Deceitful Circle Excerpt

Chapter 1

Leanne’s eyes gleam with feral excitement as I writhe, suspended and helpless. My eyes sting, tears and blood oozing down my face. One pain blends into the next, dull thuds filling the room. Sharp cries, whimpers, and Leanne’s excited little breaths. Fists stained red, knuckles torn, she hits me again and again…  

I’m trapped. They’ve come back for me, and now Leanne is going to finish what she started. Sobs rip from my chest. Not again… Please, not again…

I am weak. I am helpless. I am alone.

Jesus, not again... Groaning, I sit up in bed and scrub away the tear tracks left behind, wishing I could erase my memories as easily.

It’s been over a week since Gabriella and her coven, the Carrion Crows, showed up and tried to ‘recruit’ me. I had hoped the nightmares would be gone by now, but they show no signs of abating.

Dragging myself out of bed, I stumble into the shower, hoping the steaming water will help wake me up. When that doesn’t work, I head downstairs for some much needed caffeine.

Slumped on a stool in the kitchen, I’m starting my second cup of coffee when my dad hustles in and grabs the pot.

“Morning, Em.” His blond hair is gelled back and he’s sporting his usual dark suit and tie. “It’s going to be another late night at the office; I’ll leave you some cash for dinner.” When I don’t respond, he turns to face me.

Trying to stifle a yawn, I nod. “Yeah, no problem. I’ll probably be out anyway.”

His eyes roam my face, brows drawing together. “Are you sure that’s a good idea?”

“What do you mean?” I say, yawning again.

“Maybe you should stay in and rest. You look exhausted. What time did you get in last night?”

“Around eleven.” I shrug. “I have this big English assignment due soon.” The lie slips easily from my tongue.

Draining the last of the mug, I place it in the sink and rummage through the cabinets for something to eat. I don’t feel like having Caiden chew me out again for skipping breakfast.

Things have gotten hectic ever since the Carrion Crows left and I’ve officially agreed to become a member of Night’s Hollow. Caroline decided it was time to step up my training, so Caiden has been working with me nonstop. He’s been relentless, pushing me to learn faster, get stronger. I’m thankful for the training, but it is draining. I know if I don’t eat, I won’t have the energy for our session this afternoon.

Grabbing a granola bar out of the drawer, I wave bye to my dad and head off for school.

Snatching books out of my locker, I see Olivia out of the corner of my eye, heading in my direction. I curse under my breath, closing my locker with a snap and turn to face her.

“Hey, sorry for not calling you back last night, Liv. I was swamped with homework.”

Her cat-like green eyes travel over my face, taking in my pale cheeks and the bags under my eyes. “So, you’re going with the ‘homework’ excuse again?” Her voice comes out cool, her eyes narrowed.

“It’s not an excuse,” I say, glancing at the clock above the lockers. “I have this huge—”

“This huge paper due,” she cuts in, mimicking me. “Yeah, that’s what you keep saying. Since when do you care so much about school?”

I shrug and glance at the clock again. “Well, we have to start applying to colleges soon, and my grades aren’t gonna be impressing anyone the way they are.”

As I make up this excuse, my mouth twists. It’s actually not far from the truth. My grades, never high to begin with, have really been slipping these past few weeks. If I plan on getting into college, I really need to bring them up, but with all the training Caiden has me doing, I wouldn’t have the time to study even if I wanted to.

Focusing back on Olivia, I say, “Look, I have to go or I’m gonna be late. I’ll see you in third.”
Pasting on a fake smile, I hurry down the hall. Of course Olivia doesn’t buy it; she knows me better than almost anyone. God, I hate lying to her, but I don’t have any choice.

I can’t exactly tell her that I was at Caiden’s—again—learning how to cast a circle. Caroline wants me caught up on the basics before she inducts me into the coven this Friday. I only have two more days, and there’s still so much left to learn.

Everyone else was taught this stuff when they were in elementary school, but unlike them, I only found out I was a witch a couple weeks ago. I guess my mom didn’t think it was necessary for me to know all this when I was younger, and she died before I had even come into my powers.

The cops say she killed herself, but I’ve never believed that. So on top of all my training with Caiden, I’ve also been researching my mom and her mysterious past, but there’s only so much I can learn from the internet.

Olivia remains cold to me in History class, and I head into lunch with knots in my stomach. Sebastian and Josh are sitting at our regular table, laughing at something Chris is saying. As I approach, Sebastian’s laughter dries up. By the time I sit down next to him, his face could be carved from stone. Josh glares at me, and Olivia won’t even meet my eye.

“Well, look who decided to show up?” Josh sneers, the silver piercings in his eyebrow glinting.

I give him a dirty look before turning to Sebastian. “Hey babe, what’s up?” I lean in and press my lips against his, but he doesn’t kiss me back.

“Where were you last night?” He asks, jaw stiff.

“What do you mean?”

“We were supposed to go to the movies, remember?”

“Oh, shit. I completely forgot! I’m so sorry Seb.” How could I have forgotten? No wonder he's pissed... I've been flaking out on him a lot this past week.

“Where were you?” He asks again, this time with a hint of a growl creeping into his voice. His blue eyes glint gold as they narrow.

“I was working on my midterm paper. I’m so sorry.” My excuse sounds lame, even to me.

“I went to pick you up, but you weren’t home. Where were you?

Oh shit, he is really mad…

“I was at the library, working on my paper. Seb, I’m so sorry. I’ll make it up to you this weekend, I promise.”

“You were at the library? The library?” His voice rises, brows drawing together over his eyes.

Yes. The library. Where else would I be?”

Sebastian glances across the lunch room, his eyes locking on Caiden. When he turns back to me, his voice is deeper than before. “How come you ignored all my calls? I called you a bunch of times, and you never answered.”

“I turned it off, so I could focus." That, at least, is the truth. Dammit, I told Caiden turning my phone off was a bad idea, but he insisted that I couldn’t focus properly if I was distracted with my phone. “After I got back home, I was so exhausted I forgot to check it; I just crashed.”

Sebastian’s face softens marginally, but then Josh laughs, the harsh sound grating on my ears. “That’s your story? You are so full of shit, Emerson. Just admit it: you’re screwing Caiden. Probably in you shiny new BMW.” He smirks.

The car, again? When are they going to give it a rest? I’ve been taking shit from both of them ever since I got it last week. It isn’t my fault that my dad bought me a new BMW for my birthday. You’d think that, as my boyfriend, Sebastian would be happy for me, but no. Instead I’m being called a princess and a spoiled brat. Sebastian has always had a chip on his shoulder when it comes to how much money my dad makes; it 's infuriating. 

And Josh just can't help himself from stirring up trouble...

As I lock eyes with Josh, a burning rage ignites deep in my gut. Why can’t he just mind his own business? Why does he feel the need to constantly harass me?

Above us, the lights flicker, emitting a high pitched, electric whine. A fiery tingle creeps up my spine, into my chest, just begging to be unleashed…

*Emerson!* Caiden’s voice rips through my mind, clearing it just long enough for me to realize what I’m doing.

I clamp down on the energy now coursing through my body, fighting the urge to release it. I clench my jaw, all my muscles squeezed tight as I battle my rage, leashing my temper.

Slowly, the lights return to normal, the fiery tingle in my body subsiding.

That was close. I almost lost it. Bad things tend to happen when I lose it. An image of Sarah, lying still as death on a blanket of yellowing grass flashes behind my eyes.

No. I won’t let that happen again.

“I have to go.” I jump up, snatching my purse from the table and bolt out of the cafeteria.

By the time the bell rings for seventh period English, I’m already in in my usual seat near the back of the room, waiting for Caiden to show up. Honestly, after what happened in lunch, I’m surprised he hasn’t already hunted me down to yell at me. After everything we’ve been working on, I still almost lost control. I would have, if he hadn’t called my name. I could have hurt Josh. Could have killed him.

Caiden finally enters, and I immediately glance down. It was like Sarah all over again, except this time Caiden wouldn’t have been able to fix it, not without exposing himself and the rest of us for what we are.

*I know, I know,* I say to him as soon as he takes his seat. *I have to be more careful.*

Telepathy is one of my abilities, pretty much the only ability I’m able to control with relative ease, which comes in handy for situations like this. And although Caiden doesn’t share this particular ability of mine, I’m able to send my thoughts to him, and pick up his thoughts if he’s ‘thinking’ at me.

*That was a close call, Emerson.* Disapproval laces his voice. *You can’t let your emotions rule you like that. You can’t afford to be reckless.*

*I know,* I say again, trying to suppress my irritation. As if I don’t understand how dangerous that could have been?

*Have you even been practicing the meditation techniques I showed you?*

I grind my teeth together to keep from snapping at him. *Yes.*

He gives me a look, as if he doesn’t believe me.

If only he knew all the hours I spent sitting alone in my room trying to master those stupid techniques. But no matter how hard I try, I still can’t manage to rein in my temper when confronted with someone like Josh. It’s like something inside me awakens, straining to break free, unwilling to submit or back down.

Trying to leash my anger, I turn back to Caiden with narrowed eyes. *I have been practicing! But all the practice in the world isn’t going to stop Josh from being an asshole.*

*I don’t care what Josh says to you, you can’t let yourself snap again!*

“I KNOW!” My voice echoes around the classroom, all eyes turning toward me. Ah, shit. I said that out loud, didn’t I?

Luckily, Mr. Bayne, our English teacher, is busy talking to someone out in the hall and missed my outburst. Too bad I can’t say the same for the other twenty five people in the room.

Caiden’s droll voice sounds in my mind again, *Well, I guess I know what we’ll be working on this afternoon…*

Chapter 2

After school, Caiden and I practice some calming techniques in the small garage behind his house. Caiden has once again set up glass figurines and mirrors around the tiny space. Last time I was in here, he hurled insult after insult at me in an attempt to make me control my anger before any of the fragile items shattered. Glancing around, I see he’s cleaned up all the glass shards and replaced the broken items from last time.

After we run through a few guided meditations, we stand up and I prepare myself for the onslaught. But he just stands there, studying me, a puzzled look on his face.

“What’s up?” I ask him.

He shakes his head a little, lowering his eyes. “Nothing. You did really well with the meditation.”

“O-kaaay…” That still doesn’t explain his puzzled look.

“It’s obvious you’ve been practicing.”

“I told you I was.”

“Yeah, and I should have believed you. But it just doesn’t make sense…you’ve done the mediations, and we’ve worked on your control under stress, but you still can’t always keep your emotions from spilling over into your magick when confronted.” He’s quite a moment, thinking. “Maybe we need to take a different approach.”

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t know. Your abilities come from the War Gods, so maybe instead of trying to remove your emotions from your magick, you need to first learn to focus that anger into your magick before you can do the reverse…”

“Soooo… You’re saying you want me to explode the mirrors and ceramic plates?”

“Yeah, I think I do. Nothing else is working. Maybe if you can get a feel of how to send your energy out this way, then you’ll be able to do the reverse, and stop yourself from sending out those bolts every time you get upset.”

I hesitate. He wants me to purposely blow these things up? What if he’s wrong and doing this will only make it easier for me to hurt someone the next time I get upset?

“I’m not so sure about this, Caiden…”

“Come on, you’ve been dying to smash this place up, admit it.

I eye the massive green glass elephant on the table next to me. “Well, maybe a little… It looks like a nursing home threw up in here. Where did you get all this crap anyway?”

He smirks, his green eyes crinkling in the corners. “My grandma was kind of a hoarder. When she died, my mom just threw all this stuff in here and never thought about it again. Trust me, you’ll be doing me a favor, getting rid of all this junk.”

“You want me to destroy your dead grandmother’s stuff?” He can’t be serious…

“I was just about to throw it all out anyway. At least this way it can actually be of some use.” He picks up a ceramic plate with a horribly ugly kitten in a pink bow painted in it and makes a face.

I puff out a breath. “Alright…if you’re sure.”

He smiles again, placing the kitten plate in the center of the work table. “Oh, I am. Why don’t you start with that?” He waves toward the plate. “Feel your energy gather deep in your gut, then project it outward, hitting this, and only this.”

Taking a deep breath, I do as he says, drawing my energy into a ball in the pit of my stomach. Squinting in concentration, I throw my hands out, aiming for the plate.

There’s a loud crash, and then Caiden throws himself in front of me, tucking my face tight against his chest, his own pressed into the crook of my neck. His arms encircle me, blocking as much of my body as possible from the glittering glass raining down on us.

When the dust settles, he lifts his head to survey the damage. Small shards crunch beneath my feet as I step out from his embrace. Looking past Caiden, my breath leaves in a gust.

“Well…at least you destroyed that horrible plate,” Caiden says, his face a little paler than usual.

“Yeah, but I took out everything else with it…”

Every single glass object on that side of the shed is obliterated. What were mirrors only moments ago are now just empty frames, the wood cracked and splintered. The collection of glass elephants along the wall, now piles of multi-colored dust. Even the wooden work table the plate sat on is demolished, listing drunkenly to one side.

“You may want to use a little less energy next time,” Caiden says, turning back to face me.

“Next time? Are you kidding? It looks like a bomb went off in here.” I cross my arms in front of my chest, as if that will keep me from destroying anything else.

“It’s actually not so bad for your first try.”

“Right,” I scoff.

“No, really. You contained the damage to that side of the shed, at least. That’s not so bad. You just have to keep practicing. Let’s go again; this time, dial back the energy. Use the smallest amount you can.” Caiden places another object onto the fractured table, this time a crystal candleholder.

I chew my lower lip, studying Caiden. I really don’t think this is a good idea, but I can’t give up when he’s watching me with that combination of pride and expectation on his face.

Sighing, I turn to face the candleholder. Calling up the smallest trickle of energy I can, I toss it outward, then cringe, blocking my face with my arms, preparing for another explosion.

Instead, the candleholder barely wobbles. Caiden lets out a laugh. “Okay, good. That’s really good. Keep going, amping the power up a little bit at a time until you find out how much you need.”

I do as he says, increasing the power a little at a time, until the candleholder finally bursts into pieces. Whooping in delight, I throw my arms around Caiden in my excitement. I did it! I actually did it!

“That was great, Em. Perfect.” He smiles down at me, his normally placid demeanor overtaken with excitement. “Let’s keep going. Try this mirror next.”

We work at this for over an hour, until I can manage to obliterate whatever object I’m aiming for on the first try.

As we work, I’m reminded of last week, when Gabriella had me and Chris trapped in his house. I did something similar to her, attacking her in the same manner as I’m attacking these mirrors right now. I gathered as much energy as I could, pouring all my rage and hate into it, but she simply flicked it away, like it was nothing.

My excitement dims, a kernel of doubt churning in my stomach.

“What’s wrong?” Caiden asks, clearly sensing my unease.

“Nothing, I’m fine.”

“Emerson…” Caiden looks at me, not letting me get away without talking.

“I was just thinking about last week… I mean, look how excited I am over being able to shatter a few plates, but what good will this do if I ever have to face Gabriella again?”

His face immediately soothes out at the mention of last week. “Gabriella is gone, Emerson. She’s not coming back. Friday you’ll be officially inducted into Night’s Hollow, and she’ll never dare bother you again.”

“Yeah, I know, I just…” I turn away, hiding my face. “I just keep having nightmares about all of it. I was completely overpowered. Helpless.”

“You’ll get stronger.”

I study his face, hesitating. “Was my mom strong?”

His brow puckers. “Your mom?”

“I know you didn’t know her well, that she wasn’t in the coven, but Caroline knew her. Did she ever talk about her, about what she could do?”

He shakes his head slowly, his eyes still crinkled in puzzlement. “Not that I’ve ever heard.”

I run my hand through my hair, wondering if I should say anymore.

“Em, what is it?”

“I’ve been thinking, ever since the whole thing with Gabriella started… They were trying to recruit me, threatening me if I refused. What if…what if they did the same thing to her?”

Caiden’s eyes sharpen, his mouth parting slightly. “What are you saying? You think they had something to do with your mom’s death?”

“I don’t know.” I shrug my shoulders. “But she was running from someone that night. She was scared. If they were hunting me, wouldn’t it make sense that they were hunting her as well?”

“I guess it’s possible…” Caiden says, but his tone sounds anything but optimistic.

“But you don’t think so?”

“I think, if that were the case, Caroline would have known something. You saw the way she stepped in to protect you. I can’t believe that she wouldn’t have done the same for your mom, if she were in trouble.”

I look down, chest deflating. He’s right. It was a stupid idea.

“Why don’t you talk to Caroline?” He asks. “Maybe she can answer some of your questions.”

“I tried that, remember? The first time I met her. All she said was my mom had ‘demons in her past’.” I cross my arms in frustration.

There is one other place I could go for answers, I think, remembering the night I snooped through my dad’s filing cabinet looking for information on my mom. Maybe it’s time I took a road trip…

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