DUE TO A BLOGGER SHUTDOWN, THE PICTURES FOR THIS BLOG WERE LOST. I APOLOGIZE TO LJ FOR THE PROBLEM.
What We Are Saying....
It's our great pleasure to welcome LJ Charles to our blog with her new book Life Thread. she is the author of women's fiction and young adult novels. All of her stories combine romance, mystery, and paranormal elements.
If you like the excerpt, leave a comment for a free copy of LJ's book.
What LJ Is Saying....
I wrote my first book when I was eight…on pink construction paper with a purple crayon. It was a romance that involved a princess, and although I remember very few details about the plot, I do remember that it was illustrated and there was music and dancing involved.At about the same time I penned my first story, I discovered Nancy Drew and my love for reading was born. It has only grown over the years, and I am rarely without a huge to-be-read stack, and a book within easy reach.
Guess I haven’t ever outgrown my early reading adventures with Nancy, Ned, Bess and George.
I live in the frozen north with my husband, whose TBR stack is taller than mine, and two felines who have been known to add entire pages to a manuscript without telling me.
Back Cover BlurbMcKenna Fin is armed, dangerous, and in love for the first time. She'll do anything to earn her humanity... except the one thing the Fate's require.
Stuck in her senior year of high school until she earns her humanity, McKenna Fin is responsible for cutting the lifethread of demons, and protecting teens from being possessed. To celebrate her fiftieth year of apprenticeship to the Fate Atropos, McKenna is given a new responsibility, and possibly a quick way to earn her humanity—severing the lifethread of deserving humans. Her first assignment: Nathan Quinn.
When Nathan becomes a primary demon target and gets sucked into Tartania, McKenna’s duty as a Fated priestess demands she follow. McKenna can rescue him, no problem, but then she’d have to cut his lifethread. And he’s the one and only guy she’s been attracted to since forever.
“McKenna Fin.” I snapped out the syllables of my name and a shimmer of energy coated the walls of the history classroom. The back of my neck prickled with unsettling intensity, and I couldn’t stop my fingers from rifling the pages of my textbook. Four times the substitute teacher from hell had called me by some other name. Count them. Four. Too many, even for an evil imbecile of a substitute unit. Not only was she unable to cope with a simple seating chart, but…uh-oh, her eyes were taking on the vacant stare that telegraphed “demon” in blossoming shades of red.
Dammit all to Zeus, I’d have to kill her and it was only third period.
No way around it seeing as I’m the Moirai Priestess, connected to the Fate, Atropos. There are three of us roaming the Earth at any given time, each assigned to one of the Fates. My boss just happened to be responsible for cutting lifethreads. Ending human life. Or in my case, ending demon life.
I fingered the glowing blade tucked into a special pocket on my backpack—the kind of blade made of Ouranian magick that didn’t set off metal detectors, or any other detector for that matter. Ripples of energy came alive under my fingertips as I stroked the glassy smooth surface, deftly avoiding the killer edge. I love my blade.
My fingers twitched with urgency. I had to kill it before its eyes turned completely red with demon strength. The thing is, Atropos gets all hinky when I draw attention to myself, and I seriously hate when she calls me in front of the Triad for behavior unbecoming a Moirai Priestess. Not good. It would probably mean another one hundred years being stuck in my senior year of high school. And seriously, the first fifty were more than enough. Immortality sucks. I mean, who can tolerate being seventeen years, eleven months, and twenty-five days old, for like forever. You’d think she could have created me with a birth date that came with voting privileges and didn’t require emancipation papers.
My sigh must have been über loud because Nathan Quinn, the one and only guy at Brighton High worth my time, had his baby greens fixed in my direction. My nerves jumped to attention and a warm glow heated my cheeks, probably noticeable even though I was blessed with naturally dark skin. We’d been eyeing each other all year, but it was way complicated for a priestess to date.
“He’s just fine.” Merritt’s honeyed voice plowed into my head; bless her golden eyes and sun-kissed brown hair. Mer belonged to Lachesis, the Fate who decided human destiny, and who twisted time to accommodate said destinies. My sister priestess was down the hall in biology class, but Moirai Priestesses have telepathic bonds that provides instant communication. Sometimes good, sometimes majorly inconvenient. Right now? A total pain in the butt.
“Not now, Merritt. Seriously bad timing.” I scooted my chair back and jammed the history text in my backpack.
“Do not diss my timing, McK. Not when you need me to adjust time so you can kill that hell spawn pretending to teach history.”
I shot a glance at the demon in question. Shiny orange scales had broken out along evil-pretend-to-be-a-teacher’s arms. Noticeable. But only to me. Thank Zeus and Nyx the vastly inferior human eye couldn’t see demons. Most everyone was nose-to-desk taking a nap, and the few attempting to pay attention had that glazed asleep-sitting-up look. They weren’t processing a thing—thank the Fates—so, they didn’t notice when the sub morphed into demon form. Looked like it had targeted that smallish kid in the front row. Not that it mattered. It was my job to rescue all human kids. An equal opportunity deal.
I balanced my blade, aimed for the base of demon teacher’s throat, and sent the weapon in a smooth, precise arc across the room. One demon lifethread severed. The blade returned to my hand, leaving behind a crumpled, orange scaly body. “Done. Ready for clean up, Mer. At least this one was quick, no hand-to-hand, no battle to the death. You gotta appreciate how easy the young ones are.”
“No prob, sis.” She blinked out of my head to create a blip in time, and I used the pause to sheath my blade, and roll my gaze over that “fine boy.” I mean, time was paused, so why not indulge in a little—
“Hey, you gotta bury that demon and get out of the room.” Merritt again.
“Nah. No one will—”
“Time didn’t pause for the hottie. Get. Out. Of. The. Room.”
She’d called it right. Nathan Quinn wasn’t suspended in time, nor was he ogling the suddenly empty space in the front of the room. He was staring at me, questions blazing in his beyond gorgeous eyes.
I lifted my long, single braid, shouldered my backpack, and then dropped the braid. I hated when strands of hair got caught against the rough canvas fabric. “Shea is gonna be sooooo pissed. She hates when stuff like this happens.”
“Thing is, Shea’s in the middle of a physics test, and—”
The energy around Nathan shimmered. How had I missed that? “Have you looked at this guy, Merritt? Really looked? He’s one of Shea’s creations. Has to be. See the azure blue in his pattern. That’s Shea. Clotho never creates with that color. And the reason he’s all alert-like is because she made a mistake.”
“Huh? What are you—oh, yeah. I see that gray break in the pattern. Could be that’s the good news. If she made a mistake, she won’t go running to the Fates—”
“Y’all are talking ‘bout me like I’m not here.” Shea. Her soft twang unmistakable as she cut in on my conversation with Merritt. “Nathan isn’t a mistake. He’s more an…anomaly.”
“WTF?” Merritt and I did the silent yell in unison.
Shea didn’t say another word. Not. One. Word. I hustled toward Nathan’s desk. This internal conversation among the three of us had gone on long enough, and Merritt definitely should not be holding time that long. For sure we’d have the Fate’s calling us to Ourania. “Give me a minute to get him out of the room before you release time, Mer.”
I bumped along the aisle, my backpack catching on the edges of the desks, pulling the straps tightly into my shoulders. Damn the extra weight of the history book. Ereaders, people. Seriously. I slid my hand under the strap to ease the weight. “Hey, Nathan.” I purred the greeting, hitting every seductive note I could summon.
Not that I had to do much. Each of the Fates provides a gift to her priestess. Mine happens to be magick skin. Atropos created it from pure love energy, so it’s silky soft, caramelly-colored, and tough enough to stop most anything from penetrating the surface. Handy when someone throws a knife at me. Or tries to pound me into mashed potatoes. Not that those things happen often, but when you work for the Fates…
Anyway, my skin comes with a surreal glow, like there’s a low wattage light shining just under the surface. And it’s one of the reasons I never trust a guy when he hits on to me. Was it me, my skin, or the standard overload of teenage testosterone? Not that I’d trade my super skin for a guy.
“Hey there, McKenna,” Nathan said as I approached his desk. Waves of thick black hair dipped over his forehead, a contrast to the deep green of his eyes. Attention catching. Definitely drool-worthy. And he smelled cool with a touch of pepper. Naturally. Not out of a bottle. I inhaled and let the scent settle against my tongue. Kissable.
Except there was a tightness around his mouth, like his skin was stretched too thin. Anger? Fear, maybe? “You wanna talk about the missing substitute unit?” His voice was rich with challenge.
“What’s to talk about? Subs disappear all the time. This one probably got stomach cramps when she couldn’t manage the seating chart.”
Disbelief flashed, turning his eyes more golden than green. “Un-huh. And the fact that everyone in this room is frozen in place except you and me?”
“Shock. It happens to kids when they’re suddenly free from adult supervision. Come on. Let’s lose this place. It’s almost lunchtime, and I have something to show you.” I took his hand and yanked him out of his chair, knowing that as soon as I touched him, my skin would do its thing and muddle his brain. Sort of. There’s something about coming in contact with pure love that makes ordinary humans go all spacey. And it’s the major reason I don’t date. Not ever.
“Nyx and Zeus!” I about screeched which is not my style at all. I’m more the—okay, that’s a lie. I do the occasional screech, and in this case it fit. I wanted to snatch my hand back. No. What I wanted was to never stop touching him. His skin was warm. Some rough areas from playing baseball. Guy skin. Unexpected. A first.
This was so not the time to be distracted. I prayed Shea hadn’t messed Nathan’s birth up enough that he was immune to my touch because that would create a witch of a problem.
She didn’t. Right on cue, his eyes glazed over and he fell into step next to me. I all but shoved him out of the classroom, making a quick stop to touch my blade to the floor underneath the dead demon, creating the perfect-sized hole. Its body dropped in, and then I touched my blade to the surface to cover it up and complete the burial. I try to be tidy.
I headed outside, Nathan in tow, turned him in the direction of the baseball diamond, and let go of his hand. It took maybe thirty seconds before I’d sprinted from the scene and was safely off campus, heading for the local bookstore and coffee shop. What could be better than the combo of a white chocolate latte and books? Well, other than earning the freedom to become human, graduate high school, and end my apprenticeship with Atropos.
Not that I’d be earning my humanity any time soon, because—a shiver rippled along my spine—I hadn’t cut a single human lifethead. Yet. And honestly, I wasn't in any hurry to have Atropos dump that responsibility on me. The very thought stripped my nerve endings raw. Maybe it wouldn’t come to that. With any luck, Atropos would keep me on demon detail until I’d fulfilled my contract with her.
The noise in the bookstore clashed with my need for some quiet time, so I took my latte outside and planted my backside at an out-of-the-way table. Spring scents curled through the air, twisted in the breeze and stole the fragrance of my brew before it hit my nostrils. I’d killed my demon-for-the-day, but kept a wary eye out for any sign of hell spawn. Not that there was a limit. Demonkind has a habit of tossing surprises into the mix, and—
“There’s no telling what they’re gonna hit you with.”
“You know I hate when you finish my thoughts, Merritt. Where are you anyway?”
“Close. Be there in a few. Something bad is coming, McKenna, and it’s giving me the heebs.”
“Yeah. I’m twitchy, and it can’t be that last demon. It was easy. Hey, maybe that’s what’s wrong. The kill was too easy.” The wind caught my hair, blowing loose strands across my face. Time to re-do the braid. Probably I should cut my hair off and go with an ultra short, slayer-friendly do, but it was my best feature, black in the shadows, changing to a rich, dark red in the sunlight. My only comment-worthy feature. The rest of me was plain ordinary Jane. Except for the skin, but that didn’t count because it was a gift from the Fates.
“You’ve had easy kills before.” Mer was back in my head. “Time is like rippling around that Nathan guy, and Shea’s been way too quiet. I’m thinking he’s vulnerable for demon possession because of the glitch in his creation.”
Merritt had a point, and the jeebs were making my skin bumpy. Metaphorically speaking, of course. Nothing could actually change the smooth surface of my outer layer. “Shea Ang.” I gave her a telepathic shout.
She appeared in front of me, a sparkling outline against the clear blue sky. She was the only one of us who could do that—manifest herself wherever. It was her gift from the Fates, like my super skin and Merritt’s ultra fast reflexes.
Shea is all prissy-like with straight silver blonde hair that hits her backside, delicate features and dark blue eyes. When she gets mad they turn purple, and right now they were running at a pale indigo. “What is it, McKenna? Y’all have got work and so do—geezo freak-ing Pete! Behind you.”
I swiveled around, calling my blade to me in mid-pivot. My hair, freed from the braid, whipped across my face blinding me. I caught the thick waves, yanking them away from my eyes a split second before the demon dropped out of the Douglas Fir and landed in front of me. The scent of crushed evergreen needles bit into the air and mingled with the stench of demon. It looked to be early teens, maybe fourteen, with eyes glowing red hot. It lunged, wrapped its arms around my knees and brought me to the ground with a jarring thud. So not graceful. Talons curled from the ends of its fingers, and the pressure of the sharp points against the sensitive area behind my knees sent a flash of pain flickering over my skin. Super skin or not, I still felt stuff.
I grabbed a handful of its silky red curls, twisted them into my fist and jerked its head back. My blade found the sweet spot at the base of its neck, barely needing a push from me to sever the lifethread. I threw the carcass to the side, and wedged myself up between the dead body and the back of the wooden bench. It was creepy, how this demon looked so young. Wrong, even in the sick world of demonkind. They have exactly one year to possess a teen, from the hour of birth on the day of his or her seventeenth birthday until the exact same hour on their eighteenth birthday. Any more of a window and I’d lose more than I saved. But this one couldn’t have been seventeen.
“That’s two in an hour, McK. And it totally ruined your sweater.”
“Huh? My…dammit.” I brushed at the mess. “Grass and coffee. No point in even trying to clean it.”
Shea’s eyes had gone black, the only part of her still visible. “It was too young.”
“It couldn’t be. Demons have rules. You know that.” I did burial duty so Shea would stop staring at the body.
Merritt chose that moment to stroll up next to us and twitched her hips just enough to raise her denim mini skirt to a whisper below indecent. “Don’t corrupt our Shea. She’s the good priestess, completely innocent of destiny and death.”
“Whatever. We have a problem what with that being the second demon I’ve killed this morning. And you’re right, Mer, it has something to do with Nathan. His skin, when I touched him, something wasn’t right. I—”
“It’s me.” Shea shimmered, almost blinked out. “Clotho assigned me to finish Nathan’s creation because ‘something came up,’ and I must have screwed it up somehow.”
“The how of that would be good to know.” I picked up my empty, mangled coffee cup and dumped it in the trash, then stowed my blade and faced my sisters. “Nathan is human. Mostly. Isn’t that right, Shea?”
“I’m not sure.” She twisted her fingers into a knot, and started to fade out again.
“Hey, don’t fade. Do my braid, would you? It needs to be really tight if demons are gonna be dropping out of trees today.” If I kept her busy she wouldn’t disappear and I’d have a better chance of figuring out the details of Nathan’s creation.
Shea went to work on my hair. Merritt planted herself in front of us, demanding attention. “Like McKenna was saying before the demon intruded, we are in a heap of trouble. And it feels like Atropos is gonna call her in…like right now.”
And there I was. Facing Atropos with ugly brown and green stains on my white sweater, hair half braided, and water for knees.
I don’t have a clue how Atropos manifests her corporeal form to anyone else, but to me she’s crazy gorgeous. All that Ouranian love she carries shines through her skin and lights up whatever space she’s in.
But then there’s the part of her that makes my nerves wince. The scary part. First off, pure love isn’t about being nice. At least not for Atropos. And then there’s the bit about the scissors she uses to cut the lifethread, the ones attached to the golden belt holding her classic white gown in place. Those scissors equal instant death, and they’re made from the same magick as my blade. Freaky scary when I’m not the one in control of the weapon.
“McKenna Fin.” My name wafted on the air currents surrounding us, echoed and then faded into eternity.
I laid my blade across my heart and bowed. “Good wishes, Atropos.”
“It is the day of your fiftieth anniversary in service to me. Do you know what that means?” The warm silky notes of her voice swirled around me, mesmerizing in their intensity.
Did I? Had anyone ever told me? Merritt was the oldest of us, and the only thing different about her was—oh. Oh, no. Merritt had humans of her own. Not just demons, but actual living, breathing people who did things. Like graduated from college, and got married, and had kids—people with destinies. My skin lost its luster. I’m positively certain that I turned into a ghost right there in front of Atropos.
“Ah, I see that you are beginning to understand the responsibility that will now rest upon your shoulders. From this day forth, McKenna Fin, you will be asked to cut the lifethreads of the humans who are assigned to your care.”
“Kill people? Not demons?” My heart thumped in my chest like a drummer on diet pills.
“Yes, however we of Ourania do not refer to it as killing in the same sense that humankind does. We are benevolent. All of our work is done within the essence of pure love, and we free souls so they may experience the purity of that love. We are responsible to universal law.”
Goody-goody words. Creepy, and so like nothing that actually happens on Earth. “How do I know—”
“You are blessed with free will, just as all children of the Earth, and of Ourania are. It is your choice how to make the cut, how to wield your blade to best benefit your human responsibility.”
“So if I can choose when—”
“There is a window of time available to you. You must not allow your first human assignment to exist beyond his seventeenth year on Earth.”
Or what? He’d spoil. Like moldy cheese? Atropos lips twitched into a quirk that came alarmingly close to a smile. She couldn’t hear my thoughts. Surely she couldn’t. Only Merritt and Shea could do that. Fear snaked through me and bit down hard. I shoved all snarky thoughts out of my head.
“Do you understand, McKenna Fin?”
“No. Nope, don’t understand. You expect me to go around whacking people like some kind of serial killer? And I have to decide when it’s a good time to do them in? No. That isn’t gonna work for me.” My stomach clenched and I swallowed bile. Do not puke in front of Atropos. Breathe. “I don’t want the whole life and death thing on my conscience. Very uncool, and so not my thing. Now, demons? I get that. No problem there at all. Show me some red eyes and I’ll eliminate the sons of bi…ah, evil. I’ll eliminate that kind of evil lickity split.”
“Yes. The number of demons that cross your path will become more intense as you age and gain experience, and you will be required to protect your human from them until it is time to sever the lifethread. But your responsibility is one of reverence for human life. You would not keep someone in your care from experiencing Ourania, would you?”
The warmth and silk in her voice were gone. Atropos had changed her tone to a rough grumble, and I finally got the whole cliché about Catholic schools and nuns with rulers. Caught between human beliefs and my knowledge of Ourania, I cracked under the guilt.
I looked beyond Atropos, and across the boundary separating us from the crystalline brilliance of Ourania. Peace incarnate. Perfect love. And I caved. “No, I couldn’t do that, but—”
“There must be no doubt when you use the blade, lest that doubt follow the human into eternity.”
Bad. Very, very bad. I tossed my hands up, totally frustrated with her inability to understand. “Don’t you get it? I can’t just go around killing people. It’s against human law.”
This time she did smile. “I believe that if I had spoken those words to you, your response would be ‘Can you get any more lame, Atropos?’ You are not committing murder, but carrying out the wisdom of the universe.”
Caught. Trapped, and I hated it. Claustrophobia of the soul. Who knew? “And if I can’t do it?”
“Then you will never earn the right to become completely human. Your form, as it is, will reside in limbo for all eternity. It is not a fate I would wish on you.”
She got that one right and it sucked big time. Anger zipped along my nerves, and I fought to stomp it down. Later. I could be pissed later when I was safely back on Earth.
More than anything I longed to be human, to live life. Don’t get me wrong, immortality has its props when you’re one of the Fates, or a goddess, or whatever. But it’s a curse when you’re an apprentice. Forever stuck in high school doesn’t cut it. Not in my world. “Okay, got it. No choice on the cutting-the-thread gig, but free will on the how and when—within limits. What’s next?”
“Your first assignment is the human, Nathan Quinn.”
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Lifethread March 2011
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