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The Stregoni Sequence Book 1: Golden Healer, Dark Enchantress by Christine E. Schulze (Fantasy/Young Adult)

The Stregoni Sequence Book 1: Golden Healer, Dark Enchantress by Christine E. Schulze (Fantasy/Young Adult)
(25 reviews)  

He leaned his head close to my ear and whispered, "Are you afraid?"

Emma had had more reason than any other time of her life, even when facing one of the rampages of her drunken father. But she wasn't afraid. And that was odd, because although Aaryn, the person asking her that question, was her best friend, he was also a vampire. In fact, she was surrounded by hundreds of vampires.

But they weren't your typical vampires. They were Stregoni Benefici, the good kind. Nor was Emma your typical Forest-footer elf. She was the Golden Healer, and she alone could save the Stregoni Benefici from the Dark Enchantress. But can Emma figure out the Dark Enchantress' secret and defeat the evil vampires without destroying the good ones as well, without destroying Aaryn? Can Emma unravel the dark secret Aaryn keeps so carefully guarded and show him that by choosing to serve good instead of evil, he is still capable of being loved and his past is forgiven?

Find out as you read for yourself the story of the first vampire.


ISBN/EAN13: 1921636424 / 9781921636424
Page Count: 132
Trim Size: 5" x 8"

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The Stregoni Sequence Book 1: Golden Healer, Dark Enchantress by Christine E. Schulze (Fantasy/Young Adult)
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5 Most useful customer reviews (see all reviews):
Belinda for The Romance Reviews (http://www.theromancereviews.com/viewbooksreview.php?bookid=230)
4/5 stars

I was excited to read this e-book, my love of all things vampire telling me this had the potential to be a really interesting read. Now, moments after reading it, I find myself looking at the story in two different ways - how it appealed to my mind but most, importantly, how it appealed to my heart.

From my mind's perspective, this book made me pause every now and then because of some of the words the author used. I would be reading along, caught up in the story and I would hit a word or sentence and wonder why it was there or why the author had chosen it. Some of the words made me giggle with the images they created, and some of them simply made me groan a little. This might not be a problem for anyone else, it being a personal reaction and so I would take it with a grain of salt.

Other than this though, it was the only thing I stumbled across and frees up the rest of my review to share what my heart thought of it - I REALLY liked it. If you've read any of my other reviews, a common theme is that I review mainly on how the book made me feel. I'm an emotional reader and for me to like something, it needs to put me into the story and have me become a part of it. I want to gasp when the character gasps and laugh when the characters laugh. Wording aside, this is what the story did for me.

I can't begin to tell you how many times I found myself leaning forward, my heart racing because I wanted to know what happened next. Or how many times I found myself caught up in what Chrystine was feeling and when Aaryn leant into her and whispered in her ear, I swear I felt his breathe on my own ear and shivered. There was one sentence where the image was so strong, so believable that it had me ranting to my BFF and it completely sealed the deal for me. And don't even get me started on the scenes where the author had Chrystine meet with the "bad" vampires. I loved the way the evil just dripped off them and how they made my skin crawl. Ask anyone who knows me, I LOVE LOVE LOVE reading about close encounters with evil and I found them in this book.

I loved the storyline and the different characters that played a part in it. I loved watching Chrystine with Aaryn and the way their relationship developed, seeing the great care they took with each other. The image of Chrystine standing in the great dome, looking on in awe as she watches the guy she loves go from teenager to beloved leader or when she shares with Aaryn that despite all that has happened, she chooses him, causing his resistance to crumble, THESE are the images I'll remember whenever I think of this story.

Again, I really enjoyed this book and feel that it's definitely a book worth reading. It made me feel and became more than just words on a page and as a reader, that's the most important thing.
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From Stephen Perigo @ Goodreads
*4 Stars*
The author provided a copy of this book in exchange for an honest, impartial review. So, with thanks for the opportunity, I will provide just such a review.

At first, I had trouble with the description of this book. I had read Christian fiction before, but never Christian fantasy. This was my opportunity to see something very new.

The main character is Chrystine, an elf. She is a Christian living in a household with an abusive father. If you remove the "elf" part, this looks like a character you might see in any number of YA novels today. However, Ms. Schulze has modified this contemporary character description with the fantastical powers of an elf and a healer.

Aaryn, Chrystine's friend and love interest, is a vampire. But very different from nearly every other vampire I've ever read about (he changes color when wet or in the presence of firelight). Another difference from other vampires...Aaryn is a Christian.

Some people have a problem with the idea that a vampire character can also be a Christian. Vampires are supposed to be cursed and damned by their condition. Well, I think differently. As a Christian, I believe we are saved by the grace of God through Christ...so a curse passed by a bite or by heritage cannot keep a person from believing and worshiping God. I found this detail of the story to be inspiring and it fueled my will to continue reading.

Overall, the story felt like just another YA paranormal romance. However, the back-story and the history the author created added an enjoyable level of depth. I am always looking for good world-building, and I think Ms. Schulze is on to something.

Other reviewers have commented about the rushed feeling of the ending and I agree. Maybe someday there will be an expanded version of this book with a little more tension and struggle near the end, maybe not. I won't let that ruin what I considered a very entertaining read. Lots of fun was had and I look forward to more in the future.
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Tina Marie (Highlandress) @ Goodreads
*4 Stars*
*spoiler* I received this book in pdf format from the author. It's the first in a series of short stories. As a whole I thought the story was very wonderfully unique and interesting. I did notice some editing problems and continity issues, but they may be due to the format I read. I'm not sure how I feel about Christian Vampires, but I am curious enough about how the story will play out to continue reading the rest of series and to see if it will change my mind. Like I said, the idea behind the story if facsinating and it captured my attention pretty quickly. I am looking forward to see what happens next.
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Velvet @ http://vvb32reads.blogspot.com/
Christian vampire story with fae. Yeah. It works!

This tale takes you into a YA modern world that co-exists with elves, fairies and humans with magical talents. Oh yeah, and vampires, but of a special kind.

Some action, adventure and a showdown.
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Dawn @ openbookreviews.com
*5 Stars*

Review brought to you by OBS staff member Dawn

Chrystine is an elf. She’s in college with her best friends and what she wants to be is a healer. Chrystine is unique in that she has a gold thumb and toe while most of her kind have a green thumb and toe.

One of her best friends, Aaryn, is a fairy or so it seems. Who or what is Aaryn? And what does Chrystine have to do with it?


The book is fast paced and quite fun to read. It’s not overly descriptive in the beginning which is a huge plus for me. I was well into the plot by page 15.

I enjoyed the vampire lore and the differences in Schulze’s world of vampires. Aaryn is a fairy/vampire but he doesn’t drink blood. Instead, they drink an elixir and refrain from biting others. He is over 1000 years old, part of the Stregony Benefici who kill evil vampires. Their mission is to protect the Golden Healer so that the Golden Healer can defeat the Dark Enchantress.

Chrystine is being raised by her father who is an abusive alcoholic. I respect the way Schulze handled such a touchy subject and that she was even willing to go there.

I thought Chrystine would be a boring character, but at second glance I see a deeply layered young woman. She’s a people pleaser because of the abuse, she’s not judgmental of Aaryn or other beings different from her. Chrystine has a quiet strength and looks within herself for answers. She even rescues Aaryn at one point in the story.

The book has religious undertones but Shculze doesn’t overdo it. Faith, prayer and God’s plan are spoken of often.

Some of the book was slightly reminiscent of the Harry Potter world, but not enough so that I felt it was a rip-off. twilight was mentioned which cracked me up!

I like the book and I definitely want to read the follow-up. It’s a good clean story. I think it’s perfect for young impressionable girls.
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Sample Chapter


He leaned his head close to my ear and whispered, "Are you afraid?"

His piercing green eyes carefully watched as I gazed around the vast expanse of the cavern. The orange glow of the bonfire glistened off the beautiful faces of those gathered here. Perhaps I should be afraid, being surrounded by hundreds of them, yet this place didn't feel dangerous at all. In fact, it felt less dangerous than home. These people were here to grant protection. None of them had harmed me, and I knew none would.

Besides, Aaryn sat right beside me. His strong, encompassing arms offered protection, while their cool touch soothed. Perhaps I should be afraid of him as well, and yet, he never gave me any reason to fear him. I knew his love was true and he would never allow any of them--including himself--to harm me.

Most of all, I knew God called me here for a purpose and that while I was still fulfilling that purpose, while I was following His will, I could not be harmed. I could not fear then, being protected by hundreds of powerful, magical, beautiful beings. Especially, I felt peace because God was with me and I would never be forsaken. He would give me the strength to do the incredible task that lay ahead.

"No," I said softly as I laid my head on his shoulder. "I'm not afraid."

He hugged me a little closer and kissed me softly on the forehead. A little thrill rippled through me, down to the deepest crevices of my heart. Content, I thanked God silently for his and Aaryn's love before drifting into a peaceful sleep.

Chapter One

I love being an elf. And I love my dad. But I don't love the fact he is a drunk.

Of course, he wasn't always like that. He started drinking after my mom died. When the drinking started, so did the temper, the violence, the cursing and shouting. He alternated between the loving father I once knew and this person I no longer recognized. It was a wonder he still held his job as a sanitation engineer. He collected garbage and literally thought of himself as trash. I tried to convince him otherwise, but he only spiraled down into a deep depression. The drinking began, and so did the abuse.

Yet, I did not hate my father. I could never hate him. I knew God wouldn't want me to hate him. Yes, I am a Christian, as are my best friends. I believe if it weren't for both God and the friends He'd blessed me with, knowing that I always had someone to count on, to comfort and guide and take care of me, that I might've run away long ago, or even committed suicide. But God granted patience. And I waited, knowing that someday, things would be different. I knew I couldn't help my dad anymore. Only God could change him, and he must want to change. All I could do was pray for him and love him even as God loved him.

I tried to cover the scar that ran from my ear down to my chin. A remnant of my father's drunken rampage last night. When he grabbed my arm, I kicked him to break free. Then his hands came swinging, claws poised. I pulled my long sleeves over the deep scratches.

Shuddering, my bluish-green eyes frowned at me in the mirror and I turned away. I finished dressing, ignoring the springy blonde curls caressing my shoulders. There was nothing to be done for the tight ringlets.

After giving my rabbit some extra food, I fed Jojo, my plump, grey poodle, and locked her securely in my room. I certainly didn't want poor Jojo getting out while my dad was home.

Creeping up the stairs as quietly as possible, I stopped to listen. A loud snore startled me, and I peered around the corner. Dad was passed out on the couch, the floor littered with empty beer bottles. It was safe to leave the house without further drama.

I made my way to the car, climbed in and headed toward school. I love school. I want to be a healer. As an elf, I already possessed a natural inclination towards healing. However, God blessed me with something extra. Many fairies bear the green thumb and toe, which allows them to grow plants, but I was born with the rare golden thumb and toe. Such people are said to carry extraordinary powers. Among those powers is that of healing. I can heal any disease or injury with the right words - and loads of practice. It's not as easy as it sounds. Healing takes a lot of concentration. The hardest part is building up your magical strength so you're not drained after healing someone. I practiced a lot, healing childhood cuts, scrapes and bruises on my friends. Ironically, the one person I can't heal is myself. And one time I even healed a broken bone.

And that was how I met him.

* * *

He watched me for several days. His family had just moved in across the street. I was a junior in high school then and often caught him peering out the window as I went outside to get the mail or chat with my neighborhood friends, Sarah and Grace.

"Someone's staring at you again." The playful smile again lit Grace's eyes. Grace was half-Japanese. Neither she nor Sarah were magically inclined, but we shared many other common interests.

Their views on boys, however, were very different.

Sarah snorted, glaring at the window. "Hmm. Creep. I'd be giving him what-for if he kept stalking me like that."

She cast him a warning glare, but I could almost swear he laughed as he pulled away from the window. Clearly, he found her more amusing than intimidating.

And why should he be the one intimidated? He looked so strong, impossibly handsome. He was half-Hispanic, just like the Ruizes, the family who had adopted him. Of course, his beauty far outshone theirs; even that of his adoptive sister, Miriam, who was also too pretty for her own good. The most unique thing about his beauty was his skin, which shimmered a flawless, snowy white. In fact, this was more than unique. It was entirely strange. But what did it matter? It only added to his beauty and my curiosity.

No, it was I who felt intimidated, or at least thrown into a state of shock that cloudy day as I healed the bone Sarah broke falling off the skateboard. Why she accepted a dare from Freddie to skateboard I'll never know. She's such an accident-prone klutz it's fortunate she didn't kill herself.

I finished healing the bone, but as soon as I stood, I began to fall, weak from the strength the intense act took. Expecting my head to hit concrete, I braced myself for the pain. There was nothing I could do. I was barely strong enough to keep my eyes open. Sarah screamed and reached towards me, nearly tripping in the process, and I remember wanting to roll my eyes, thinking I would strangle her if she broke her other leg trying to catch me...

But, as my vision dimmed, I felt myself being caught in the strongest, yet gentlest, arms. His heart pulsed with a powerful warmth against my body, yet the hands felt shockingly cold. He seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. I looked up, catching a glimpse of his determined face before I fell into unconsciousness.

I awoke to a bright, white ceiling. A ceiling I recognized. My dad and I had looked at this house when we decided to move to this area. I knew who lived there now, and I turned, not surprised to see him kneeling beside me. And that was when I got my first really good look at him.

His skin was flawless and very fair, nearly pure white. His hair was slightly tousled but perfectly black, matching the traces of a neatly trimmed goatee. Yet his eyes captivated me the most. They were not the brown I expected but shimmered a vivid grass green, reflecting a fresh, spring morning. They were deep, commanding in a way I could not quite pinpoint.

As he smiled, a set of perfectly white, perfectly straight teeth flashed. My dad always nagged me to brush my teeth. I'd had braces and thought my teeth looked very nice until he smiled and put mine to shame. As I quickly closed my gaping mouth, his smile seemed to grow a little.

"How are you feeling?"

"Fine," I managed in a small, timid voice.

"Good." The radiant smile intensified. "You're at my house. Your dad's not home from work yet. Grace gave me his number. I called and he sounded very concerned, but I assured him you were going to be fine. My mother's an excellent healer, though I suppose you know a thing or two about healing yourself." His sharp gaze darted to my hands folded across my lap. The golden thumb still glowed faintly from the extreme act of healing.

As he smiled again, I could only stare like a mute idiot.

He either didn't notice or didn't care. "Your friends had to go home. Well, I think the girls did anyways. Freddie simply looked more like one of those helpless, endangered species they preview on Animal Channel fundraisers. Sarah glared mercilessly at me almost the whole time. Honestly, if looks could kill..."

"Aaryn, could you come here for a second?" someone called from a distant room.

Aaryn? Who on earth was that? My mind was still foggy from the experience earlier that morning, or else I was just in a daze from his smiling and talking so close to me. It dawned on me, of course, as he rose.

"I'll be right back," he said.

"Okay," I breathed, watching him as he left.

I was, in a sense, glad he left for a moment. My mind took the chance to clear a bit. Aaryn. I deposited the name carefully in my memory. Simple, yet the most beautiful name I ever heard.

Presently, he returned, followed by a woman. Her smooth, porcelain skin, graceful figure, and gleaming red waves of hair were beautiful, but strange for someone of Hispanic origin. Just like his snowy skin. She seemed to be in her early twenties, though I knew this could not be so based on the ages of Aaryn and Miriam. Bright green eyes reminded me of Aaryn's. I liked her at once.

She knelt beside me, smiling gently. "Hello, child. I'm Aaryn's mother. You can call me Sylvia. How are you feeling?"

"Still tired." I finally managed to find my voice. "But much better."

"Good. You'll be resting for a couple days, I'm afraid."

"But what about school?" I frowned, instantly concerned. From the corner of my eye, I caught Aaryn smirk and roll his eyes.

"Aaryn can bring your homework to you. Don't worry about that."

Aaryn wasn't in any of my classes, yet somehow I felt he wouldn't have any trouble obtaining my homework. At least, not with those charmingly persuasive eyes...

Sylvia gave me a drink containing some combination of bitter-smelling herbs. It tasted awful, but she assured it would make me feel much better. As I gagged the last of it down, the phone rang and Aaryn rushed to answer it.

"There," said Sylvia as I handed back the cup to her. "I'll be back in a couple hours to give you some more. Holler if you need something."

I forced a wavering smile. The thought of sampling any more of the revolting stuff...

Aaryn entered carrying a portable phone.

"For you." He handed it to me before sitting in a big, squashy armchair several feet away. "It's Grace."

Putting the phone to my ear, I tried to ignore him. He grinned right at me, and my face flushed wildly.

"Erm...hello, Grace."

"Oh, Emma!" swelled the overdramatic voice I expected. "Are you alright? Oh, I was so worried you'd been killed, or--or--"

"Grace, I'm fine. Aaryn's mom is taking good care of me."

Her voice suddenly morphed into a swift, excited whisper. "Oh, Aaryn. Is that his name? Did you see how he swept from nowhere and saved you? Oh, he's so handsome. What do you think he is? Fairy? Elf? Wizard? He must be something with those looks. And the pointed ears--"

I stole a quick glance at Aaryn. Pointed ears. How did I not notice before? Too captivated by the eyes, I suppose. He was still smiling, so I quickly turned away.

"--oh, he's a keeper, that one. Did you see how he looked at you? No, of course not, you were unconscious. But he was watching you ever so intently the whole time--"

My cheeks burned, and I knew Aaryn's smile must be growing though I dared not look up.

"--but I won't take up any more of your quality time together--" she chuckled one of her shameless giggles, "--just wanted to see how you were doing, though I'm sure you're fine with him. Well, talk to you later. Bye."

"Bye, Grace." I no sooner pressed the 'end' button on the phone than it rang again. I glanced over at Aaryn who only sat looking amused.

"It's alright. Answer it."

I did so, and immediately Sarah's voice exploded. "Hi, Fruity!"

"Hi, Nutty." These were our special names for each other. We were more formally known as Nutcake and Fruitcake.

There was no time to wonder how Aaryn knew the phone call was for me as Sarah instantly set off on her tangent.

"Well, I just wanted to see how you were, which obviously you're fine as you're awake. But for Pete's sake, just you wait til I get my hands around that Freddie Parker's neck! I told him he better not even call you. That little weasel, don't you know this is all his fault, not only me nearly tragically dying but you, too, and being rescued by that--that guy. He's quite handsome of course, and he seems nice, but, well, you know how those cute ones are. You have to be careful about them. Most handsome guy on campus broke my sister's heart once. Gerald? You remember him. Stupid name anyways. Yes, but you keep an eye on that one. Do you know he kept staring at you while you slept? How revolting. I only left because my mother needed me, but I was sure to get his phone number so I could check up on you. I tell you, if he lays one hand on you, I'll strangle him along with Freddie..."

The rant continued for another two minutes. I don't know how long she would've continued if her mother hadn't called her to help unload groceries. I was grateful when she finally took that last, deep breath and said good-bye, wishing me a good afternoon and for Pete's sake to be careful (by now it was possible Aaryn was a mass-murderer or at least an evil sorcerer). Hanging up, I sighed relief. Sarah meant well, but her distrust of boys often drove me crazy. No wonder I never had a real boyfriend.

I turned to Aaryn. "Thank you, you can put it up. I doubt Freddie will be calling, too."

Aaryn got up, took the phone, still smiling bemusedly, and headed into the adjoining room. Upon returning, he sat back in the armchair, grinning at me. For a couple minutes, nothing was said, an awkward feeling seeping deeper and deeper inside me every moment, intensifying the deep crimson of my face.

At last, he said, "Emma, is it?"

My face felt even redder, if that was possible, as I replied quietly, "Yes. Did you hear...everything?"

He smirked impishly. "Very sensitive hearing and seeing. Two of my special abilities."

As I glared at him in irritation, he only laughed. The musically cheery echo threatened to break down my wall of annoyance, so I turned away.

"It's a pretty name. I'm Aaryn Ruiz. It's nice to meet you."

He suddenly knelt beside the couch though I did not see him move and couldn't help staring again, wondering if Superman himself sat before me instead of a fairy or elf. He smirked at my incredulity, and my attempt at staying mad at him proved pathetically feeble.

"Your friends are quite talkative," he added casually. "Do you ever get a word in?"

"Occasionally. I'm more the quiet one, though."

He smiled in reply. That seemed to please him. From then on, we were friends. I doubt I could have stayed angry with him for more than a few minutes, even if he shredded my twelve-page English paper. All he needed to do was cast his impossibly charming smile. It was quite annoying really. But it always worked.

Sarah eventually accepted him, after seeing he wasn't hanging around to seduce any of us and break our hearts. In fact, we all remained just friends and everyone seemed content. Grace loved him, and as for Freddie, well, he made sure to keep his distance until he conjured an apology lavish enough for even Sarah to accept.

* * *

Finally, I reached the college. The college is fairly small--about three thousand people. It's a community college and also a college for magical folk such as fairies, elves, witches, and enchanters. Mostly fairies and elves, though. Witches and enchanters aren't as common in the Midwest as they are the coastal states. Actually, it isn't really a college just for magical people either. That is, magical folk attend it, but so do normal, non-magical people. The campus hosts a special building for magic classes. The magical students can't enter the buildings containing math, English, and all the other normal courses until they master their special magical abilities. This is a law established both by the United States and the U.S. Fairy Council for the protection of non-magical folk. While most fairies and elves, like myself, receive their magical powers at birth and have them well under control by the time they enter college, there are those who don't receive their powers until they turn eighteen. So the magic building stands not only so the magical peoples can master their skills and learn about their own history, but also to keep accidents from happening in the presence of unsuspecting non-magical types. Like someone's hair suddenly catching fire or someone being shrunk, accidentally stepped on, and squashed.

I am in my first semester at SWIC and enjoying it immensely. I don't mind walking back and forth between magic and non-magic buildings for the five courses I attend each week. My load consists of sixteen credits which everyone says is crazy for a first semester, but as you can understand, I prefer staying away from home as much as possible. That's also part of the reason I love school so much and loath summer vacation.

I parked and exited my car. Slinging the backpack over my shoulder and starting for the main campus building, I smiled. Today was a Tuesday, which meant I would visit with Aaryn and the girls a whole two hours in between English and Math classes.

English passed rather too quickly. Normally, I looked forward to class ending, seeing my friends. But today, all through English I contemplated how to hide the long scar stretching from my ear down to my chin. Maybe if I pulled my hair to that side just so...

The girls knew all about my dad's abuse. They would understand. But Aaryn...

He was very protective, proving good for us all to have around, for we really were a trio of klutzes, especially Sarah. He saved us from many a near accident and from boys who tried to push us around in high school. That was just the thing. His temper flared when it came to someone so much as even threatening us, particularly me, as if he seemed to think I needed the most protection. One time he and Oric got into a fight. I refused to go out with Oric anymore after he treated Sarah like a jerk. In turn, he threatened to harm me or one of my friends if I didn't date him. Never before did such a vehement, poisonous green fire leap into those emerald spheres. Aaryn jumped on him in a flash. Oric ended up with a broken arm and a couple broken ribs. Thankfully, I was there to pry Aaryn off. Of course, Aaryn was far stronger than me, but I think somehow my presence calmed him, and he controlled himself enough to back off. By that time, I was strong enough to use the magic needed to heal Oric's bones. Aaryn protested, resentful, but I didn't need him landed in jail. Oric never set foot around us again. But I still shudder to think of that day. I had already figured out Aaryn was special; he possessed far more advanced powers than mine would ever be, but that was the first time I really glimpsed his power, really realized he was...different.

So I hated to see what reaction might burst forth when he saw the scar. I tried to think of a logical excuse all through English but knew he wouldn't believe even the lamest of the stories I cooked up. I scowled. That was another admirable, if annoying, quality about Aaryn--too smart for his own good.

Typing the last draft of my English paper furiously, I scowled. Never would I be able to hide this from him. I jumped as someone suddenly asked, "And how are you today, Emma?"

Looking up, I forced a smile. It was Cory Lund, my English teacher. We all called him "Lund". I developed a deep admiration for Lund, in the big-brother-I-never-had-and always-wanted sense. He was in his late twenties, tall, muscular, with tousled brown hair, a neatly trimmed goatee and mustache, and inquisitive eyes.

"I'm good," I lied. "How are you?"

"Good, good. How's that paper coming?"

"Good." Thankfully, my English paper wasn't as colorless as my current conversation.

"Did you get the necklace for your birthday?"

At first I was confused, but then I realized I must've fallen asleep with it on. My birthday was last week; I'd just turned nineteen. My dad was sober that day, thankfully. He'd given me the cross pendant, but I hadn't worn it until now. It was beautiful, a white gold cross with scalloped edges, inlaid with smooth, black onyx stone.

"Yes, I did," I said.

"Aaryn?" he inquired, a playful twinkle in his eye.

I blushed. "No, my dad," I murmured.

"Ah. Well, it's very pretty."

"Thank you."

He sauntered off to check on Carwin, who'd fallen asleep in the corner.

My cheeks still flushed as I turned back to my English paper. Why was everyone always assuming Aaryn and I were a couple? Sometimes it was a bit annoying to have an old family friend of Aaryn's as a teacher. It did have its uses, though, like getting information about figuring out what to get Aaryn for his birthday.

Too soon, English came to an end. I slipped my coat on, and zipped it up, keeping the collar as high as I could without looking stupid, and whooshing my hair over my left shoulder, in hopes that no one, especially Aaryn, would notice anything.

He smiled, leaning against the wall, as I emerged from the hallway, causing me to blush madly. I knew he had to notice, though thankfully he never said anything about it.

"Hey," I said.

"Hey," he replied. "Grace and Sarah are meeting us down in the cafeteria today; they got out of class early."


We started downstairs.

"You look nice today," he added as we walked.

"Thanks," I muttered, feeling my cheeks going even redder.

Three years. Over three years I had known him and I still blushed furiously every time he smiled or complimented me. Sometimes I got so frustrated with myself over it, but he never showed he noticed. He had to notice, of course. He couldn't possibly know how much I'd grown to love him, but he had to know I liked him. Practically everyone who knew us did. Grace and Sarah were very insistent on the fact that he liked me, too.

"He just acts like it," Sarah always said whenever I asked her why she thought so. She had two older brothers and seemed to think she was some sort of expert on the subject.

Of course, I once thought so, too. But when I asked him, he said he just thought of us as really good friends. Said it had nothing to do with me. Said he wouldn't be good for me anyways, that he'd just end up hurting me. I found that hard to believe, but I accepted it. I found it hard to believe still that he had no feelings for me beyond friendship, especially since he looked so sad as he said it, but if he wasn't ready for a relationship, then I cared enough about him to accept that and just be friends. He must've cared something for me to put up with my incessant blushing. Things were a little weird between us after that conversation, at least for a while, but now we were as close as ever.

Grace and Sarah sat at one of the high, round tables, waving at us enthusiastically as we entered. We headed over, Aaryn grabbing me a chair since there weren't enough, and then we all sat down.

For about the first ten minutes, Sarah rambled on and on about how stupid English had been that day, and how they hadn't learned a thing, while Grace chattered about how hot Billy Mason, who still sat right next to her, was. It was hard to keep up with both conversations at once, but we'd heard the Billy Mason spiel at least five times before. Aaryn and I glanced at each other and smiled as they prattled on.

I took care during the time we were together to keep my hair flipped over my left shoulder. Aaryn looked up at me occasionally as I continuously stroked my hair, but he said nothing about it.

"So, I was wondering if you'd all like to go to the movies this evening."

"Sure," I said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically. I blushed as Aaryn smiled. "I mean, I'm sure my dad won't mind."

"Great." He turned to Sarah and Grace. "And you two?"

Sarah opened her mouth to speak, but Grace quickly said, "Oh, sorry, Sarah and I, we're busy studying last-minute for our math class."

Sarah stared at Grace like she was crazy. "We are?"

Grace cast her a sharp look, and, unfortunately, Sarah finally caught on. "Oh! Yes, we are, we are indeed."

I shot them a look that said "thanks a lot" in a definitely sarcastic way. Not that I wasn't thrilled at the thought of spending a night alone with Aaryn, but still, we'd never done anything together except in groups, besides talking at school, of course. What if I blushed and stuttered the whole evening?

Aaryn, however, seemed happy enough. He smiled as he said, "Well, that's okay. Another time, then. There's a showing right after your last class, Emma. You think that'll work?"


Fifteen minutes later, Sarah and Grace announced that they needed to get to class. This was the part that always made me both excited and nervous all at once. I would spend almost a whole hour with Aaryn before our next class. Well, actually, today it would be two hours, since Math had been pushed back yet again.

"To our usual spot?" he asked once they'd gone, Grace casting me a final wink and smile as she disappeared around the corner.

"Sure," I said.

Our 'spot' was in the hallway, on a cushioned bench close to one of the doors leading outside.

We sat there and talked the whole time, though it was much quieter than with Sarah and Grace around. We talked about classes, movies, books, music--we had a lot of things in common--and then Aaryn asked, "Emma, do you feel okay today?"

I looked up at him with a confused frown. "Yes, why?"

"Well, it's just, you've had your coat on the whole time, and everyone else is sporting short sleeves."

He was right. It was stifling even though we sat close to the door. Someone must've turned the heater on extra high. I pushed my hair behind my ear like I always did whenever I was very nervous and unsure what to say.

"Um..." I stammered.

"What is that?"

His voice turned suddenly sharp, and I realized the mistake I'd just made.

"Nothing," I said, trying to pull my hair back over my shoulder.

"Oh, no, you don't," he said firmly. "Look at me."

Reluctantly, I flipped the hair back and turned towards him.

I could see his green eyes flaring wildly as he hissed, "Who did this to you?"

"Aaryn, it's okay," I said quietly as I looked down at my lap.

"Okay? It most certainly is not. Now you tell me who's done this to you. Was it Oric? If that jerk's come back, I'll--"

"Aaryn, it wasn't Oric," I said, looking up at him.

His temper calmed and melted into concern as he noted the sorrow in my eyes. "Emma," he said gently. "Tell me. Who is it?"

I hesitated, then said softly, "It's my dad."

For a moment that seemed to last a very long time, he just stared at me. Then he said slowly, "Your dad?"


"How long."

"About two years."

More silent staring. He looked both shocked and struggling to keep his temper under control at the same time. "Sarah and Grace?"

"They know."

"Why didn't you ever tell me?"

The question didn't sound angry, but a touch of hurt tainted his beautiful voice.

"I was afraid of what you might do."

More silence. And then, "Is it very bad?"

"No," I lied. I dared not tell him it was getting worse.

"Isn't there somewhere else you could go?"


"You could live with us," he said, and at first I was surprised, but his eyes showed his sincerity.

"No, I couldn't," I said softly.

"Yes, you could. I could talk to my parents. They'd understand."

I hardly knew what to say. Aaryn had always gone out of his way to protect me, but this...

"Please don't say anything," I said. "Not to anyone. If I decide otherwise, I'll tell you, but for now, please don't."

His flickering eyes reflected his struggle, but he said, "Alright, I won't do anything. For now."

Another moment of silence passed between us, and then it was followed by another moment that I shall never forget.

His earnest green gaze pierced into mine as he said softly, "If you ever need me, just call, and I'll be there. If he ever...if you're ever afraid that something might...happen, I'll be there to protect you."

I shivered as his hand crept up to caress my face. I shivered for two reasons: it was the first time he'd ever touched me, and his hand was unexpectedly cold. He suddenly withdrew as if reading my thoughts. He turned away and jumped up quickly.

"I have to get to class," he muttered.

"Okay," I said. "Do you want me to walk with you? Our class was pushed back an hour again."

"No," he said quickly, and a bit more harshly than usual.

I would have been offended by his harsh tone, but I could tell by that familiar scowl that he was annoyed with himself, not with me.

"No," he repeated more gently. "I'll be fine. See you tonight?" He smiled, trying to lighten the mood.

"Sure," I said and watched as he walked off. Then I sat staring at the wall for a few moments, trying to grasp what had just happened. Aaryn caressed my face, and it had sent a thrill to my heart. Yet it had also sent a chill through my skin; what could these things mean? Could the girls be right? Could he really like me? But why was he so cautious about touching me? Everyone had cold hands from time to time, I tried to reason. Mine were nearly always cold. And yet, his were cold in a somehow strange, unsettling way.

I broke out of my reverie as I felt the seat beside me; something smooth and cool lay beside me. I looked down. It was his leather jacket.

I don't know why I didn't think to wait to give it to him until the next day. Something inside me just made me grab that jacket and spring off the bench, racing down the hall, hoping I could catch him in time.

I rushed outside; he was several yards in the distance already, but I knew he'd be able to hear me; he always did somehow, no matter how far away I was. One of his unique special abilities of course--heightened senses.

I called his name. As he stepped from the shade of the tree, he stumbled. As if seeing him falter wasn't jarring enough, the sprinkler he tripped over sprayed water all over him, and his white skin transformed into a brilliant shade of green. He came to a dead halt, stiff as stone. His face reflected anger at his blunder. Now I understood why he never wanted me to follow him in the rain--unless he carried an over-sized umbrella big enough for the two of us. The non-magical folk gawking at him would brush the transformation off as a "fairy or elf thing".

He stood still a few moments, as if contemplating what to do. He knew I'd seen him, of course. Then he smiled, but shadows stirred in his powerful green eyes; he had not intended for me to see him like this.

I made my way over as casually as I could, trying to look like all was normal, not having any clue what to say. What do you say when you see your best friend's skin morph to the color of a thousand emeralds?

"Hey, Aaryn," I said, and I couldn't help staring, even more than usual. "Here's your jacket."

"Thanks," he mumbled as he took it. He drew me beneath the tree, and the green vanished. But his eyes still leapt with that serious green flame as he said in a low voice, barely audible, "Promise me that you'll tell no one what you saw."

"I promise."

"Not even Sarah or Grace!" His voice hissed sharply, as if what he told me was life-or-death.

"I promise," I said quietly.

He studied me carefully, and I felt my face flush. I always hated when he scrutinized me that way. But he seemed to believe me, for he released my arm as he said, "Good. Promise me something else."


"Promise that you'll always trust me, no matter what."

His deep, green eyes were true but pleading as he spoke it. I didn't know why he should ask such a thing; was he not always perfectly honest with me? I'm sure the perplexity must've shown on my face, but I only said, "I trust you."

He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, as if I'd just given him a great relief. Then he opened his eyes. "Emma, you're my best friend, and I care about you very much. I don't want you to get hurt, so...it might be in your best interest not to go looking for answers."

I nodded, though I wasn't quite sure what he meant.

"I have to get to class," he said.


"See you at the movie tonight?"


He rushed off towards the magic building, leaving me to stand staring after him, totally unsure of what had just happened.

Don't go looking for answers. Slowly, it came to me. Of course, he knew I was curious, knew I liked to find answers for everything. But I wanted answers; what could be so bad about bright green skin? What could he possibly want to hide from me? Against his commands, I found myself heading towards the library. Besides, I still had an hour before Math class.

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