Souljacker – YA Sci-Fi Paranormal Romance – $2.99
Only one more year until she’s 18, then Lucifer Swift can start a new life, one not filled with loveless foster homes and whispered rumors—painful reminders of her past. She knows she’ll never outrun her Need, the monster inside of her that can suck the life force out of someone with just a touch, but she can sure as hell try. Nothing holds her here. She has no family, no friends, nothing.
Until she meets him.
Iofiel is a Cyberhound—a dark Faerie creation who can shift from man to canine and back again in the blink of an eye. Pack law denies him the right to love, but Iofiel can’t suppress his want. And he wants what he can’t have: A certain girl with haunted blue eyes, a girl with secrets darker than his…
Chapter 1: Lucy
One more year till I’m out of this slaghole.
The day I turn eighteen, I’m packing up what little stuff I own and getting the hell out of here. No more people playing pretend-to-be-Lucy’s-parents, no more stares and whispers from the kids at school: “Hey, look at the Freak; I heard she killed her own mother.” I’ll just be gone.
The heels of my boots click against the pavement as I head towards Maelstrom High. Yet another day of droning lectures, homework assignments that I’ll never turn in, and the Need building up inside of me, burning hot and calling to me in a siren’s song.
I feel a ripple in the air—it goes from late-June summer breeze to an icy draft, making the fine hair at the nape of my neck stand up and salute. I take a short breath in through my nose. Nothing. I turn, tipping my head towards the edge of the alley. And again, nothing’s there. Nothing visible anyway.
I wrinkle my nose and duck my head, pulling my bag higher up on my shoulder. It flaps against my side as I pick up speed and I hear a muffled “oof” from inside. I pat it tenderly. My gaze flicks behind me, quickly scanning the mouths of the open alleyways I’ve passed in my haste.
The familiar prickle of unease washes over me, my arms lined with gooseflesh. I would welcome the clicking of toenails scraping cement over the dead silence, but I can’t even dare to hope for one of the beasts—half hound, half machine with a red eye glowing like a beast straight out of Hell. At least then I’d feel some sort of peace. Cyberhounds rarely attack a human unless provoked, and I’m minding my own business.
Instead, the air shimmers like heat on a hot summer day, but with a darker cast to it. Like ripples of murky water, floating in mid air. Forming. Crap. My heart ratchets into my throat and the fear is like a slimy ball of nerves I can barely choke back down. I spin away, breaking into a jog. Damnit, I really should’ve used the Portal.
Icy tendrils slide across the ground like fog, snaking around my boots and I trip. My palms slam into the pavement to catch my fall, but I barely feel the burn as fingers tighten around my ankle and jerk me across the ground with inhuman force.
I shriek, kicking my foot upwards, the pointy tip of my boot slicing through the Wraith’s half-formed face. It snarls, but without any teeth, its mouth wide and stretching. I kick and twist, freeing my foot. I scramble to my knees and hear a rip of fabric.
It makes a sharp hissing noise, but I’m not stopping to see if it’s okay. I’m out of there, my legs pumping, hands clenched into fists. I’m so close.
I bolt around the corner, but the Wraith’s fast on my heels. My lungs burn even though I’m gasping down breath. Cars bullet past me, riding on pockets of air—one of the perks of year 2027. Someone lays on the horn as I jolt out in front of them. They swerve, the red-headed driver giving me the finger through the window with a snarl on her face.
I feel the touch of the Wraith on my skin, trying to get a grip. Its fingers encircle my wrist and it jerks me back towards it, like a bad dance move, and I fall into the frigid—now solid—arms of the dark Fae’s twisted creature.
I hear someone on the streets shriek. The Wraith looks down at me as I struggle and twist, hunger gleaming in its pale, pale eyes. I open my mouth to scream, taking in a lungful of air, then suddenly, I can’t breathe. The Wraith is sliding down my throat, burning like dry ice in my lungs, tendrils twisting and driving hooks into my soul. I shudder and let loose a cry, but no sound comes out.
I scrabble, my fists slamming like a drumbeat against its hard chest, but my arms are so tired. They drop like lead weights and I’m sinking, shivering, splintering…
A shriek rips through the air. I’m thrown to the ground. Humid city air rushes into my lungs, thawing me out. I choke, my throat tight with cold, and drag myself away on my hands and knees. The Wraith is screaming, mouth gaping as a static howl rises from its chest. A massive cyberhound is latched onto its neck, bone-white fangs gleaming as it rips into it, jerking its head from side to side.
My savior is a huge, Mastiff-like beast with sleek ebony fur, brindled by shadows. It growls, a menacing sound, and I see the gleam of a metal plate running down its skull. I’m on my feet, stumbling, but alive.
I don’t risk a glance behind me—I just run. My foot catches on the step leading up to the massive steel building that is Mael High, but I right myself. My hand presses into the keypad and I lurch into the school, aching and panting. I collapse, safe, against the tile floor and realize that people are staring at me with bemused expressions on their faces.
I pull my bag closer to me, pressing it against my stomach. I just sit there, my too-skinny legs stretched out, my back against the wall, probably looking like some sort of sideshow freak.
I hear the whispers, but I try not to listen. They slither around me, gossip even though I’m sitting right-freaking-here, but they don’t care about my feelings. All they know is what they’ve been told by their parents: “Lucifer Swift is Satan’s child. She killed her own mother. Even her foster family is afraid of her.”
I lift my lip in a snarl, shooting a boy with lime green hair a death glare. He merely laughs and bumps shoulders with his buddies as they saunter off. Jocks.
I huff and shove myself to my feet, wavering there for a moment as a spell of dizziness washes over me. I feel a hand on my arm and twist away, only to look into the face of a younger girl with frizzy blonde hair and dark eyes, curiosity nipping around their irises like wildfire set to a forest.
“Seriously?” An eyebrow arches up. “You look like you just ran a marathon while being chased by zombies.”
I’d take zombies over Wraiths any day. I look at her, crossing both arms over my chest, trying to calm down. I’m still trembling, but whether it’s from leftover fear or exhaustion, I’m not sure. “I’m fine.”
I turn away, running both hands through my dark hair, untangling the blue metal and rubber cord extensions that are braided in at the roots. My palms burn and I find that they’re scraped pretty badly, tiny rocks embedded in the deepest area of the cut. I make a beeline for the bathroom.
It isn’t until I shoulder through the door and set my bag down on the counter that I realize that the girl has followed me. She’s leaning against the wall, head tilted to one side, regarding me with a quiet sort of interest.
I shrug and unzip my bag, the darkness inside illuminated by a pale blue light. A small, shiny cylindrical robot floats up, the tip of her antennae glowing brightly. On the front of her body is a wide black plate with a glowing LCD screen—giving her expressions, even though she’s just an old robot.
Sync makes a few clicking sounds, buzzing above my head. She was given to me by one of my foster moms—the one I thought I’d have for the rest of my life—and ever since the accident that nearly killed my best friend, Sophia, she’s been my best friend since, even if she’s slightly out of date.
The girl doesn’t say anything as I carefully wash my hands with soap, gritting my teeth against the burn, then dry them under the automatic airflow. I hold up one of my hands to Sync, whose digital cat-face turns down into a frown.
“What did you get yourself into, Luce?” Her accent is more British than robot. The bottom of her base pops out and two long, slender robotic arms with pincers slide out. She begins to feel around, digging the rocks out of the wound, apologizing every time I whimper.
The bell rings, sharp and shrill. The blonde girl looks at me. “Want me to tell the nurse that you need a sick pass?” Her voice is soft; she’s not afraid of me. I offer a smile, but in the mirror it looks more like a sick grimace with my pale, almost translucent, skin and dark hair. The bags under my eyes don’t help anything. I nod and she bows, slipping back out the door.
“New friend?” Sync chirps.
“Nothing like that. She just feels bad that I almost got eaten.”
“Maybe you should take the Portal next time.”
Sync rests on my desk and if she hadn’t been a robot, I’d say she was snoozing as I slave over my English assignment. My stylus scratches softly against the tablet on my desk as I write the essay. My arms are heavy, like someone’s attached twenty pound weights to my both wrists. My tablet screen blurs and I blink rapidly, looking up at the ceiling to focus my eyes.
My gaze flits across to Jale Halvers, a tall and skinny jock who always sleeps through third period. And there he is—head down on his arms, drool seeping from the corner of his mouth. His parents pretty much own the school, so he doesn’t need to study; the teachers give him good grades either way.
My hands itch, a slow tingle that starts in my fingertips and works its way down my knuckles to my palms. A low ache roils in my gut, the Need flaring up. I shake my head and squeeze the stylus between my fingers, staring down at my essay.
My heart hitches, picking up speed. How easy it would be to just…reach out, brush against the guy, and take some. It wouldn’t be enough to harm him. He’d never know anything was missing… Just a taste, enough to get me through school.
I grind my teeth against the Need. It’s like a freaking drug.
I’ve always been able to do this—steal soul from people, enough to energize me and keep me safe. Soul is the stuff that keeps you alive. Energy. Life force. Everyone has it and, like blood, it replenishes. If I only take a little bit, my victims will never know that it’s missing. When they sleep, it grows back.
It’s when I take too much, too soon…that’s when I regret it. When I surge, it rips the life from their bodies with one jerk—sure, they still have a spirit, but not enough juice to keep their hearts pumping. I frown. My hands are full-on burning now.
I glance up to the front of the class. Mr. W has his nose buried in a tablet, turned away from this side of the room. I slide my hand over and lick my lips, my fingertips caressing Jale’s wrist. He doesn’t wake, just snorts softly in his sleep.
I close my eyes and will the energy through my fingers. It reacts like a wildfire, flaring up and bolting down my arm, soaking me in heat. I bite my tongue to keep from gasping out at the pleasure that spikes through me. The bitter taste of my own blood fills my mouth. I let the feeling ripple through me.
Jale jerks awake suddenly. Warning bells chime in my head and I pull away, closing my hand in a fist. He blinks blearily up at me, his hair disheveled, and he’s almost cute…for a snob.
“You dropped your pen,” I say, pointing to where it rolled off onto the floor. He regards me for a moment, shrugs, and flops back down on his desk, stylus forgotten.
I pull my hand to my chest, feeling the burn ease away. My heart is racing—too close. Did I take too much? Did he feel it? I nibble on my lip and settle back in my seat. Sync’s too-large eyes watch, but she’s not judging me. She knows this is how it has to be. She saw what I did to Sophia…
I shake my head at the memory of my once-best friend. No. Sophia’s in the past and she’s the reason I don’t do friends. Getting close to people just hurts too bad when you lose them, especially when you’re the reason they’re gone. I slump in my seat and lay my head on my desk, my hair spilling around me.
No one tells me to finish my assignment. That’s just the way life works.
Chapter 2: Iofiel
My earliest memories are of a woman in a white lace gown, her hair dark and wild around her porcelain face. But it was her eyes that drew me in—wide and ocean blue and filled with so much warmth that I just cuddled in. She was the only one of the Nursemaids who actually held me with care. The rest of them were distant, frigid, holding the pups at arm’s length because we were merely specimens.
I haven’t seen my Nursemaid since I was given over to the Pack to raise. Leaving her behind tore into my heart, leaving it a wound that the older males rubbed dirt into. Don’t get me wrong, I love my Pack. They’re my family. But I quickly learned to hide my wants and desires from them, especially from Lylan. Some things should just be kept secret.
I stare down at the shriveled corpse of the Wraith I’d just killed, dust specks floating above it as it began to decompose. I shudder and shake myself, as if I could get the feel of its icy fingers off my skin, or get the rotten taste of it out of my mouth. Garbage tastes better than Wraith.
Still, not a good thing. Just because Wraiths are evil, they’re still Unseelie Projects. And we cyberhounds are supposed to protect the Projects.
People don’t stop or even slow down. If they’re driving in their fancy little hover cars, they just whiz past. If they’re walking, they give me and Mr. Death a wide berth. One look at my molded cybernetic leg and the eerie red glow of my left eyeball and it has them running like scared little mice. I huff and shake again. Let them fear us. Pack Rule #1: Don’t get close to humans.
Which sucks hardcore eggs when you’re drawn to the girl you just saved from being eaten by a Wraith.
I glance over my shoulder, taking in a breath. Her scent still lingers, like blueberries and warm sugar, and it makes my heart twist in my chest. There’s something about girls—forbidden, beautiful girls—that makes me just melt inside. I don’t know, that sounds sappy, especially coming from someone who’s supposed to be a boss cyborg. But this girl…she’s different than the others. She just feels different, like there’s something about her I should know, that I should figure out.
Suddenly, there’s a creaking sound and the Wraith contorts into a position that shouldn’t be possible. It writhes for a moment, letting out a low hiss of air, and bends in on itself. Then it poofs, leaving a pile of black dust particles that the wind picks up and carries into the street.
I flick an ear and watch it, unmoved. Too beautiful a death for such a creature, if you ask me. Not that anyone’s ever valued my opinion much.
I start off across the street, following the girl’s scent until I reach the cement slab steps of a large building. I blink my left eye and the scanner zooms into focus, sliding across the school, picking up heat signatures from the populace of teenagers studying away inside. I turn, tracking back to the alley I’d followed her through. Why didn’t she use a Portal like everyone else? The streets were dangerous with the Wraiths lurking, ready to pick off humans like spectral vultures…
But my queen requires harvested energy, so the Wraiths continue to exist.
Technically I’m not on duty until tomorrow. Just a hound dog, joyriding the streets on four paws instead of my typically human two feet. With a soft chortle of canine laughter, I slide across the cement on my belly, pressing up against a large dumpster. I lay my muzzle on my paws and watch the traffic fly by the mouth of the alley.
Secretly, I hope the girl comes back this way on her way home, despite the Wraith scare.
I’m content to wait for her.
I hear the familiar click-scuff of boots parading down the sidewalk, jerking me awake mid-snore. I scramble to my paws, wavering there for a moment as I compose myself. If I go bolting out there, I’ll scare her. Cyberhounds are the sentries of the city. I’m not some oversized Labrador without a home wanting a scratch behind the ears. She won’t see me as one. I drop my head, watching her from the safety of the shadows as she passes my alley.
She’s beautiful. Unique. Long legs clad in tight pants and knee-high boots. I can’t help but notice the soft curve of her waist, the swell of her breasts showing off a little cleavage in the blue nylon corset top she’s wearing. Her hair pools around her shoulders in black and blue curls, the rubber-coated cybernetic extensions bobbing with each step she takes, making her look like a futuristic Medusa. Despite the sassy appearance, she looks…sad. Her lips are cast down in a frown.
I wonder what she’d look like smiling.
As she passes, I wait a few breaths, then slink out after her. She stiffens and risks a glance behind her. So I stop and wag my whipcord tail in greeting. I prick my ears and let my tongue loll out of my mouth like a good, happy puppy. She flicks her tongue over her lips and turns away, picking up speed. I follow her.
This goes on for several blocks: Walk, stop, tail wag; lather, rinse, and repeat. Finally she stops and spins on me. Our eyes meet and lock, hers spitting defiance. She clenches her bag to her stomach and stares at me. I tilt my head.
Oh, I’ve played the part of the happy stray before. I know the moves to melt girls’ hearts. I want her to run her fingers through my fur, want to feel the electric tingle where our skin touches. That first connection is what makes or breaks it for me, what makes me decide whether or not to pursue her as a human. Maybe that makes me selfish, to keep secret girlfriends, human girls who could easily be endangered if Lylan ever found out. But I can’t help it.
But usually by now, the girl’s dropped to her knees and is clucking me over to her, hands outstretched with a tasty morsel.
Not this chick. She stands, splay-legged, arms crossed over her cleavage as she regards me. “Go away.” Her voice is husky, like she’s been screaming or crying or both. Her fingers twitch. I inch closer. She narrows her eyes. “Go the hell away, you Unseelie freak—” She stops then, stricken.
I take two more steps and add in another tail wag for good measure. She’s close enough that her scent envelops me in a cocoon of heaven. I plop my rump down in front of her, tail swishing up dirt like a street sweeper. The girl presses her eyes shut and drops one shoulder. “Freak-dog,” she says, softer. “Join the club, I guess.”
I take that moment to scoot the rest of the way to her, bumping my nose up against her waist. She’s so small up close, petite and feminine. She drops her arms, her long fingers touching my muzzle. She runs them down my face, burying them in the ruff of black fur around my neck, sending sparks down my spine.
She cups my head in her hands and our eyes meet and I’m almost knocked backwards with my want for her. It grips my heart in a painful vice, throbbing and burning and aching, and I want her, not just for a couple of days, but forever—her body, her kisses, her affection. I want to wake up in bed with her. I want to kiss those sad lips and I want to—
I jerk out of her touch and it startles her. She stiffens, what little bond we just formed broken. She doesn’t say anything, just worries her bottom lip between her teeth. I drop my head, butting against her hip once before lumbering away.
I can’t have her, not now, not ever. I’m a foolish, stubborn boy. This is the reason Lylan’s outlawed love from the Pack. Love only gets in the way of duty and want is just a stepping stone to falling for someone.
But damn if it doesn’t hurt.
I duck down an alley to watch her. She bunches her shoulders up, sliding her bag off her arm. She unzips the flap and a little round robot hovers at about shoulder height, its antennae casting a glow across the brick wall. They walk in silence for a few minutes and then, just as they pass my alley, I hear a soft Brit voice: “So where are you headed tonight, Luce?”
My heart flutters.
Luce. Her name is Luce… Short for Lucy?
And Lucy—the girl I want so bad it hurts—says: “Cosmo.”
I know where I’m going tonight.