious look back on his face. “The bathroom is just outside, off the living area.”

I raise an eyebrow. “Living area?”

“It’s a suite.” Ezra drops my wrist and reaches around me to turn the knob and pulls the door open, forcing me to step closer to him. Without taking my eyes off of him, I step back and find myself in an equally pristine white living room.

“There?” I ask pointing toward a door next to the one I just left. Ezra nods once and strolls by me without a glance.

“Get washed up. I’ll go get you something better to eat and something clean to wear.”

“Ezra?” I watch as he pauses in the doorway to the hall, the muscles in the back of his neck tense. “Nevermind,” is all I can think to say.

Without responding he steps into the hall and shuts the door behind him leaving me alone. I press my lips together to suppress a sigh. My emotions are all over the place when it comes to Ezra.

How far am I willing to go to the answers I want? And why do I get the feeling that there is something way bigger going on than anything that I could imagine? For the simple reason that there’s nothing else I can do right now, I turn and head to the bathroom.

Chapter Two

I stand beneath the shower for twenty minutes straight. The water is deliciously hot and the soap is expensive, but I can’t manage to feel clean because I keep seeing blood on my hands and knees.

When it’s apparent my skin won’t stand another scrub down, I step out of the shower, dry off, and wrap the towel tightly around me. The teak counter is crowded with various sample bottles of expensive lotions and creams. I try out a few of them, biding my time before I have to face Ezra and whatever explanation he has. As desperate as I am for the truth, it feels safer wallowing in ignorance for at least a little while longer.

At a loss with nothing left to do in the bathroom, I wander back into the main room and find Ezra sitting on the sofa, a crystal glass filled with clear liquid in his hand. He has a faraway look in his eyes as he stares at the darkening sky through the sliding glass doors that lead to a private deck. I clear my throat and his head snaps up. He glances briefly at the towel I’m wearing before his gaze returns to my eyes and he gives me a soft smile. “Feel better?”

I nod suddenly feeling shy. “Hey, weird question, but didn’t I have blood on me when you…uh…picked me up? There was some on my dress, but none on my skin before I showered.”

Ezra bites down on his bottom lip and winces. He downs the rest of his drink before answering. “Yes, on your knees and a bit on your hands and face. I washed it off.”

My eyes widen fractionally and my heart picks up speed at the thourhg of Ezra’s hands on me while I was unconscious. I can’t tell if it’s out of fear or desire and that scares me. “Oh. Okay. I uh…”

“Look,” he says cutting me off, “this doesn’t have to be weird. I didn’t like it on you, and it smelled wrong. I was perfectly clinical about it and I haven’t touched you other than to carry you to and from the plane.”

I wrinkle my nose. “It smelled wrong?”

Ezra’s mouth lifts at the corner and his dimple reappears. “Yeah. It smelled like blood magic.” He raises his eyebrows and looks intently at me. “Bad magic.”

A chill breaks out over my skin and my mouth goes dry. “Hey,” Ezra says jumping up and rushing over to me, “I didn’t mean to upset you. I didn’t see what happened, but I heard the screams and then I saw you running. I took the opportunity when it was presented and I didn’t question it.”

“So you had nothing to do with…” I trail off unable to speak about what I saw. The image of Jessie’s pale, limp body comes to mind anyway.

“Evan,” Ezra says softly. He places his hand on the side of my neck and I can feel my pulse start to slow.

I open my mouth to ask him to stop when a knock on the door startles us. Ezra drops his hand and takes a step back. “It’s the food I ordered,” he says with a shrug. His eyes trail down my body. “I bought you some clothes,” he says looking back into my eyes with a smirk. “They’re in your room.”

I blush under the intensity of his gaze. “Creep,” I mutter, but I can’t help the smile that breaks out on my face. Ezra just laughs as he heads to the door. The sound of it sends unwelcome chills down my spine.

In “my room” I find a bunch of department store shopping bags on the bed. I rifle through the generic-looking clothing until I settle on a powder blue long-sleeved thermal and a pair of washed out blue jean shorts. There’s another, smaller bag filled with bras and underwear. I can’t imagine that Ezra actually picked these out himself. At least, I hope he didn’t. I pick out a basic black set and get dressed.

By the time I’m finished, the room is almost completely ensconced in darkness. I remember the blown outlets and lights bulbs and my mind wanders back to my room in Price. “Holy shit.”

“You haven’t struck me as the praying type.” I turn to see Ezra standing in the doorway, framed by a halo of warm light.

I raise my eyebrows. “Why didn’t you knock?”

Ezra leans against the doorframe and crosses his arms over his chest. “I heard you finish dressing. I wanted to make sure you ate before the food got cold.”

“You heard?” I step back putting more distance between us. The room suddenly feels very small.

Ezra taps his ear. “Heightened senses.”

I inhale a sharp breath. “Because…because you’re a…”

He cocks his head to the side. “I’m a what?” I take another step back as he steps closer. Electricity crackles against my skin and I feel a “door” open just behind me. I didn’t mean to do it, but it seems my subconscious has other ideas.

Ezra’s gaze strays over my right shoulder and he squints his eyes. “The better question,” he says looking back at me, “is what are you?”

I swallow hard and wrack my brain for some lie to conceal what he can obviously see. Then it occurs to me that I have no reason to lie. Since my parents were killed, I’ve been immersed in this sticky web of lies and secrets with no end in sight. Why should I add to that mess? “You can see that?” I ask quietly, meeting Ezra’s gaze.

The confusion in his eyes clears and a small smile tugs at his lips. “Am I not supposed to?”

I shrug slightly. “I don’t know. I don’t even know what it is or why I can do it.” I suck my bottom lip between my teeth and try to collect my thoughts. “It’s some sort of door I can open. It can take me anywhere I want it to, I think.”

It feels like such a relief to say it out loud, even if it does sound crazy. Something tells me that Ezra is comfortable with crazy. His face is smooth and unaffected, but I can see the process of his thoughts play out in his eyes. He takes a step forward, and I tense.

“I’m not going to hurt you, Evangeline,” he says quietly. Something in my gut has me wanting to trust him, but I can’t ignore all the evidence that I shouldn’t.

“How can I be sure of that? I mean, you say you brought me here because it was your job, but then you didn’t seem at all concerned when I tried to leave. What’s your game, Ezra? Why am I really here?” I can feel the energy in the room shift, and I’m not sure if it’s me who caused it or him.

“You can’t,” he says simply. He rolls his shoulders back once and lets his head fall slightly to the side and back. His eyes are soft as he takes me in and his lips are slightly parted, revealing a sliver of tongue wedged between his teeth. Neither of us says anything for what feels like a long time. When the silence grows unbearably tense, Ezra straightens back up and gestures toward the door. “How about you come eat some of the food that I ordered, and we’ll talk.”

The scent of garlic and butter hits me, causing a pang of hunger to rip through my stomach. “Alright,” I sigh. “Just let me comb my hair first.”

Ezra nods once and leaves the room. I stand there, absently picking the skin on my left elbow. “Fuck it,” I mutter and begin to empty all the shopping bags until I find a small bag filled with barrettes and bobby pins. Without combing it, I wind my hair up into a knot on top of my head and secure it with a few of the pins.

When I enter the main room, I find a small table set for one. The site of the silver covered dish makes my stomach churn; I haven’t quite forgotten that dream. I pry my gaze from the dish and take note of the crystal glasses and the bread folded in a cloth napkin and tucked in a little wicker basket.

“You’re not hungry?” I ask, my gaze flicking to Ezra who is sitting on the sofa once again.

He eyes me for a moment before smiling and shaking his head. “I am. And I’m not.”

I swallow hard, feeling a blush begin to creep up my chest and neck. I can only imagine what it is he’s hungry for. “Whatever,” is all I say; I’m not going to keep giving him opportunities to embarrass me.

Ezra stands and walks the short distance to the table. He lifts the covered dish, sending a wave of the same garlic and butter smell I had noticed earlier. The plate underneath is piled high with pasta covered in shrimp and some sort of chunky red sauce. My mouth waters in response, and my stomach gives another deafening growl. Ezra smiles and wheels the table, which is actually just a cart, over to the sofa so that I can sit.

Reluctantly, I follow him and sit down. On closer inspection, I notice that there are also sautéed scallops and garbanzo beans in the mix. I pierce one of the deliciously seared prawns and pop it into my mouth. The second it hits my tongue, I practically moan in ecstasy. The food being so amazingly prepared coupled with the fact that I haven’t eaten in days, is almost overwhelming. As I slowly chew, savoring every bit of garlic-buttery goodness, I glance at Ezra and notice that he’s watching me intently.

“What? Do you have some sort of fetish for watching people eat?” I ask sarcastically. Then I remember Lex doing almost the same thing. In retrospect, it was kind of weird, especially now that I know that he’s at least some part vampire. The memories cause a knot to form in my stomach and I’m no longer hungry. I set down the fork and sink back into the sofa.

I hear Ezra sigh. “Evan, please eat. I won’t watch you. Honestly, I didn’t even realize I was doing it. I guess it’s been a long time since I enjoyed anything as much as you were enjoying that shrimp. I was captivated.”

When I look at him again, he’s grinning guiltily, like a schoolboy who’s just been caught peeking in the girl’s changing room. I roll my eyes. “It’s not you. Maybe I should take it slow, I don’t want to throw it all back up.” Dutifully, I pick the fork back up, wind some pasta around it, and take another bite. It tastes good, but I’m not enjoying it nearly as much as I should be.

Once I manage to choke the pasta down, I turn to Ezra again. “You said you would explain what’s going on if I ate. I ate. So, explain.”

He nods, the permanently amused expression fading from his face. I’ve seen him look intense before, but the seriousness in his face now is unnerving. Any last remnants of hunger I might have been feeling vanish completely.

“There are a lot of things that I’m not allowed to tell you,” Ezra begins. I start to protest, but he stops me with glare. “I told you, Evangeline. Patience.” He waits a moment to see if I’m going to interrupt him again. I don’t and his expression softens. “I don’t mean to be harsh, but this is important. I could be killed for what I’m about to tell you.”

Evan Elemental: Book Two, Copyright Crystal Groszek 2013

Unveiled!

Hey there! If you’ve downloaded a copy of Evan Elemental from Smashwords, then you’ve already seen the new cover. For the rest of the world, here it is:

frontpaperback

fulljacket

The design was done by Arijana Karčić over at Cover It! Designs. When I first published Evan Elemental, I had limited resources. I just went ahead and snapped a photo, added a few iPhone app filters, and edited it using a free photo-editing software called Gimp. While I was pretty impressed with my own novice skills, I couldn’t help but feel as though the cover didn’t really represent what was inside. See, I had a picture of a necklace, but not necessarily a story about a necklace. My story was about a girl, and I wanted to front of the book to show that.

After shopping around- and being less than impressed by what some places had to offer- I finally found Cover It! Designs. I loved the covers that had already been done, and I knew she would create an awesome cover for me at a price that was manageable. I am so happy with my decision. The cover I have now is beautiful; it truly represents my book and its main character.

I hope you all like it, too. If you’re an author looking for a cover, I suggest you check out Cover It! Designs here or on Facebook. Even if you’re not in the market for a cover, head over to Facebook anyway to give them a like and show your support.

Thanks for stopping by!

-Crystal

Well hello there….

Excuse me while I dust off the cobwebs around here….I can’t believe how long it’s been so I’ve posted anything. I guess part of the reason is I’ve been putting more effort into managing my Facebook fanpage, and the rest of the reason is sheer lack of ambition.

Going forward, I’m going to try to set aside some time to get on here and post updates about the series and any promotions I have going on. I’m also going to see about rearranging some things on this page because I want to start doing reviews and spotlights for other authors. Hopefully, I can get that figured out soon.

Okay, enough “housekeeping.” My main purpose for this post is to do a little explaining about some of the things going on behind the scenes with Evan Elemental. If you follow my page on Facebook, then you know that some changes are underway. The point of these changes is to make Evan Elemental a more polished and accessible work.

The first change I made was to the cover. I had the cover redesigned because I’m planning on providing a paperback version of my book in the next few weeks. Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like the current image that I designed myself. However, I wanted a high resolution, professionally done cover for the actual physical product. An image I took with, and edited on, my iPhone just wasn’t going to cut it. After some research I decided on a cover artist and now have what I consider to be a beautiful cover that represents the spirit of my work perfectly. I’ll have more details on the who and what on Wednesday when I do my official “cover reveal.”

Another change I made was to have Evan Elemental edited by an actual editor. This was mainly to catch and correct spelling and grammar errors that I missed when I did the editing myself. One piece of advice that I want to give to anyone who is planning on publishing a book, is this: hire an editor! And I say hire, because sometimes asking a friend to do it, no matter how good they might be, doesn’t always work because they may not respect your deadlines.

This sort of happened to me, but I have only myself to blame. I should have sought out an editor before I hit publish, and I didn’t. I suffer from an inability to ask for help. Also, I’m unemployed and didn’t have a lot of money to pay for professional services; hence the iPhone cover and the comma abuse. Luckily, I ended up finding an editor through a recommendation in a Facebook group I belong to that didn’t charge me a fortune and was able to get it back to me in the time frame I needed. They’re called Big Bang Book services and I suggest you check them out here.

I tried to do it myself, and I only ended up doing myself a disservice. One of the best and worst things about Indie Publishing is that you are basically on your own. In the nearly three months since I publish Evan Elemental, I’ve learned so much. I’ve learned about cover reveals, and blog tours, and editors, and cover designers. If you do your research you can find someone that offers whatever service you need in a price that’s obtainable. It’s a beautiful thing, because not only are we realizing our dreams of being authors, we’re contributing to the dreams of others who do graphic design, PR, editing, etc. We’re building a big, beautiful Independent Publishing community, and I’m so happy to be a part of it.

Going forward, I’ll have a better idea of what to do and how to do it. But, it’s still a learning experience and I’m going to mess up more than I get it right. The most important thing I’ve learned is that even when I do make mistakes, I still have the opportunity to fix them. There is always a way as long as you’re willing. So, that’s what I did. I asked for help because I needed it; because I wanted to give you all the best possible version of my work.

If you already bought Evan Elemental and you want to most updated version, you can go to Smashwords , and download it for free. Even if you bought yours on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, or the iBookstore, you can go to smashwords and download the file compatible with your device. (epub for Nook and iPad, .mobi for Kindle). Evan Elemental is free on Smashwords through July 31st.

That’s all I have for right now. I’ll be back on Wednesday at the latest to my little cover reveal. Oh, and I want to talk about my upcoming blog tour. I’ll post about that later because I’m itching to do some writing.

I hope you all are enjoying your weekend! Thanks for stopping by :)

-Crystal

Teaser

Wow, I have seriously been neglecting my site :/

To make up for it, since it’s Friday and all, how about a teaser? Here’s the prologue from Book Two in the Evan Elemental Series- Evan Evolved…. (hint: this is a character other than the main character and these events predate the current story)

Evan Evolved, copyright Crystal Groszek 2013

Prologue

I do not recognize the person that I see in the mirror. No longer the tomboy who preferred to race in the fields and climb fences, I look the picture of a refined princess; a refined princess on her wedding day.

The thought makes my stomach spasm and bile rise in my throat. My wedding. In a matter of hours I will be married to a man I do not know; a fierce warrior of a man who has my people convinced that they need him to survive this terrible plague. I am his price and I am willingly given away. I cannot blame them: people are dying every day, victims of something strange and dark and horrifying. The freedom of a young privileged girl is a small price to those who still survive.

My fingers stray to my collarbone where my stone should rest. I am not wearing it today because mother did not deem it appropriate. With a sigh I tear my gaze away from the image of the strange girl with wide dark eyes and hair piled carefully in ornate curls on the top of her head.

I cross the room to my bookshelf and take down the heavy wooden box that stores my keepsakes and set it on my vanity, lifting the lid. I sink onto the plush stool and take in the contents of the box. My eyes search out and immediately spot the rough, oddly shaped chunk of purple crystal set in silver that is my dearest possession. It was given to me when I was just a child, playing in those fields.

The image of Alastair floods my mind: Alastair filthy from crawling into the caves, the dirt-caked stone in his hand that he proudly offered me, Alastair as a young man growing serious about taking his father’s place in the Emperor’s militia, Alastair dressed in his uniform, pale in a coffin.

I let the lid of the box snap shut and push it away from me. It is time to put away childish things. The course of my life was permanently altered the day we received word that Alastair had fallen to the same mysterious death that has now claimed thousands. In death, Alastair appeared angelic, a stark contrast to the energetic adventure-seeking man with an unwavering joy for life that he was.

Before he left on assignment to the Third Kingdom two years ago, Alastair had the stone set in a necklace for me as a surprise; a token of our childhood adventures and a promise for the future we were meant to spend together. He was not gone even six months before my worst nightmare came true.

My eyes stray to the open window. Night has already begun to descend and the Second and Third Kingdoms are becoming increasingly visible. This is why the ceremony is held at night: even though they are faintly visible during the day, the Kingdoms are at their glory in the night sky. The Second Kingdom glows a lovely rose pink and the Third Kingdom shines an ethereal gold. Our kingdom, the First, is the green kingdom, the wealthiest and most verdant. We were also the last hit by the plague and we have the most to lose.

I inhale and call the spirit of the wind to me. Instantly, I am flooded with a heady sense of calm. I am going to need all the strength I can summon to make it through tonight. With my eyes closed I begin to center myself and tap into my place of inner power. I can feel the quiet hum of earth against my skin; it fills me with a sense of power that is both dark and light. It is timeless and uninitiated to the weakness of human emotion.

“Impressive.”

I open my eyes to the sight of thick vines and leaves curling their way in through the window. The ghost of the first genuine smile I have felt in days touches my lips. I turn to face my mother who is watching me from the doorway with a satisfied smirk. The gift of the Elemental Sprits is one many of our people are blessed with, but none as strongly as me.

“Come, Beatriz. It is time. The festivities have already begun.”

“Please, give me a moment, mother,” I respond, my voice sounding more desperate than I would like. She sighs and nods her head slightly before turning to leave the room, shutting the door softly behind her.

All of my former resolve is rapidly crumbling. I cannot do this. I will not do this. Even as I think it, I know I will do what is best for my people, no matter the sacrifice. If Kai can save them, then I must pay his price to ensure that he does.

A gentle knock on the door stirs me from my dismal thoughts. “Bea?” the soft cadence of my sister’s voice calls out.

I manage to stand even though my heart is so heavy it threatens to keep me anchored to the stool. “I know, I am coming,” I answer reluctantly.

Fiorella cracks open the door and slips inside, closing it behind her. She looks worse than I feel: her eyes bloodshot and her face sickly pale.

“Tell me sister, what is it that disturbs you so?” I plead, taking her hands in mine; she is ice cold.

“I cannot let you go through with this,” Fi whispers hoarsely, fresh tears spilling over her dark lashes.

I give her a consoling smile and do my best to set aside my selfish feelings. “It must be done, Fi. The fate of our kingdom is at stake. If this is the way to save us, then it must be done.” I am proud of how strong my voice is even though I am breaking inside.

“No,” she says fiercely, shocking me. My passive, ever-gentle younger sister looks more determined than I have ever seen her. “There is a way,” she says, pausing, “to stop this.”

I shake my head and begin to pull away but she grips me tightly. “Listen to me, Beatriz. Let me help you.”

The sound of voices in the hall startles us. Fi lets go of my hands and checks the door making sure that it is locked. When she turns back to me her eyes are wild and her mouth is set into a grim line.

“Fi, what has gotten into you?” I watch as she reaches into the pocket of her dress. What she produces from its depths causes me to take a step back in shock. My lips part, but I am speechless. Fiorella rushes forward and presses the object into my hand. My fingers curl automatically around the silver hilt encrusted with red stones. The slender, curved blade of the dagger glints in the fading light of day.

I tear my eyes away from the menacing thing and take in my sister, the girl I have known nearly all of my life who is a stranger to me now.

“How-”

Evan meets Lex

Two or three wrong turns lead me down a long corridor lined with paintings. I stop before a portrait of a woman with an expression of secret amusement painted across her face. She’s dressed in eighteenth century garb and her soft brown hair is piled high on her head in a careful arrangement of curls. A ghost of a feeling passes through me. It starts with a twinge and erupts in a tremble. The stone heart, forgotten beneath the high neckline of my black cotton dress, burns a white-hot heat that radiates across my skin. I’m so engrossed in the sensation that I fail to notice that I’m no longer alone.

Someone near by clears their throat softly and shakes me from my trance. Startled, I turn to face the intruder. My eyes fall on a devastatingly handsome boy. No lie, the boy is gorgeous. He has hair the color of wet earth and eyes that are almost black. He’s dressed entirely in black, from his fitted t-shirt and tight leather pants down to his scuffed motorcycle boots. In his hand he’s holding a soft-looking, well-worn, black leather jacket.

“Lost?” the boy asks. His voice is somehow light and dark at the same time and his dark eyes dance with amusement.

“No,” I reply in a strangled voice that makes me cringe on the inside.

His mouth turns up at the corner and he takes a few steps toward me. Reflexively, I step back. The boy stops mid-step and smiles. He reaches up with his free hand and rubs his jaw thoughtfully as if he’s considering his approach. I feel heat rising to my face. In seconds I’ll be neon pink and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. My hands itch to tug at my clothes or the end of my ponytail, but I force my limbs to remain still and my shoulders straight.

There’s something about him that makes me feel uneasy, but in a good way. It’s like we’re old friends who haven’t seen each other in years because we’re having a silent conversation that seems too intimate for strangers. My inclination is to break the silence with nervous chatter, which isn’t something I would normally do, but I let it go on until it’s so deep I’m forgetting to breathe.

I’m afraid that if I open my mouth and say something stupid it’ll cause him to leave. I let his eyes, the perfect contrast to my own light gray, bore in to me until he seems to reach some sort of conclusion. He nods once and clears his throat again.

“I apologize, for the intrusion,” he says, his lips turning up into an easy smile. “Evangeline?”

Unnerved, I nod. His eyes warm slightly and his smile widens. “Let me introduce myself. My name is Lex.” He pauses and bows deeply before continuing; I stifle a giggle. “I work for your grandmother. She sent me to make sure you have everything you need and that you transition easily.”

“What about Greta?” I manage, after a pause. I know she’s leaving, but surely this is more her kind of thing. The boy in front of me is just that, a boy. The way he speaks is strangely formal, and doesn’t fit at all with how he’s dressed, but I doubt he’s older than twenty.

“Greta has to leave and join Ms. Price. I’m afraid I’m all you’ve got.” Lex gives me a half shrug and waits for me to respond. He takes a few tentative steps towards me. When I don’t protest, he closes the rest of the space between us until he’s standing unnecessarily close.

“When will she be back? Ms. Pr- my grandmother, I mean,” I practically stutter, undone by the sensation that being so close to him causes.

“I’m not quite sure but, trust me, you’ll be the first to know,” he says with a wink.

I frown at his condescending tone. He’s talking to me like I’m a mental patient about to have a meltdown any second. All things considered, I feel like I’ve been handling myself pretty well in the last few weeks. I square my shoulders and make to walk by him, back the way I came. A shock jolts me when he reaches out and gently grabs my arm, stopping me.

Lex looks down into my eyes, searching for something and coming up short. “Evangel…”

“Evan. You can call me Evan,” I say, cutting him off, my voice stronger than I feel.

His hand falls away from my arm and I feel a pang of loss that I can’t easily explain away. A dark look passes over his face and his eyebrows knit together.

“Evan, then,” he responds, his voice strained. His eyes no longer hold any hint of amusement.

I wait for him to continue but he doesn’t say anything. I cock my head to the side and raise an eyebrow questioningly.

“Well,” he says finally in that same strained voice. “I just wanted to let you know that if you need anything I’ll be in the guest house. Greta will get ahold of you before she leaves and fill you in on the details.”

Without excusing himself, he saunters away and disappears down a bend in the hall. I’m left with a cold feeling that penetrates deep into my bones. I don’t understand how he went from being polite, and maybe even flirty, one minute to giving me a distinct brush off the next. Something happened when he touched me and I have no idea what. Great. My first day here and things are already starting to get complicated.

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Another Flash Sale!

If you’re looking for something to read on this long weekend check out Evan Elemental! Evan Elemental is on sale for $0.99 on Amazon through Memorial Day. Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_c_0_12?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=evan+elemental&sprefix=evan+element%2Caps%2C215

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Mother’s Day Promotion

Happy Mother’s Day to all you moms and moms-to-be! In honor of this special day I’m doing a promotional discount.

Evan Elemental is now on sale for $0.99 on smashwords! Just use the code WJ96T at checkout for the discount. Coupon good until 05/14/2013.

When a terrible tragedy rips away everything she’s known, seventeen-year-old Evan O’Fion is sure she’s going to lose it. Then a mysterious package arrives and it changes everything. Evan is now the keeper of a power greater than she could have ever imagined and it terrifies her. Will she be able to face her demons and learn to control this new power? Or will darkness consume her?