a Hellsbane prequel by Paige Cuccaro
Emma Jane Hellsbane knows something evil is worming its way through her college campus—she can feel it. Literally. Her freakish ability to feel other people’s emotions as though they were her own has always been monumentally awkward, and it’s easier for her to just pretend it doesn’t exist. But this time her paranormal ability just might help her save lives.
Emma Jane’s fairly certain that whatever the hateful, egomaniacal, Godlike thing is, it’s set up shop inside her boyfriend, the frat boy/soccer star Justin. And if she doesn’t figure a way to get it out of him soon, Justin’s soul will be the appetizer to the main course—the whole student body. Problem is, the big baddy is granting sinister wishes, and with each one the risks grow higher and the phrase Be careful what you wish for becomes a real-life dire warning. Of course for Emma, what feels like it could be the end is in fact just the beginning…
Title: Commencement (a Hellsbane prequel novella)
Author: Paige Cuccaro
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Length: 87 pages
Release Date: September 2012
© 2012 Paige Cuccaro
“There’s something wrong with Justin.”
“He’s possessed,” Mihir said.
“I’m serious,” I replied. Worry had my heart racing fast and my tolerance for smartass remarks dangerously low.
Mihir sighed and swiveled his desk chair to face me. “Okay, then he’s just a jackass. It’s either one or the other.”
The kid kinda had a crush on me. So he kinda hated Justin, my boyfriend. I mean, it was sweet. Mihir was a great guy…but at fifteen, he was just a kid. We were friends—that’s all. It seriously wasn’t gonna happen. So we sort of silently agreed not to talk about it. It worked for us.
“Knock it off. I need someone to talk to about this, okay? I got a really weird feeling when I was with him
last night. You know what I mean? Like I literally got a weird feeling.”
I knew he understood. Mihir knew all about my weirdness of being able to feel other people’s emotions like they’re my own. It can be kind of awkward—not just knowing people’s most intimate, private emotions, but feeling them. Growing up with this kind of freaky “gift” wasn’t easy, especially on Friday nights—Momand Dad’s “date night.”
The word ewww comes to mind.
Thank God that by nineteen, I’d learned to control it…well, mostly. It ain’t easy keeping your mental guard up twenty-four-seven. Slips happen, and then I learn way more than I ever wanted to know about the people around me.
Mihir was the only person I’d ever told about my ability. He’d been raised to believe in all kinds of woo- woo stuff, so I was just another kind of woo-woo to add to his list. It was nice having someone I could be myself with. But still, I just wanted to be normal, so most of the time I’d keep my mouth shut when I accidently felt someone’s shame or embarrassment, acting just as clueless to their private suffering as everyone else. The closest I’d ever felt to normal was watching Lieutenant Troi on Next Generation—only what I experience has always been way more intense.
Mihir sat straighter. “Oh. You mean Justin felt really weird, and you picked up on it?”
Mihir had the brain of a rocket scientist and the
background of a gypsy fortune-teller. Well, not gypsy exactly—Indian. Mihir’s family was from India and his grandmother was some kind of spiritual medicine lady or something. She believed in all kinds of weird stuff like spirits, demons, and magic. She’d taught Mihir all she knew.
Personally, I didn’t know what I believed. I mean, with a creepy ability like mine, it’s hard to say none of the other crazy stuff exists. I’d never seen any hard evidence, not that I wanted to. Personally, if the disembodied voice in Amityville Horror told me to “get out,” I’d go.
But Mihir believed all of it. He’d accepted me right off the bat, and even enjoyed the idea of my special brand of weirdness. The only downside was, like most teenage boys, he thought about sex every three or four minutes, and he knew I knew when he did. So now and then when I’d catch him staring at me, he’d turn beet red and everything he was thinking and feeling would be right there on his face—plain to see. He’d cover quickly though, hiding his embarrassment with a goofy grin and bobbing his brows like a horny little idiot. Thank goodness I’d learned to block him most of the time, like clenching a fist in my mind, squeezing off the flow of emotions.
How do guys function with that kind of stuff going through their heads twenty-four-seven?
Anyway, during his few minutes of free thought, Mihir was actually pretty cool. He was the one person
in the world I could talk to about whatever might be going on with Justin, and be honest about how I knew. I couldn’t have asked for a better confidante, though for Mihir I figured being friends with me must be like waking up in a cold sweat after dreaming you’d gone to school naked. Except he wasn’t dreaming and he couldn’t do anything to cover his exposed emotions. I did what I could, laughing with him, pretending it was no big deal, but it always made me a little queasy.
I’d give anything not to know exactly how he felt about me. Not just for myself, but for him. It seriously sucked sometimes.
He leaned forward, bracing his bony teenage elbows on his lap. “What’d you feel?”
“I was cold all of a sudden,” I said. “And at first it felt kind of slimy, like sleazy-slimy. I don’t know. It was just…wrong. And really gross.” I plopped onto the edge of Mihir’s dorm room bed. The metal springs whined and creaked. Okay, so maybe I was still trying to shed the last of the freshman fifteen, but the beds at CUP, California University of Pennsylvania, are total crap.
“Maybe you’re coming down with something. I’ve got a thermometer somewhere. I can practice my doctor skills on you.” I could almost see his teenage libido twist his thoughts as his eyes darkened, his smile more lascivious than he intended. He shut it down quickly though, smile wilting, cheeks burning red. He looked away and mumbled, “Just kidding.”
But a hot wave of lust swamped through me anyway, made my breath catch. It was his arousal warming inside me. Not mine. No way is it mine! But I had to concentrate not to let his feelings show on my face. Crap.
Blocking other people’s emotions wasn’t easy. Sometimes my brain got tired of holding the clench and stuff slipped through. I shoved Mihir’s emotions away and thought harder to close that part of my brain.
I tried not to hold his one-track mind against him. At fifteen, Mihir was an off-the-charts genius but he still had the libido of, well, a fifteen-year-old boy. Wasn’t his fault. He’d pretty much skipped high school and was now a junior in college, a year behind me. We understood each other. I’d skipped ahead two years, too.
After a few seconds, I had my wits about me again and flashed him a tired smile. “Thanks. I’m good.”
We were friends. That’s it. I was committed to Justin. Period.
Mihir shrugged and turned his pretty, coffee-brown eyes back to his computer screen. The kid had lashes like a llama, long and thick and coal black like his hair. If they could transplant eyelashes, some supermodel would’ve hunted and killed Mihir for them years ago. He had perpetually tanned skin, too, that made his teeth and the whites of his eyes gleam. In a few years, with about forty more pounds of muscle, the kid would be kryptonite to most girls’ defenses.
I concentrated on refocusing his train of thought. “Last night, when I was with Justin, I got this feeling like there was something else in the room, or someone else. Like we were being watched. I dunno. I felt all… god-like, y’know? Powerful. Like sleazy egomaniacally powerful. And really, really pissed off. I mean, like, seething with hate.”
“And how is this different from any other time you’ve been with your jackass boyfriend?”
“Stop calling him that,” I said. “Justin’s a good guy—I think he’s just going through something right now. I need to figure out what so I can help him. I’m worried it might be drugs.”
Mihir glanced over his shoulder at me, a false look of surprise on his face. “What? The soccer star is doping? Say it ain’t so!”
I huffed. “He’s not doping. I meant recreational drugs. And for your information, all that muscle and amazing athletic ability is totally natural. Jealous?”
Mihir made a disgusted noise and turned back to his computer. “Maybe you picked up on him thinking about the webcam he’s got hidden in his closet to film the two of you.” He jabbed a few keys on the keyboard, then shifted his hand to the mouse. He was jealous, and I didn’t even need my abilities to know it.
A twinge of guilt softened my tone. “Stop that. Justin doesn’t film us.”
He chuckled to himself. “Yeah. Okay.”
Of course I’d still check the closet on my next visit
just to be sure. “Seriously, Mihir, I’m worried about him. If he’s messing around with drugs, he could lose everything.”
“Even you?” Mihir asked without looking at me.
I thought for a minute. “If he won’t stop, yeah. You don’t know what I felt with him last night. It was dark and…evil. He hated me—hated everything. Whatever he’s taking is…it’s changing him.”
“Why are you so sure it was Justin?”
I gave a sarcastic snort. “Um, ’cause we were the only two people in the room. My ability might be getting stronger, but so far it can’t go through walls. Who else could it have been?”
Mihir swiveled his chair around to look at me. “Have you seen any evidence? Y’know, drugs lying around, paraphernalia, any physical signs on him?”
“There’s a lot of stuff out there, and your boy- toy isn’t the sharpest tool in the shed. So it’s hard to know what he might have eaten, snorted, or shot up his ass,” Mihir said, leaning back, one arm hiked over the back of his chair. “But as far as I’ve heard, nothing makes you feel slimy or sleazy. God-like and powerful, yes. Hating the people you love—or lust? Whatever. Doesn’t sound like the kind of trip that’d make a drug worth taking.”
“If it’s not drugs, then what?” I asked. “This wasn’t Justin. I mean, I know he’s not your favorite person, but he’s not like this. Justin doesn’t…hate anyone.”