It's said that when opportunity knocks on your door, you have only one chance to take it.
No one said what you're supposed to do when it kicks it.
All Rebecca MacDonnell wants to do is get through high school with grades good enough to win a prestigious scholarship so that she can finally leave her miserable life behind. One evening, after a particularly bad day, she finds out that people other than her aging grandmother need her help, and desperately so.
Well, not "people," exactly. Vampires, werewolves, demons, ghosts, goblins, and other things thought only imaginary all need help sometime, and Rebecca was born with the unique ability to heal ethereal beings. She is about to turn seventeen, the age at which her talent will manifest in its entirety, and become a true Healer…if she lives through the event. A war between various ethereal factions is brewing, and Healers are a valuable commodity to any side. Those who wish to harness Rebecca’s manifesting healing powers for their own purposes must get to her before her seventeenth birthday.
Only two vampires and a rogue werewolf stand between Rebecca and those determined to make her serve them, and the fact that Rebecca has no clue what she's doing doesn't exactly help matters.
Neither does being seriously attracted to more than one of those just trying to protect her.
For a soon-to-be seventeen-year-old Healer-in-training, that's a lot to handle.
Especially on top of her homework.
Dina James is an unapologetic geek/gamer girl addicted to writing. She graduated from high school when she was sixteen, holds a college degree in nothing in particular in addition to multiple certifications in various things that captured her interest at the time, is an avid knitter and loves Darth Vader. She lives in Oregon with her husband and a menagerie of pets. She has website at www.dinajames.com which has a far-more-comprehensive biography than this one. It mentions sushi.
The only thing in the room that made any sort of noise was the clicking keys of the old computer keyboard, pushed--no, more like jabbed--by a very annoyed secretary.
Rebecca shivered and bit her bottom lip to keep it from giving her chill away. Was it always this cold in here, or did she just feel cold because she was sitting in the principal's office? She almost envied the black leather jacket of the smirking dark-haired boy sitting in the corner with his hands clasped behind his head. He caught her looking at him and leaned his plastic chair as far back as it would go against the wall.
Ryan Dugan. Of all the people to be in here when she was. Of course, when wasn't Ryan in the principal's office?
Rebecca dared a sideways glance at the girl with carefully styled-to-look-messy thick, blonde hair sitting beside her and risked a whisper. "Sorry."
The tapping of the computer keys stopped abruptly. Behind her metal desk the secretary leaned around the old yellowed computer monitor to glare at them with narrowed eyes. When she did the same to Ryan, the boy doubled over in a fit of totally fake--and very loud--coughing.
"Sorry," Ryan said after he sat back up. He slapped his chest a few times and cleared his throat as he smiled at the secretary. "Must be coming down with something."
Rebecca could tell the woman was convinced that Ryan's apology was about as sincere as his coughing had been.
"That's enough out of you, Mr. Dugan," the secretary said in a clipped, exasperated voice.
Ryan grinned at her and clasped his hands behind his head again as he kicked his chair backward to lean against the wall once more. He winked at Rebecca.
Rebecca hoped her cheeks weren't as red as they felt, and bit her top lip this time--hard--to keep from smiling. It had been pretty funny, the way the evil toad-faced woman had given Ryan a look that would have made Rebecca cringe, and Ryan just smiled back at her. Rebecca bowed her head, hiding her blue eyes--and her amusement--behind her straight, mouse-brown hair.
The principal's office door opening kept Rebecca from risking another illicit whisper to her friend.
"Miss MacDonnell? Miss Turnbull?"
The principal shook his head after gesturing to his doorway. "I have to say, girls--yours are two names I never thought I'd call until your commencement ceremony."
"Hey, I was here before they was!" Ryan spoke out as he got to his feet.
The scowl on his face made Rebecca wince. It was much darker than the one the annoyed secretary had given her.
"‘Were'," the principal corrected as Rebecca and Robin got to their feet. "Which you'd know if you spend any kind of time in your English class, Mr. Dugan. And while you might have been here before these two ladies were, and you're likely to be here for most of the day, not to mention the day after that, as well as the following day, so I don't see any reason why I should make these nice girls wait out here any longer than they have to, especially with the likes of you. I'll deal with you later, so you just sit down and keep quiet. You're already in enough trouble as it is."
Ryan flopped back down in his chair, muttering curses only Rebecca was near enough to hear him say. She thought for a second he was going to start turning chairs over or ripping the bulletin boards off the wall, but he sat back down and assumed what seemed to be his careless pose, leaning back in his chair, his hands behind his neck, cradling his head. This time he closed his eyes and looked like he was going to sleep.
"Come on, girls," said Mr. Harris as he ushered them into his office. He looked almost sympathetic that they'd had to endure Ryan's company for as long as they had. In fact, he even apologized for it...before he sat them both down and gave them each a detention.
"I'm so sorry, Ro, really," Rebecca apologized in a rush the moment she and Robin were out of the principal's office and on their way back to their respective classes.
"Rebecca, stop worrying so much," Robin replied, shaking her head. "So we got sent to the office. It could have been worse. One max detention? It could have been a week's worth, or mopping the cafeteria floor, or--Rebecca? Are you even listening to me?"
"What?" Rebecca asked, distracted. "Sorry I thought I..."
She could have sworn she'd seen some little brown dude in rags--like one of those goblin things from Labyrinth--peeking into the girl's bathroom. She'd been seeing a lot of weird stuff lately and was starting to wonder if she wasn't starting to lose her mind like her nana. As far as she knew, what Nana suffered from wasn't catching, but the doctors weren't even really certain what form of mental disorder Nana had, so maybe it was or ran in the family or something. It would explain a whole lot if it did.
Rebecca shook her head. "Never mind. It's nothing. I'm just tired. Algebra is getting to me."
"Obviously," Robin said, rolling her eyes. "You've got to find a way to get more sleep. Maybe you should call--"
"No!" Rebecca interrupted, almost shouting before she remembered to keep her voice down. "I mean...sorry. No. I'm not going to call anyone for anything. It's okay, really. Just...just a bad patch."
"But what if it isn't?" Robin asked. She put a hand on her friend's shoulder. "What if...what if this is what it's going to be like, from now on?"
"Well." Rebecca's voice cracked over the word. She swallowed hard. "Well, then I guess I'll be getting to know Ryan Dugan pretty well."
"Everything in the universe forbid," Robin muttered. "That's the last thing you need."
"Thanks for being there, Ro," Rebecca said, changing the subject. "You didn't have to stick up for me in Wilson's class this morning. If you'd treat me like everyone else has the sense to, you wouldn't have gotten into trouble with me. First grade was a long time ago."
"And I'll never stop being your friend, so forget about it." Robin gave Rebecca a big smile and a hug. "You were there for me when I needed you. I'm just glad I can return the favor...sort of. Dad's going to have a fit, and let's not even talk about Mom."
"Just blame me," Rebecca said as she gave a little shrug. "They'll pity me enough to hopefully spare you the lecture."
"As if." Robin sighed. "They'll probably be grateful they finally have something to actually lecture me about that they don't have to make up."
Rebecca laughed as she knew Robin wanted her to, said goodbye to her only sort-of friend, and went down the hall to her history class, already dreading the stares of her classmates as she interrupted the lecture she was seriously late for.
In addition to Rebecca's own detention, Mr. Harris had made her promise to apologize to Mrs. Wilson first thing tomorrow morning for mouthing off. Rebecca blushed again at the memory of snapping at her Spanish teacher. Maybe she really was crazy. Nana would have been mortified if she knew--
Rebecca stopped her thoughts cold. There was no way Nana was going to know about this. Ever, if Rebecca could help it. The one saving grace about Nana losing her mind was that she rarely noticed anything anymore, and didn't care about what she did.
Rebecca pushed the door open to her classroom, ignoring the stares of her classmates. She murmured an apology to Mrs. Iverson for her tardiness, handed the teacher her hall pass and took her seat, keeping her gaze focused on the floor as she tried hard not to hear the whispers around the room.
Mrs. Iverson called for everyone's attention. "Welcome back, Rebecca."
"Thank you, Mrs. Iverson," Rebecca replied without looking up from her desk.
"We're on page 212."
Rebecca took her history book out of her backpack and opened it.
"You're such a loser, Spot," a girl whispered behind her.
No need to look around or even guess who said that. Marla Thompson hadn't come up with a different insulting nickname for her since she thought of "Spot" back in fifth grade.
As usual, Rebecca ignored her and pretended to pay attention to the lecture she'd obviously interrupted as Mrs. Iverson continued.
With a powdery crunch, the tip of the pencil lead snapped and slid out of the wood beneath her fingertips. It rolled across Rebecca's paper, leaving a gray smudge across the question she'd been attempting to answer.
She threw down her pencil in disgust.
"Now what?" Robin asked in a hushed whisper. She glanced around, looking for Mr. Nairhoft.
"My pencil is being stupid again. Besides that, I really don't think writing an essay about the Inquisition is going to help Nana remember where her bedroom is, or not to turn on the stove." Rebecca sighed, glaring at the offending question on her assignment. "I need to get home."
"Well, you should have thought of that before you went and mouthed off to Mrs. Wilson. At least make it look like you're working," Robin replied with another fast glance around for the detention room monitor.
"Is there a problem here, ladies?" Mr. Nairhoft said in a smooth, arrogant voice. "Rebecca MacDonnell?"
"Sorry, Mr. Nairhoft," Rebecca apologized with a sweet smile. She really, really hated it when people used her name as though she'd done something wrong--to single her out. She had enough singling-out by her classmates every day. She didn't need teachers doing it.
"This is the third time today my pencil's broken," she went on. "And I got frustrated with it. I'm sorry to have caused a disruption. May I go sharpen it again? That might help it, at least through the end of detention, anyway."
Rebecca gazed up at the tall, rail-thin Mr. Nairhoft, hoping her repentant smile would earn her his permission. She had to fight not to giggle as she noticed the toupee he wore was listing to the left, threatening to slide off. She was already in enough trouble as it was without being disrespectful to another teacher.
"Does anyone have an extra pencil Miss MacDonnell can borrow?" Mr. Nairhoft asked loudly, turning around to view the detention hall, which was really just the cafeteria with the tables moved around. He'd glanced around so fast that he couldn't have even bothered to see if anyone had an answer to his question. "No?"
Mr. Nairhoft turned back to Rebecca with that stupid fake smile he always had plastered on his face.
A surprising flicker of anger surged through Rebecca and she had the overwhelming desire to slap that smarmy grin right off the detention monitor's face and send his cheap hairpiece flying. The thought was quickly followed by a sharp stab of hot pain from her middle, gone almost as quickly as it had come.
"Well--" Nairhoft began.
"Here," said a voice from the far table in the corner.
Rebecca turned around to see who had spoken, as did Robin and Mr. Nairhoft. Actually, everyone in detention swiveled their heads to see who was denying Mr. Nairhoft the occasion to be his usual unpleasant self.
Alone at a table in the corner, a boy wearing a familiar black leather jacket, faded jeans that were more gray than black and a t-shirt in the same condition waved a yellow pencil in the air.
"She can use this one." He said it almost defiantly, like he was daring Mr. Nairhoft to come over and take it himself.
"Mr. Dugan, surely you haven't completed all of your long overdue assignments," Mr. Nairhoft said, folding his arms.
"I've completed all I'm going to," Ryan replied, matching Mr. Nairhoft's tone exactly. He looked at Rebecca. "Want this?"
Rebecca nodded and stood up, her frustration with her own pencil, assignment, Mr. Nairhoft and detention forgotten as all the attention shifted from her onto Ryan.
"Rebecca, no," Robin hissed.
The boy's eyes went back to Mr. Nairhoft's as he held the pencil out for Rebecca to take.
Ryan Dugan wasn't just a bad boy, he was the bad boy. Everyone knew it. Always in trouble, always getting sent to the principal's office, always in detention. There was even a rumor that last summer he wasn't in summer school like he usually was, but in Mariposa Juvenile Detention Center three towns over for all sorts of different crimes.
The school rumor mill might not be right about much, but it was about the fact that Ryan never, ever gave anyone anything without expecting something in return.
Rebecca wondered why she was doing this. Why Ryan was even offering to help her. Whatever the reason, it felt good doing something Mr. Nairhoft couldn't really complain about, even though she was technically breaking the "don't leave your seat without permission" rule. Really she just wanted to see the look on Mr. Nairhoft's face as she took the pencil from Ryan with a quiet "thank you."
"Don't worry about it," Ryan said with a big grin. He winked--actually winked--at Mr. Nairhoft as he held onto the pencil before letting Rebecca take it. "Wouldn't want you to get in any more trouble, now would we?"
Rebecca shook her head, stunned, and hurried back to her seat where she sat down and bent her head over her assignment. She wondered if he knew what had landed her in detention. He sounded like he knew. Like he knew, and approved.
Her hair hid her eyes enough that it kept Mr. Nairhoft from seeing that she was secretly glancing at Ryan while she pretended to work. She felt immensely better. Ryan hadn't really been winking at her in the principal's office. Not at her, not like that. It was just one of his... things he did. To mess with people. He'd just winked at Mr. Nairhoft. It didn't mean anything.
The last thing in the world she wanted was the rumor going around that she had anything to do with Ryan Dugan. She had enough to deal with.
Rebecca's eyes went to the clock on the wall. Twenty minutes of detention left, then she could get home to Nana.
Ryan sat back, clasping his hands behind his head as he leaned against the wall while Mr. Nairhoft berated the boy. The detention monitor railed until he was blue in the face, said something about "another week's worth of detention!" and stalked away to harass another student he didn't think looked busy enough.
Ryan just grinned and caught Rebecca looking at him. He winked at her again.
She blushed and bent her head back over her paper, trying not to think about how much time she had left to sit there.
Or that Nana might be setting the house on fire.