Today’s Halloween Promotion is for Rising Tide:Dark Innocence, book one of The Maura DeLuca Trilogy by fellow author Claudette Melanson. It took Gold for YA Mystery in the Readers’ Favorite competition this year. Claudette has given us an excerpt with a taste of what is to come.
Could Maura’s life get any worse? …turns out it most certainly can.
Isolated and sheltered by her lonely mother, Maura’s never been able to make friends. She seems to drive her classmates away—except for the odd times they pay enough attention to torture her—but she doesn’t understand why. Maura considers herself to be a freak of nature, with her unusually pale skin and an aversion to the sun that renders her violently nauseous. Her belief is only worsened by the fact that almost everyone around her keeps their distance.
Even her own father deserted her before she was born, leaving Maura alone with her emotionally distant mother, Caelyn. Even though Maura is desperate for answers about her unknown parent, Caelyn remains heartbroken and her daughter can’t bring herself to reopen her mother’s wounds. Or is there a more sinister reason Caelyn refuses to utter a word about her long-lost love?
When a cruel prank nearly claims Maura’s life, one of her classmates, Ron, rushes to her rescue. Darkly handsome & mysteriously accepting, Ron doesn’t seem to want to stay away, but Maura is reluctant to get too close, since her mother has announced she’s moving the two of them to Vancouver…nearly 3,000 miles away from their hometown of Indiana, Pennsylvania.
If life wasn’t already challenging enough, Maura begins to experience bizarre, physical changes her mother seems hell bent on ignoring, compelling Maura to fear for her own life. Vicious nightmares, blood cravings, failing health and the heart-shattering loss of Ron—as well as the discovery of a tangled web of her own mother’s lies—become obstacles in Maura’s desperate quest for the unfathomable truth she was never prepared to uncover.
There were people packed in from wall to wall of the frat house basement. I immediately felt uncomfortable. So many people and so much heat… I wasn’t completely confident with my new outfit… Where was Ron?… *I’m so hungry!* my stomach roared to my brain. I felt slightly nauseous and swayed a bit on my feet.
Strangely, Merina picked up on this. She put a steadying hand on my shoulder. “Hey! You okay?” Her brow furrowed the way Caelyn’s did when I was sick.
I blinked and tried to focus on keeping to my feet. My skin felt clammy and slick, but very cool on the surface, and I wondered briefly if I might be coming down with something. “I think so.” I tried to flash a very convincing smile at her. “Just too much excitement, probably. Remember, I don’t get out much.” I was immediately embarrassed at this unexpected revelation and put my head down.
But she seemed to understand and patted me gently. “Yeah, I know what you mean. I feel a little dizzy myself! I’ve never been to a frat party before!!” She whispered that last part, conspiratorially, and I felt better. It was a wonder what real friends could do for your self-confidence.
I resigned myself to Merina’s wisdom. It must be the overexcitement, probably coupled with the fact we hadn’t eaten, and it was nearly 8:00 PM. We’d been here almost an hour, waiting for the guys to get their gear set up, so we could talk to them before they went on.
Merina grabbed my hand again and pulled me toward the stage area. She reminded me of a playful, eager puppy when she went into motion, wanting to be somewhere. I loved it. Her enthusiasm was absolutely contagious. I had another rush of regret, tinged with the desire to stay put in the town I’d lived in all my life, but only now begun to enjoy. I wondered if there was any way to talk Caelyn out of the move? I set myself the goal of at least one valiant attempt, tomorrow when I got home.
“Hi Shane.” Her whole being lit up as he turned toward her. “Maura isn’t feeling so good, so we’re going to go scout some chow, okay?”
Ron was standing beside Shane, plugging his guitar into his amp, but his ears pricked up at Merina’s words. He immediately turned and grabbed both of my hands. “You okay, Maura?” His eyes grew deep with concern flooding them.
I felt all warm and melty inside from his attentions. “Oh yeah. I’m just kinda hungry, that’s all.” That was a gross understatement. I was starving, my stomach growling in werewolf proportions. “And it’s really hot in here.”
“It’s definitely not an ideal Maura environment.” He winked in a knowing way. “I really appreciate the effort.”
“It’s nothing! I’m dying to hear you guys play!”
“By the way,” he added, eyeing me up and down, so that my cheeks grew hot. “I love the new outfit.” He winked at me, making my blush deepen.
“It’s Merina’s,” I admitted, looking down at the toes of my black Mary Janes.
“Well, Merina’s good taste looks great on you.” He grinned and squeezed my hands.
I felt Merina tug at my hand again. “Come on, Maura. Let’s get some food in you so you don’t pass out before the first set!”
“Okay,” I said, still not able to tear my eyes away from Ron’s. My mind flashed a brief picture of red, raw meat at me, and my stomach growled aggressively in response. I didn’t know quite how to feel about that, but I turned away, somewhat reluctantly, and let myself be dragged up the staircase, through the living room and into the small kitchen of the frat house. There was pizza on the table, along with several bowls of chips and dips. My stomach flip-flopped with joy as I inhaled the scent of cheese and pepperoni deeply. I’d had always been a hearty eater and refused to apologize for it!
I was wolfing down my fourth slice before I even looked up at Merina again. She was staring at me a little wide-eyed. “Wow…you are hungry.”
I looked at her sheepishly, unfailingly tearing away at the slice. “Sorry, when I get nervous, I get hungry.”
She laughed it off and picked up her second slice of vegetarian. “I’m just envious; that’s all. If I ate that much, I’d gain a zillion pounds!”
I took it easy after that, casually picking at the chips, though I felt like burying my head in the bowl. I used the distraction of the guys coming upstairs to wolf down another two meat-laden slices. Merina was busy lock-lipped to Shane and, as far as Ron was concerned, this was the first pizza I may have eaten. An image of me with snout and curly tail flashed in my brain, making me smile up at Ron a bit more feverishly.
“Wow, you’re really happy tonight…and somehow different,” Ron remarked.
“Too much excitement!” I was going to play that one for all it was worth.
There were two others standing with Ron now. I’d noticed the lead singer and bass player putting all of their equipment into place, but I’d never met either. Ron noticed them, following my stare.
“Maura,” he indicated the first of the two, moving up toward the spread of food, “this is our lead singer, Chad.”
Chad wasn’t as tall as Ron, but he had a huge smile and mischievous green eyes. His dirty-blonde hair was long, hanging far past his shoulders. “Hey!” was all he got out before shoving pizza in his mouth.
“And our bass player, Mike.”
Mike was tall and very quiet. He merely nodded in response to Ron’s introduction. He had a vicious look about him, and his profile somehow reminded me of the velociraptors from Jurassic Park. I felt glad, while I was shaking his hand, he couldn’t read my thoughts. His short-cropped black hair and small, darting blue eyes had a somewhat dangerous feel about them.
A tall, lanky frat boy—Greek letters displayed across his chest—approached us and tapped Ron on the shoulder. “Hey, guys, it’s time for you to go on.”
“Showtime!” Shane declared loudly. Ron sighed and pressed his full lips together, tightly. I guessed he was committing himself to the performance, ready or not.
His hand clamped over mine and pulled me along. The part of me that wanted to stay and wolf down more protein-covered pizza warred with the other, eager to see Ron’s band in action for the first time. I honestly couldn’t believe how hungry I still was. My stomach growled again, as if attempting to convince me to stay put.
It was loud enough for anyone around to hear. Ron laughed lightly and said, “Don’t worry, Maura. We’ll come get some more food after the first set. And if your stomach roars like that again, I’ll even take us all out after the show’s over.” He grinned and poked at my belly through the roughed-up cotton texture of the shirt. I rolled my eyes in mock annoyance in response.
Once down the stairs and in the basement, the guys took the makeshift stage. I felt little flutterings of butterfly excitement in my gut….or was that too much pizza? No, definitely the band. In an instant, the small, overcrowded space came to life with the music. When Ron started strumming his electric guitar, I felt myself go weak in the knees. He almost seemed like a different person. There was no self-doubt now, only unshakeable confidence and undeniable skill.
Most of the songs were familiar. It was clear that Death Moon, was predominantly a cover band. They also played three original songs, impressing me, and everyone one else in the room it seemed, with their talent. Their first song was a Muse cover—one of my favorites, in fact. I felt lost in the music, noticing that Ron really opened up when he played.
They all put on a good show. Chad’s voice was perfectly suited for the music they chose. He sang high and strong, pushing the crowd into a near frenzy. Shane kept perfect time, and Ron played up his role to epic proportions, causing the girls in the crowd eye him in a way I couldn’t help but feel uneasy about. But who could blame them? So, I focused on being the lucky one he would walk over to, after all the rock star stuff had come to an end.
Merina was squealing excitedly beside me throughout the set. She was obviously enjoying watching Shane play as much as I was Ron. I couldn’t fathom what he’d been worried about. They were truly amazing. And the crowd at the frat house party thought so too. After every song, raucous applause and shouting filled the room. After a couple of songs, I happily noticed Ron really start to relax and become completely overtaken by his role as lead guitar.
I felt someone bump me from behind. I half-turned and did a face plant into the chest of a boy I didn’t know.
I looked up…way up… He must have been at least six-foot-seven. His lips parted in a drunken, silly sort of way, and his words slurred out a “Hey, want a beer?” His arm extended too far to offer the beverage, and it sloshed over the lip of the clear plastic cup making a large, alcohol-soaked spot on Merina’s borrowed shirt. I was horrified. I hoped she wouldn’t get in trouble because of me.
“You’re soooo pretty. Wanna beer?” he slurred again.
I had no intention of adding underage drinking to my list of crimes tonight. “No, thanks.” I took a step back from him.
“Awww, com’on.” He slung a big, heavy arm across my shoulders and pulled me to him. I could see Ron stiffen on stage, as my eyes darted to his position instinctively.
“No!” I pushed with all my might, but he was bigger and much stronger. He dragged me along with him as he shuffled toward the stairs. Merina seemed to be frozen in place, her face a mask of panic.
“Stop it!” He’d moved his arm down around my waist, so that he could haul me up the stairs. My brain started to become as panicked as the expression I’d seen on my new friend’s face.
“Let’s get some air.”
That’s what I thought he said as he dragged me across the kitchen. Even in my state of fright, I could smell the pizza, distinctly picking out fragrances of bacon, ham, pepperoni and beef, as we moved past. *How can you possibly be concerned with food right now??* I thought to myself, incredulously.
Once out the back door, I began to be genuinely afraid. We were out of sight of all my friends, and even if we hadn’t been, Ron was trapped playing a set. Not that I would want to wreck that for him. His first gig… I gathered my resolve to handle the situation as efficiently as possible, by myself, so I could get back inside and save the moment. *He’s obviously drunk; how hard can this be?* a voice inside my head asked.
That was about the time I comprehended this guy was completely harmless. Other than practically kidnapping me from the party, he really didn’t mean any harm. His blue eyes widened innocently as he released me, offering his beer again. “Wan some?” He smiled in a hopeful manner.
“Ummm, no, thanks. I’m really not old enough to drink.”
“Quite.” I watched him shrug his shoulders and chug half the beer. I took a couple of steps back, and he didn’t try to stop me. I was pretty certain he’d gotten caught up in the moment, wishing for someone of the female persuasion to drink with.
“Hey, my boyfriend’s playing in the band. And…he looked pretty worried when you hauled me up the stairs just now,” I explained.
“Oh, wow…sorry.” He lifted the cup to his lips again, but lowered his eyes repentantly.
“Sooooo, I’m just going to go back downstairs again, okay?”
“Sure.” He kept drinking, and I turned to go.
“Wait!” He reached out to grab my wrist as I walked away. He probably just wanted to put in a last ditch effort to keep me there, but after being forcibly taken up the stairs, some instinct in my body took over.
“Let me go!!” I didn’t speak, but roared at him. I slid my arm forward through his grasp to push his chest and throw him backward. In that moment, I was infuriated. Angry beyond reason. Even though I knew down deep he hadn’t meant any harm, I was incensed that he had brought me outside against my will, worrying Ron and Merina. Some part of me, as if looking at the moment from outside my body, was horrified that I wanted to actually hurt him. But that part of me was small and powerless to stop what happened next.
I gnashed my teeth together, so hard it hurt, with the force of my rage. I realized a second later, the pain stemmed from my lower lip, into which I’d sunk my left canine. The rich taste of blood flowed over my tongue, doubling the anger exploding through my head and branching down into my chest.
The coppery scent of blood hung thick in the air, as well. I realized I’d shoved the boy so hard, he’d cracked his skull against the stone walkway at the back of the house. The right side of his head bore an ugly gash, at least three inches long. Typical of most head wounds, it bled profusely, the boy left unconscious. Instead of reacting with horror, as I should have, my stomach cramped sharply with insatiable hunger once again.
I felt horrified then, but only with myself. I wanted to consume…to consume him! I’d never wanted to eat so badly before….ever. My thoughts, not borne of my own will, turned from the food in the kitchen. My mind rejected it, like some auto-pilot impulse. I found my eyes pulled, by animal instinct, to the boy lying on the ground. My stomach flip-flopped with desire when I watched the blood slide onto the ground beneath his head.
If anyone had asked me to explain what I felt I’d ask them to imagine being hungry. As hungry as they’ve ever been in their life. As if they hadn’t eaten for days. As if their favorite dish was laid out before their starving body, tempting every sense, uncontrollably.
This was how I felt as my eyes fixated on his seeping wound. My brain pulsed, flexing like a muscle and sending a memory burning through my head. It was a picture of that night in the shower, when my own blood had flowed into my mouth from an injury hauntingly similar to his. I recalled the perfectly-satisfying flavor, the ravenous way it had twisted my stomach, before the shock of what I’d been doing had taken over.
There was no shock strong enough to stop me now. Just a greedy, driving impulse pounding through every cell. I was hungry, and I wanted beyond all wants, to eat. A red film pervaded my eyes, turning the world crimson. My pulse screamed inside my head, exiling all other sound. And the boy’s blood called to me, drawing me down to my knees on the ground beside him.
“Maura!” From somewhere very far away, part of me acknowledged Ron’s voice. It was enough to draw me up, up, up from where I was now, drowning in gluttony at the taste of blood. Not quite enough though; I continued to lap at the side of the nameless boy’s head.
“MAURA!!” Ron’s voice was much more forceful now—a force to be reckoned with—and rife with shock. But he didn’t settle for shouting at me. I felt him behind me, hooking his hands under my shoulders and jerking me to my feet in an instant.
He whirled me around, roughly, and I found myself staring blankly into his face, trying to focus. “My god! What are you doing?!!” He was shouting at me, his face not an inch from mine, but I still couldn’t come around from my bloodhaze completely. I wanted to shove him away….violently…and reattach my mouth to the bloody wound at my feet.
“Stop! Leave me alone!” I fought against him, until I saw Shane coming through the door after us. He stopped short and looked at me, his mouth gaping open with shock, fear in his eyes. Ron pushed him back inside, slamming the door in his face.
He turned his attention back to me and shook me forcefully. “Maura.” My name came out a rough whisper. “What’s wrong with you?!!”
He wiped the back of his right hand across my mouth. The left came up right after to cover my mouth and nose, attempting to sweep away the bloody mess with his fingers. I heard from that small, not-in-control part of my mind again. A tiny voice wondering exactly what was happening. The part in control didn’t care about anything except his exquisite scent. He smelled better than the pizza, better than the boy’s blood… I struck at him, precipitously, like a viper. He narrowly avoided the sink of my teeth into his skin.
I’ll give Ron credit; he only looked frightened for a moment. In the slice of an instant, he composed the look on his face, bravely took another spit-laden swipe at the corner of my mouth and jerked the door back open.
He hauled Shane out by the front of his shirt, and then slammed it shut—this time in Merina’s astonished face—once again.
Shane’s eyes slid toward me, then flicked quickly back to Ron’s face. They stayed there.
“Shane.” Ron said his name with calm and quiet. “This guy fell and hit his head.” He inclined his own toward the figure sprawling before us. “Maura was trying to help him by cleaning up the wound.” He said these words with such weight, as if he were burning them into Shane’s head with a branding iron. “You got that? She was helping him.” When Shane didn’t respond he shook him firmly, as he had me, before. “Do you understand?”
Shane snapped out of the trance he’d seemed trapped in. He looked from Ron’s face to my own, blinked a couple of times and then nodded his head. He licked his lips before he spoke. “Yeah. Yeah, I ‘ve got it.” He shook his head to clear it, and Ron released his grip on Shane’s shirtfront.
At that moment, my head snapped around to the left corner of the house at the sound of approaching footsteps. Caelyn glided into my view, as smooth as silk in her tight black-leather jacket. The expression on her face was enough to render my knees incapable of supporting my weight. I slid toward the ground, but Ron hauled me back up immediately. I tried to form words, but my vocal cords didn’t seem to be working. My head was starting to clear to the fact that Caelyn was going to kill me, slowly, painfully… I looked up to Ron, fully mindful he had no power to save me.