Cover – Mages & Mechanisms

Look at this cover! Isn’t it great? Nathalie Gray does it again, giving me a gorgeous, perfect cover.

Leander Weatherford doesn’t want a mage, but he needs one. Enchanted mechanical animals are all the rage among the upper classes and selling them will save his struggling family business. Enter Jak, whose enchanting ability is second only to his talent for flirting. It’s dangerous to keep such a tempting man close, but Leander can’t resist—in more ways than one.

Jak needs money to continue his aimless life of running. A partnership with Leander provides both income and a lovely diversion. Their masterful creations catch the attention of an eccentric baroness, who offers them a huge sum for an ambitious project—a full scale mechanical dragon.

Swept up into a life rubbing elbows with nobility, Leander is pleased but overwhelmed. Spending both work days and evenings with Jak, he finds himself drawing closer to the charming mage.

But Jak is hiding a dangerous secret, and the truth could tear them apart.

New Release – Rainbow Islands

Rainbow Islands cover

It’s here! My newest YA release is now available for a special low price of $2.99. Get it at Amazon.

In the Christian Republic, homosexual people are given two choices—a camp to “fix” them, or exile to the distant islands populated by lesbians and gay men.

Sixteen-year-old Jason chooses exile and expects a hardscrabble life but instead finds a thriving, supportive community. While exploring his identity as a transgender boy he also discovers adventure: kraken attacks, naval battles, a flying island built by asexual people, and a daring escape involving glow-in-the-dark paint. He also has a desperate crush on Sky, a spirited buccaneer girl, but fear keeps him from expressing his feelings.

When Jason and his companions discover the Republicans are planning a war of extermination, they rally the people of the Rainbow Islands to fight back.

Shy, bookish Jason will have to find his inner courage or everything and everyone he loves will be lost forever.

New Cover – Undaunted

Undaunted coverLook at this! Isn’t it amazing? I love this cover so much! The talented and awesome Nathalie Gray designed this and it’s perfect! This novel is very special to me and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Kelas Vartorvi escaped from one vampire only to find himself bound to another. Roshan saved his life and honor demands Kelas stays by his side until he repays the debt.

Roshan takes his broody new werewolf bodyguard in stride. Slowly, his relentless good nature begins to break down Kelas’s walls.

And their tentative friendship becomes something more.

An unexpected visitor from Roshan’s past throws them into a political plot and gives Kelas a chance for revenge. But are the gods blessing Kelas, or asking for a sacrifice?

Shadow Valley Book 2

The 7 Bad Habits of Slightly Troubled Monsters

It’s finally here! The second Shadow Valley book is available on Amazon!

Haunted by recent events, Aiden struggles with a debilitating fear of magic. Not a good situation for a changeling who needs to master his powers in order to graduate. He finds a bit of distraction in Hanna, who might like him as something more than a friend.
Dylan wishes he could take back his mistake, even as he still dreams of freedom. His guilt over hurting Aiden only grows worse when he realizes how deep the damage goes, and when he tries to protect Aiden from a bully it only lands Dylan in more trouble. Pressure mounts from all sides until the dragonkin feels ready to explode.
When a new threat arises, Aiden must use all his magic to save Dylan… and himself.

Shiny New Cover!

Cover How to Make Friends web

The first Shadow Valley book has a brand new cover! Isn’t it awesome?

And the book description has a few changes as well:

Welcome to Shadow Valley, a town hidden from the world — and full of monsters. Students at the high school learn how to control their supernatural powers alongside regular classes. Graduation means the freedom to go out into the human world. Failure means being trapped in town for good.

Aiden discovers a new world when his changeling powers manifest. Forced to move to Shadow Valley, he struggles with the fear of his powers and his strange classmates. When he meets bad boy Dylan, a dragonkin, they begin an unlikely friendship. But something dark stalks their dreams, tempting them with their heart’s desire.

When Dylan makes a dangerous choice, will Aiden’s friendship be enough to save him?

Cool, yeah? So hurry to Amazon and BUY IT!

My Writing Process – Blog Tour

I was tagged by Keith Melton (and I’m late, sorry).

1)     What am I working on?

I’m editing How To Make Friends and Not Incinerate People, the first book in a new YA series. I’m about halfway through writing the second book, The 7 Bad Habits of Slightly Troubled Monsters. Teenage drama in a school full of supernatural people is surprisingly fun to write.

2)     How does my work differ from others of its genre?

Because it’s mine. That’s the simple answer. I tell my stories my way and try not to worry about trends or tropes except when I find fun ways to mess with them. Also I’m not afraid to write in different genres, or mix them. If something sounds fun, I’ll try it.

3)     Why do I write what I do?

I write the kinds of things I love, or things that excite me. I stumbled into romance and discovered I like it. Same with YA urban fantasy. The themes I tend to write around are about close friendships and families of choice, the strength that comes with equal partnerships, and outcasts that find their way. My favorite kinds of stories are fantasies and most of what I write are paranormal romances or urban fantasies. I love playing with supernatural creatures and magic.

4)     How does your writing process work?

I get an idea that grows into a kind of rough shape in my head. When it’s time for a new project, I pick the most exciting idea and go. I’m mostly a pantser but I plot as I go, trying to build the story out a little ahead of where I’m writing. Usually I write in order, but once in a while I’ll just write the scenes as they come to me. Once the book is done, I’ll read over it and make adjustments. Then it goes to my beta readers. Another round of edits to fix the issues they catch, then it’s off to my editor.

Thanks for stopping by. Next week the tour stops at E.P. Beaumont’s blog. E. P. Beaumont writes novels and stories that explore the turbulent boundary between the fantastic and the historical. Depending on whim of the Muse and prevailing winds, that can mean urban fantasy, magic realism, historical fiction, steampunk, science fiction, or literary fiction.

Raw NaNoWriMo Draft – How To Make Friends And Not Incinerate People

NaNo 2013 small coverAuthor’s note: This is a raw NaNoWrimo draft. I didn’t change anything except paragraph spacing (as WP doesn’t convert the tabs).

Aiden stopped in front of the locker room door, thinking about what had happened a few months ago. The way everyone had stared at him like he was going to go Carrie on them or something. Cold fear twisted inside him. What if it happened again?

No, it was different here. That kind of thing was normal to these people. They’d probably think it was lame. Dylan and those girls could throw fire, that other girl had formed ice around her feet. One boy had summoned things of smoke, from swords to a pair of snarling dogs.

Taking a few deep breaths, Aiden made himself push through the door.

He almost crashed into Dylan. “Whoa!”

“Sorry.” Aiden stepped back.

“Can’t wait to see what you can do.” His eyes weren’t glowing, but there was an eager light in them. He was like a different person from the boy who slouched in front of him in homeroom.

“I don’t think you’ll see much.” Aiden was nervous all over again, thinking about what he’d seen the day before. He couldn’t do anything like that and if someone threw fire or whatever at him, he’d be toast.

Dylan left and Aiden had to face the locker room again. It was different than the one at his old school, and that helped. There it had been bright white and blue. Here it was dim and gray. Creepy, like the scene from a horror movie. Aiden bit back a laugh. Everything about this school was like a horror movie.

Someone shuffled around farther back and a locker door slammed. Shouldn’t there be more boys in here? Aiden shook off the creepiness and found an empty locker. He changed as fast as he could and hurried into the gym.

Dylan stood in the middle of the room, bouncing on his toes. Right, the possibility of getting roasted. Aiden went to the teacher. “Ms. Yang, I don’t think I can protect myself if anyone throws… stuff at me.”

“Don’t worry. We’re not having matches today.” She pointed to the far side of the room where a row of targets leaned against the wall. “We’ll be working on precision. I won’t put you in matches until I believe you’re ready.”

“Thanks.” He let out a little sigh of relief, but a moment later he felt guilty. So now he was holding the whole class up?

Ms. Yang had them all line up opposite the targets and told them to work on accuracy. They let loose while Aiden stood there like an idiot. The boy who used smoke magic was next to him, firing smoke arrows from a smoke bow. The first arrow hit the edge of the target and disappeared, leaving a mark. Then the target shimmered and the mark was gone.

Farther down, one of the fireball girls made her target burst into flame. A moment later it shimmered, too, and looked like nothing had happened.

Magical regenerating targets? It made sense.

Ms. Yang came over to him. “So, what have you been able to do so far?”

“Nothing. I don’t know what I can do.”

She smiled. “Don’t be nervous. I’m here to help you learn. Focus on the target.”

Aiden started at the red rings and the circle in the center. The ozone smell was sharper when he wasn’t sitting on the wards behind the bench, and the air tingled, making the hair on the back of his neck stand up. It must be all the magic.

“Dig deep inside yourself. Find your center, where your power is. I want you to throw it at the target, just the raw energy, not worrying about the form it takes. It might help if you use a physical motion.” She put her hands up, palms out at chest level and pushed like she was shoving someone away from her.

He copied her. “Like this?”

“Any way that helps. Try different things. Do your best to ignore everything going on around you and focus.”

For the rest of class he made shoving motions, kicking motions, punching motions. He tried closing his eyes, staring through the target, yelling. All he got was frustrated and sweaty.

“You can try again tomorrow, Aiden.” Ms. Yang half-turned and shouted over her shoulder, “I said that’s it Dylan. Class is over.”

“What am I doing wrong?” Aiden asked. Everyone else made it look so easy.

Ms. Yang turned her attention back to him. “You’re not doing anything wrong, except maybe putting too much pressure on yourself. I can’t tell you exactly how to do it, it’s something you have to feel. Somewhere inside you, you know how to use your magic. It’s unconscious, instinct.”

“So I just keep trying until something happens?”


“What if nothing happens?” Even as he said it, he thought of all those doors opening and closing, the shocked looks on the boys’ faces.

“You’re full-blooded fae.” Ms. Yang smiled. “I put extra wards on the room just for you and Dylan.”

He opened his mouth to ask what Dylan was, but he remembered the bet.

“It’ll happen. Now hurry before you miss your bus.”

Raw NaNoWriMo Draft – How To Make Friends And Not Incinerate People

NaNo 2013 small coverAuthor’s note: This is a raw NaNoWrimo draft. I didn’t change anything except paragraph spacing (as WP doesn’t convert the tabs).

Chapter 3

“Dylan Galloway.” The teacher sighed. “You realize class is half over. You wouldn’t happen to have a pass, would you?”

“Nope.” His usual seat in the back corner was taken up with the new kid again. Huh, he didn’t know his name. The desk in front of him was empty just like yesterday, so Dylan headed over, giving a slight nod of greeting to New Kid.

“If you’re late to class one more time, I’m giving you detention and I’m calling your parents.”

“Okay.” He really didn’t care. The rest of his classes were just things to sit through until he could get to Major Magical Control. New Kid had been put in that class for a reason, and he couldn’t wait until he found out what he could do. Maybe New Kid would be a bigger challenge than the fox sisters.

The teacher sighed again and went back to his lesson. Blah, blah, Revolutionary War something. Dylan glanced back at New Kid. The dork was taking notes like it was the most important thing in the world. Dylan thought of how lost he’d looked in the lunch room yesterday. The guy had turned as pale as a vampire staring at the carnivore buffet. Dylan still wasn’t sure why he’d helped him or why he let the kid eat lunch with him.

Because I’m lonely. He clamped down on that thought. He wasn’t lonely. He didn’t need anyone.

He got proof of that in the hall after class. A girl walked by, stopped long enough to toss her hair and glare at him. He frowned, not recognizing her. Then he caught the flash of the necklace hanging just above her boobs, INDIRA spelled out in gold letters.

“You got a new body.”

“Do you like it?” She flipped her hair again, long and blonde. Her eyes were blue, skin flawless and white. “Well, too bad. You’ll never get any of this.” She set a hand on her hip.
Dylan rolled his eyes. “Whatever.” He walked away. They’d gone a few dates last year, held hands and kissed a few times. Then he realized she was annoying and dumped her. They hadn’t really done anything, and she acted like it was a big deal.

“Whatever yourself, asshole.”

Several kids looked at him, then quickly looked away. Even as annoying as she was, he had to give Indira points for not being afraid of him. Her and the fox sisters… and New Kid. But New Kid didn’t know what he was.

At lunch he claimed a table and looked around for New Kid, arguing with himself about whether he cared. Then he started to worry he’d scared him off with all the fire he’d thrown around yesterday. The poor guy was new to town and probably just found out about all this weird shit.

Then he appeared, carrying a tray and heading toward Dylan’s table. He hesitated, glanced around the lunchroom like he hoped to find someone. Had he made a friend since yesterday? After a moment, New Kid set his jaw and came over. His tray made a soft clack as he set it on the table. “So you can throw fire. And so can those girls,” New Kid said.

“Did you guess yet?”

He frowned. “Guess what?”

“What I am?”

New Kid waved a hand in the general direction of the room. “I don’t know what most of these people are.” Then he ducked, like he was afraid someone had overheard him.

“What’s your name?”

The change of subject seemed to confuse him. “Aiden.”

“Well, Aiden, those are vampires.” He pointed to a group at one end of a table. “There and there are witches. Some like to use different names, like spell-caster or mage. Humans with magic powers. Over there are ghouls.” He shifted to point at the far side. “Werewolves. And over there are a selkie, a kappa, a harpy, two werehyenas, and a tengu.” He turned back to see Aiden staring.

The boy blinked a few times. “Um, so… what are you?”

“I want you to guess.” Dylan held up a finger. “No cheating. You can’t ask anyone. You have to figure it out some other way.”


He shrugged. “Because I’m bored.”

Aiden took a bite of his pizza. His plate was full today, no more rabbit food. “Do you know what I am?”

“No. But I bet I can figure it out before you figure out what I am.” The list of possibilities wasn’t too long if this guy didn’t know the first thing about magic but he’d been put straight into Major Magical Control.

“Bet what?” Aiden looked skeptical.

“Winner’s choice.”

“No way. I’m not betting anything unless I know what it is.”

Man, this guy was no fun. “Fine. The loser has to get up on the table, in the middle of lunch, and sing a song of the winner’s choice.”

Aiden laughed. “That is so stupid.” He looked down at his plate for a moment. “Okay fine. Are you a demon?”


“What if somebody says what I am? And you overhear them?”

“Then nobody wins. Same thing if you overhear what I am.”

“How do I know you’ll be honest about it?” Aiden frowned and picked up his pizza again.

“Guess we’ll just have to trust each other.” Dylan thought he figured out what it was, why he was bothering talking to Aiden. It was nice to have someone not know what he was. Of course, now that he’d made a game out of guessing, that might not last long.

Raw NaNoWriMo Draft – How To Make Friends And Not Incinerate People

NaNo 2013 small coverAuthor’s note: This is a raw NaNoWrimo draft. I didn’t change anything except paragraphs (as WP doesn’t convert the tabs). In this section, you’ll see a few places where I didn’t name characters. This is common in my first drafts.


Chapter 2

English and biology were after lunch. By the end of biology, Aiden could barely keep his eyes open. It was the middle of the night and the only thing keeping him awake was the fear of teasing if he fell asleep in class. Taking notes helped and again he had reading to do to catch up to the rest of the class.

The last class of the day was called Major Magical Control, the room listed as A-1, which he couldn’t find. The warning bell rang and he stopped a fellow student to ask where it was. “Go out the doors at the far end there.” She pointed. “The annex is the building out back. There’s three rooms, A-1 is the first.”

“Thanks.” Aiden ran, hoping he would make it in time. He got there just before the final bell. A-1 looked like a gym, but there were no basketball hoops or any sign of sports equipment. The walls and floor were all painted white, weird symbols drawn all over them. High above was a gray ceiling. It smelled strange, like ozone with a hint of burning.

Aiden was surprised to see Dylan there, wearing torn up jeans and a ratty AC/DC t-shirt.

“Aiden [last name]?”

He turned to the teacher. “Yes ma’am.”

“Welcome. I’m glad to have you. Did you bring any clothes to change into?”

How many times today was he going to feel like an idiot? “No. I didn’t know this was a gym class. It says Major Magical Control–”

“Don’t worry about it. Tomorrow, bring old clothes that you won’t mind ruining. I was going to have you observe today anyway. Have a seat.” She pointed to a long bench.

On the bench already. It was almost funny. A tingle went through him just before he reached the bench and he stopped, blinking. “Make sure you stay behind the wards,” the teacher called.

Wards? He looked down at the symbols on the floor. A circle surrounded the bench with glyphs both inside and outside. He leaned closer, noticing they weren’t painted but metal pounded into the floor. He touched part of the circle and drew back at the shock. It was like that time he’d stuck his finger in the wall socket. Frowning, he sat on the bench.

“Dylan, we might as well start with you. You won’t wait your turn anyway.” The teacher pointed at a girl with straight black hair. “[name], you face off against him.”

“Why me?” the girl squeaked.

“Because I think you’ve been holding back and he might scare you into using your full strength.”

Dylan rubbed his hands together and smiled. Not a smirk, but a full smile with teeth. It was creepy. Swallowing, the girl moved to stand opposite him. “Remember this is practice, Dylan,” the teacher said. “She needs to stop holding back, but you need to learn control. You’re not trying to hurt her.”

“Right. I know.”

“Get ready. One, two, three… go!”

Fire erupted from Dylan and streamed toward [name]. Aiden let out a choked cry. The girl, eyes wide, held up her hands and the fire seemed to hit a wall. The air crackled and iced formed in a rough circle around her feet.

Aiden’s heart pounded and he fought an urge to run. This was definitely not floating a piece of paper across the room. What the hell was he doing in this class?


The fire disappeared and the girl dropped her hands. “Excellent job, [name],” the teacher said. “I knew you could protect yourself.”

Dylan snorted. “Yeah, because I was holding back.”

The teacher gave him a look. “Which is what you need to learn. When you’re in the outside world, you’ll need to control yourself. Your first reaction can’t be to burn things.”

Dylan’s mouth turned down.

“All right, next pair.”

Dylan’s frown deepened as he walked toward the bench on the opposite side of the room.

For the rest of class, students came up two at a time to hurl magic at each other. Two girls who could have been sisters raced around the gym hurling fireballs at each other. One of them headed straight for the bench and Aiden ducked. It hit the wards and disappeared in a shimmer of blue light.

He kept wavering between fear and awe, and yet it still didn’t feel real. It was like watching TV or a movie in 3D. Nothing in his life had felt real since Mr. Johnson showed up at his house. Aiden felt like he’d been stuck in a dream for over a month. He kept thinking he’d wake up.

In his notebook, he wrote ‘bring old clothes’ so he wouldn’t forget. He had four pages of notes from the day, and most of that were mentions of things he needed to read in his textbooks. That was on top of the homework. There wasn’t much of that, but combined with trying to catch up, it made him groan.

His backpack felt like it weighed fifty pounds. The sooner he caught up, the less he’d need to haul all his books back and forth.

His parents were asleep on the couch when he got home, an old movie playing on the TV. He shut the door quietly and headed for the stairs.

“Aiden?” Dad asked in a fuzzy voice.

“Yeah,” he said quietly and stepped into the living room.

“How was school?” Dad yawned.

“Fine,” he answered automatically. No, he should be honest. “Weird.”

Dad got off the couch carefully, trying not to wake Mom. “Were you scared? No one tried to hurt you, did they?”

Aiden shook his head. “It’s just… weird. Really weird.”

“I know what you mean. I keep wondering what my new boss is, what my coworkers are. If they think of me as lunch.” Dad sighed. “And I’m afraid to ask because it might be rude.” He laughed, a strained sound.

“I’m sorry.” Aiden looked at the floor. This is when it felt most real, when he thought about how he’d thrown his parents’ lives into chaos. They’d left their jobs, their home, and they couldn’t explain why to the rest of the family.

“It’s not your fault. You didn’t choose to be this.”

His stomach when cold and tight, wondering if he’d say the same thing if Aiden told him he was bi. Or would that be different? Aiden didn’t want to say anything about it because his parents had been through way too much already. Maybe in a year or two. Or a hundred.

“I know, but I feel like I ruined your lives–”

“Hey, we told you. Never, ever feel like that. It doesn’t matter what you are or where you came from. We raised you, you’re our son. We’ll get through this together because that’s what families do.”

Aiden’s throat went tight, eyes burning with the threat of tears. All he could do was nod. Dad gave him a hug and for just a second, Aiden could pretend everything was okay.

“Geez, what do you have in there? A whole library?”

Aiden shifted his heavy backpack. “All my textbooks. I have to catch up on three weeks worth of class.”

“Well, don’t think about starting on it tonight. You look dead on your feet.”

“So do you,” Aiden said with a little smile.

“Yeah, I’ll wake your mom up and we should all get to bed. I’m getting too old to stay up all night.”

Bed. That sounded so good. “Okay.” Aiden covered a yawn and went upstairs.

Raw NaNoWriMo Draft (How To Make Friends And Not Incinerate People)

NaNo 2013 small coverNote: I thought it would be fun to post my 2013 NaNoWriMo novel, one scene at a time. This is completely raw, all mistakes and notes to myself included. I only adjusted paragraphs (I use tabs in the original) for readability.

Heading out to the bus stop at sunset was surreal. Adjusting to the new schedule was going to be hard, but on the bright side, no more waking up early. On the other hand, it was his first day of high school and he didn’t know a single person. And his classmates were creatures out of nightmare.

Their neighbors looked like normal people. On one side was a couple with young children and all of them were witches. Aside from their magical abilities, they were totally human. They seemed very nice, too. His shell-shocked parents had been invited to dinner the following week.

On the other side was a family that was part djinn, and again their children were young. The older girl was in elementary school and her brother was just starting pre-school. Aiden wondered if Mr. Johnson had picked this house specifically because the families on either side were human and part-human. Mr. Johnson seemed to think everything through and do things with intent. He was staying in town for a few days in case they needed help, then he was going back to his normal job, searching out supernatural beings and making sure they were certified.

Aiden reached the stop at the end of the block. An older-looking girl was already there, black hair cut short and a baseball cap turned around on her head. “Hi there. You must be new.” She smiled.

“Yeah. I’m Aiden.” He held his hand out, wondering what she was. Was that rude?

“I’m Tina.” She shook his hand. “What grade are you in?”


“Oh, my brother is your age.” She looked across the street. “If he doesn’t get here soon, he’s going to miss the bus.” Tina rolled her eyes. “I swear, he’s late to everything.” A moment later, a boy darted out of a blue house and ran down the block. “There he is.”

The boy checked for cars and ran across the street to join them. “New kid?” He asked Aiden.

“Yeah. I’m Aiden.”

“Toby.” They shook hands. The boy also had a baseball cap, turned backwards like his sister’s.

The bus arrived. Aiden hoped to sit with Toby so he had someone to talk to, but the boy waved to a friend and joined him. Tina also sat with someone, so Aiden ended up sitting alone near the front. He set his backpack on his lap, nervously wondering what kind of monster would sit next to him. Everyone he’d met seemed normal, but maybe he’d just been lucky so far. Shadow Valley had all sorts of things, vampires, demonic creatures, shapeshifters, ghosts.

The boy that ended up sitting next to him was older and built like a tank. Aiden was squished up against the window. “Hi.”

The boy barely glanced at him and grunted. So much for conversation.

Before long, they pulled up to the school. It was huge, built of brick, and the only windows were small and soaped over. It didn’t look very welcoming. Sort of like a prison without the barbed wire. The darkening sky didn’t help, either. Streetlights lent pools of light to the scene of kids streaming out of buses and into the school.
Aiden swallowed, very aware that he was surrounded by monsters. Now he could see hints of things that weren’t quite right in the crowd. Extra pale skin, eyes glinting strangely in the light, a misty form drifting through the students, someone with small horns, a flash of blue light.

A little shiver went through him and he thought about just turning around and leaving. He had to remind himself that he wasn’t normal, either. He was fae, a changeling, switched at birth. The memory of the incident in the locker room got him moving again. This school was where he belonged. He had to learn how to control his powers so he wouldn’t have accidents like that again.

A little voice in his head pointed out that it would be nice to do something like that when he wanted to. If he could do that on demand, no one would pick on him again.
He looked around for Toby or Tina, but didn’t see them. He didn’t know anybody, he didn’t know where he was going or what he was doing. He felt very, very lost. Aiden dug his class list out of his bag. At least that was something. Wandering through the crowded halls, he checked classroom numbers until he found the right one for his homeroom. There weren’t as many desks as he was used to. Class sizes must be smaller here.

A few kids were already in their seats in a little cluster at the back, chatting. Part of him wanted to join, but he felt awkward. They looked like friends and probably didn’t want a stranger interrupting. He sat in the opposite corner, a row of empty desks between them.

The warning bell rang. Other kids started trickling in, the desks filling up. He hoped Toby was in the class so he would at least know somebody. Every time someone walked in, he glanced up. Aiden had to remind himself not to stare as he tried to guess what kind of monster each kid was. That pale girl, maybe a vampire. The boy with a pentacle around his neck, a witch. Another vampire — no, he had pointed ears. A werewolf?

Aiden had almost gathered the courage to say hello to the girl next to him, pretty with long blond hair, but the final bell rang and the teacher got up to close the door. “Good evening,” she said.

The kids muttered a greeting.

“We have a new student, Aiden. Please stand up and say hello.”

Everyone turned to look at him and he wanted to melt into his seat. He stood up long enough to wave and say, “Hi.”

“Aiden is a changeling, a fae. His family just moved here and I hope you’ll all be welcoming to him.”

Low whispers went through the room as the looks turned surprised. Mr. Johnson had said fae were rare and if a class full of monsters was surprised, it must be true. As if he didn’t feel like he stood out enough already. Everyone else seemed to know each other.

“Now, I’ll take attendance quickly and we’ll get started. We have a lot to cover today.”

The door opened and a handsome boy stepped in. Aiden’s stomach did a little flip. The boy wore a black shirt and jeans, his short hair stuck up every-which-way as if he hadn’t bothered to comb it.
“Dylan,” the teacher said, “so nice of you to join us.”
Dylan ignored her and kept walking. There were only two empty desks. One at the very front and the other just in front of Aiden. Dylan slid into the seat in front of Aiden, his disinterested gaze shifting to slight surprise for a moment when he looked at Aiden. Then he turned and slumped into the chair, backpack dropping to the floor.

The class was a normal one, at least. It was U.S History, and Aiden could almost pretend he was at a normal school. He’d missed the first three weeks of class but he knew a little bit of history from middle school and he was confident he could catch up. The teacher gave him a book and Aiden took lots of notes on the reading he’d need to do.

With dismay, he headed off to his next class: Minor Magical Control. Mr. Johnson had explained that it was classroom based practice to control simpler, less dangerous types of magic. Things like glamours, levitating small objects, and accelerating plant growth. The day Mr. Johnson had appeared to tell Aiden he was a fae changeling, Aiden had made the tomatoes in the backyard go from tiny nubs to almost ripe.

He wanted to learn how to control his power, but he knew the other kids had years of practice. He was going to look like an idiot.

The history teacher pointed out his locker so Aiden could drop off his book. As he was closing it, he saw the blonde girl he’d sat next to. “Hi there.”

The girl gave him a look and rolled her eyes. With a little sigh, she turned and walked away. So much for making friends.

The teacher in Minor Magical Control greeted him right away. “Hello there, Aiden, right? I’m Mr. Kecskemeti, but you can call me Mr. K.” He pointed out a seat. “I’ll have Maggie sit with you. She’ll be able to help you out. Don’t worry about being behind the other students. I want you to concentrate on making progress, not comparing yourself to anyone else, okay?”

Aiden nodded, but he knew he’d compare himself anyway. Maybe he couldn’t catch up right away, but he’d have to. He didn’t want to be held back. If he didn’t graduate with the rest of his class, he’d be stuck in Shadow Valley for an extra year, and so would his parents. Once he graduated and was certified, he’d be able to go anywhere he wanted.

Maggie arrived and introduced herself. She wore a pink headband and a Hello Kitty t-shirt, not at all what he expected. Most of the kids here wore black or gray. “Aiden, nice to meet you.” She shook his hand, a wide smile on her face. “This must all seem really strange to you.”

He nodded. “A month ago, I thought I was a normal human.”

“What are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” She smiled again. “I’m not trying to be rude, but it helps to know what you are so I understand what kind of magic you might be able to do.”

“I’m a changeling. Fae.”

Her eyes widened. “Wow. Full-blooded fae. No wonder you feel so strong. You have major mojo mister.”

“Yeah, but I have no idea how to use it.”

She patted his arm. “That’s what I’m here for. I’m a witch, but the way. From a very long bloodline. Oh, sorry, that sounded like bragging. I didn’t mean it like that, I just mean that my family has been practicing magic for a long time so I have experience.”

“Okay.” Aiden didn’t know what else to say.

The class was a failure, as he’d feared. The assignment was to lift a piece of paper from another desk onto their own. Some could do it, some had partial success. Aiden couldn’t even get the paper to flutter. He was used to doing well in school and this made him feel stupid.

“Don’t worry about it,” Maggie patted his arm. “You can try again tomorrow.” She’d demonstrated lifting the paper and it had looked so easy. Aiden was so focused on how he couldn’t do it that he barely thought about how weird this was.

The next class was math, a welcome relief, although he was having trouble staying awake. In the normal world, it was almost bed time. Here, it was almost time for lunch. It was going to take a while to get used to this new schedule. When the bell rang for lunch, all he could think about was how much he wanted a nap.

He followed the mass of students to the lunch room. Seeing the food woke him up, but did nothing for his appetite. Do I even want to know what that stuff is? Piles of meat, some of it not cooked, tall bottles full of red liquid, roasted insects. Aiden put a hand to his mouth and started turning away.

“Hey, new kid.” The handsome boy from homeroom, Dylan. “I think you want that side.” He pointed to the other end of the lunchroom where kids were filling their trays from a different buffet line.

“What’s over there?”

The corner of Dylan’s mouth turned up. “Human food.”

A pale boy with hunched shoulders pushed past Aiden and grabbed a tray, filling his plate with raw meat. Aiden’s stomach rolled again, and he tried hard not to breathe in the smells. He followed Dylan to the other side of the room, sure he wasn’t going to be able to eat anything no matter what was over there. Still, he let out a sigh of relief when he saw a pile of salad.

“There’s nothing weird about this, right?” he asked Dylan.

“Nope. Regular human food.”

“Why are there two different lines?”

Dylan shrugged. “Food safety or something. And for the squeamish ones like you.” He smirked again. God, he was handsome.

Aiden thought he should try to eat something, so he got salad and an apple. Dylan got a cheeseburger with a huge pile of fries, and the sight of the meat made Aiden queasy. At the end of the line, he expected to see a cashier, but there wasn’t one. That’s right, Mr. Johnson said meals were free.

Dylan sat down at an empty table and Aiden set his tray down across from him. “Who said you could sit there?” Dylan snapped.

Feeling cold, Aiden lifted his tray. So much for making friends.

As he turned, Dylan said, “Hey. I didn’t mean that. You can sit if you want.”

Aiden hesitated. Dylan probably only felt sorry for him. What kind of sad puppy face was he making? Glancing over the room, he looked for Maggie. She was too energetic, but at least she was nice. He didn’t see her, and the tables were filling up. Everybody already had friends, probably ones they knew from middle school, even elementary school.

Holding back a sigh, he sat down across from Dylan. He thought he should say something, but didn’t know what. Thank him? Tell him not to be a jerk? Dylan picked up his cheeseburger and started eating. Aiden poked at his salad.

Some other kids sat at the far end of the table, giving them odd glances. As more and more kids found seats, the side where Aiden and Dylan sat stayed empty. Kids walking by gave them odd looks. Finally, Aiden had to say something. “Why isn’t anyone sitting with us?”

“It’s me, not you.” Dylan said between bites of fries. The cheeseburger was already gone.

“Why?” Aiden started to worry that he was sitting next to something so dangerous that other monsters didn’t want to get near it.

Dylan shrugged. “People don’t like me.”

Aiden rolled his apple around on his plate. “What are you?”

Dylan gave him a look and there was something in his eyes, a glint or a glow. It made Aiden feel like something small and helpless, a mouse standing in front of a lion. Then it faded and a slight hint of a smile touched Dylan’s lips. “You’ll find out.”