Cassandra Willows is a human, but she's also something known as a conduit - supercharged with a unique ability that makes her something more.
Cassandra has one foot in the spirit world, so talking to ghosts? Easy. Walking through walls? No problem. Teleportation? Well, she hasn't gotten that down quite yet.
Cassy has spent her life in hiding from the government, afraid of being stuffed in a van in the middle of the night, and she thought she'd done a pretty good job of it.
However, a host of new characters are going to insert themselves into her life and show her that she isn't as untouchable as she thought.
BUY THE BOOK
I wasn’t sure what Mom would have called the man in our kitchen.
The Love of my Life for Real This Time
What he was, was a massive problem I didn’t have the time or energy to deal with. His sizable bulk sat at our makeshift kitchen table, leaning so heavily I worried the folding legs may finally give, and calmly spooned cereal into his mouth like he wasn’t a trespasser. He wasn’t the most physically intimidating man Mom had ever had over, but he held himself with an assuredness that made me believe getting rid of him would be a more difficult task than it should be.
“Um, hello?” I edged my way into the room, fully ready to dash to the frying pans if things went poorly.
“Hello,” he barely turned from his meal to acknowledge me. “Good morning.”
“Yeah, uh, good morning. Who are you?”
“Brandon Winston, and you must be Cassandra. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
“Right, yeah, a pleasure.” I wiped my hand down my face and massaged my tired brows. “Look, I don’t care how at home Mom told you to make yourself, but it’s about time for you to get going.”
His gaze focused on me again, analyzing me more closely. The gaze was more analytical than lecherous, but I was happy to have slipped a bra on all the same.
“I’m not trying to be rude,” I tried again. “It’s just that I need to finish getting ready for school and I’m not comfortable leaving a stranger alone in my house.”
“I’m not alone; your mom is still in bed.”
“Of course she is.” I wiped another tired hand down my face, scraping a couple oily strands of white hair out of the way. There was a stranger in my home, I needed a shower, and Mom was skipping work again. “Just one moment.”
I strode to the other end of the trailer, giving a cursory knock before pushing my way into the master bedroom. Mom was sprawled across the bedspread, snoring, naked, and very much not at work like she should have been.
“Wake up,” I kicked the bed frame. “Why the hell aren’t you at work?”
“Ugh, go away. What I do is none of your fucking business,” she wrapped herself further into the covers, burrowing her head between the pillows. “Shouldn’t you be at school?”
“That’s a shocking show of motherly concern for you, but no, it’s not time for school yet. I got up to get around and found a strange man in our kitchen, eating our meager food supply.”
“He’s dreamy, isn’t he?” she giggled. Giggled. “He’s going to take care of us.”
“He’s going to screw you until he gets bored and then disappear like all the rest.” I walked over to the window and threw the curtains open, drawing another groan from Mom. “You need to get rid of the man and get to work. I’m going to wake up Wiley and tell him that he doesn’t get any cereal this morning because your weekly screw decided to eat it all.”
“I don’t need to work anymore; Braidon is going to take care of us,” she pouted.
“Yeah? If you love this man so much, you should probably start by getting his name right.”
She frowned at that, furrowing her brows as she no doubt tried to recall details of the previous night.
I couldn’t stop the wave of jealousy as I watched her brain work. Of course she didn’t have to deal with white hair or ghostly pale skin. She was a perfect blond and had the features of a goddess. She could crawl out of bed after a night of debauchery and look like she’d spent an hour in the bathroom getting the perfect sex rumpled look. Hell, she was so beautiful that a man would stick around even if she did get his name wrong.
“Why can’t you ever be happy for me?” she pouted, giving up on the train of thought to berate me instead. “I finally found a good man.”
“Yeah, just like the last five, right? All good men until all of the sudden they’re bastards.”
“Brandon,” she emphasized his name. “Is different.”
“Mom, your track record with men is a disaster and this isn’t going to be any different. Try having a relationship that doesn’t revolve around the bedroom for once.”
“You know what? You are such—”
I turned and left the room, slamming the flimsy door as hard as I could on my way out. I wanted to storm across the trailer, but, of course, retracing my steps was just going to run me into Mr. Winston again. I pulled up short in the living area and tried to collect myself, growing a little more self-conscious as I became more alert. I was a hot mess. Not a hot mess like Mom, but the kind of mess that got mistaken for a swamp creature. My sleep clothes were aged and stained, sagging off my body as years of heavy washing had stretched them out. I was still decent, thanks almost exclusively to my bra, but the overall picture wasn’t pretty.
Compounding my shame was the perfectly put-together man in our kitchen. I would never have admitted it to Mom, but her scumbag caller looked every bit the dashing gentleman. He was toned and dressed fashionably in slacks and a button-down shirt, oozing an aura of high society. Dashing green eyes and a coif of unruly brown hair topped the picture with a dose of boy-next-door and the overall picture was, well, not dreamy, but certainly something.
He waved as I stepped through the kitchen and I reluctantly returned it, almost positive he was mocking me at this point. I ignored that, though, and headed to the second bedroom. This time, I knocked much more gingerly before slipping inside.
“Wiley, time to wake up.” I gently shook the pile of bed sheets.
“Cassy?” my charming little brother groaned and poked his head out of a cocoon of blankets. “Is it time for school?”
He looked far more like my mother than I did. He had beautiful blond hair and angelic features you could only get from having two attractive parents. I was positive the girls would be all over him the second he hit puberty, though he wasn’t excited by that concept yet.
“Yup,” I answered his question. “How about you get up and get dressed? I’ll go get you something to eat.” I winced as I thought of the cereal. Hopefully, there was enough for another bowl because I had no idea if I was going to be able to find anything else around here.
He made a sound of agreement and obediently started to roll out of bed. I ducked back out of the room, returning once again to Mr. Winston at our table. I ignored him as best I could, grabbing another bowl and shaking out what was left of the cereal. It only filled halfway and I bit back the curses I wanted to lob at the man. Wiley was a growing boy and needed the calories a lot more than Brandon. I still set it and what was left of the milk out on the table for Wiley to manage when he emerged.
“My little brother will be out to eat what’s left of his breakfast,” I went to shoot the man a scathing look, but nerves got the better of me and I ended up analyzing the floor instead, making my next words sound much more pleading than authoritative. “Please behave yourself. You can pretend to be a halfway decent role model for the next half hour.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” He looked more amused than chagrined, but I didn’t have the time to make sure he behaved. Not that I could do much, anyway. The guy may not have been a monster, but I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had a hundred and fifty pounds on me.
I fled to the bathroom I shared with Wiley, determined to get a shower. I’d meant to do it last night but ended up coming home far too late from work to think about doing anything other than collapsing in bed. I paused with my shirt halfway over my head as my heart kicked up a notch. I took several deep breaths to try and calm it, then tried to pinpoint the reason for my panic.
I was a nervous person by nature, and it made me more than a little uncomfortable to be naked when there was a strange man in the other room. Unfortunately, there was nothing I could do about that. I had to trust in the shoddy lock on the flimsy door, pretending they would hold a man accidentally falling against it, much less trying to break in.
I clamped down on my heart, forcing my body through the motions of stripping and starting the water. I looked in the mirror while I waited for the shower to warm, thinking yet again that I really should take it down. It was getting too depressing to poke at my jutting ribs and hipbones. Worse, an intricate tattoo spread its way down my side and onto my right hip. It was a little hard to see, white on my pale skin as it was, but I’d memorized every curl and swirl even as it continued to grow year after year. It marked me as a conduit and, if anyone else saw it, could see me imprisoned for the rest of my pathetic life.
The room finally started to fill with steam as the old heater kicked in and I was quick to jump in the shower and rush through the routine before the meager supply could be used up. I also couldn’t shake the thought of Mr. Winston just on the other side of the door, probably waiting to creep on me. Paranoid thinking, maybe, but that was a character trait by this point.
There was no clock in the room, but I was sure I had at least another ten minutes when I finally dried, wrapping up my hair in a towel while I continued getting ready. I ducked around the corner from the bathroom as quickly as I could, tossing up a quick thanks that Mr. Winston hadn’t decided to wander, then shut myself in my room. Of course, laundry also hadn’t been done and I didn’t have any clean clothes left, but I was sure I’d thrown a pair of jeans and a shirt that had only been worn once or twice somewhere.
“We need to go, sis!” Wiley yelled through the door right as I was pulling them on.
So much for ten minutes. I tried to pull them up in one motion and stumbled, the narrow leg catching around my knee. I tried again to jerk it up and only succeeded in tripping myself, crashing to the floor in a tangle of limbs.
The last thing I needed was Wiley walking in on me in the undignified position of panty-clad ass in the air. I rolled over, squirming on the floor while I yelled out to the hallway.
“Go wait outside and I’ll be there in just a moment!” I regained my feet, stumbling to the nightstand in search of some socks that didn’t smell. Somehow, I managed to slam my toe into the bedframe, stuffing a fist into my mouth to turn a flurry of choice words into a muffled scream. Menace to society? I was a menace to myself.
“Cassy, are you okay?” Wiley asked as the doorknob turned.
Of course, I was still very much shirtless.
“Don’t come in!” the door handle paused. “What time is it?”
“7:05, kid!” Mr. Winston yelled back and my mortification was complete.
“Go wait at the bus stop, Wiley. I promise I’ll be there in just a few minutes.”
“Okay,” he said warily. “Don’t be late, though. Mrs. Bedford is really mad at you for making her wait last time.”
I couldn’t have cared less what the bus driver thought of me, but I also didn’t want to get left behind. Still, I had at least five minutes before the bus pulled up; that would have to be enough. I pulled out my small mirror and got to work.
My makeup bag consisted of three items. Foundation got smeared on the silver markings, concealer went on any bruises I’d accrued, and eyeliner got applied without stabbing anything out; it was just enough that it marked me as socially adjusted without crossing the line into a mating display. It was a science perfected over years of blending in. If you didn’t make enough of an effort, that got you just as much scrutiny as if you tried too hard. The trick was to be unremarkable in every possible way.
God, if only all it took was some eyeliner to be normal.
I waved one last time to Mr. Winston as I flew through the kitchen and out the front door.
* * *
The bus stop was filled with the kids from the trailer park, but that didn’t mean there was any kind of camaraderie. There were established cliques even among the destitute, and I had found it hard to fit into any of them. More than that, no one wanted to be associated with the crazy girl. Thankfully, Wiley, despite my reputation, had managed to make a couple of friends. I obediently stood apart and kept an eye on him.
I hadn’t had time to properly dry my hair, so I passed the time trying to wrangle it into a braid. It was thin and straight for the most part, so braiding it should have been easy, but I’d never properly learned to do anything with it. Mom hadn’t ever been the teaching type and I never had any friends beyond elementary school. What I knew I’d learned from Liz, but she couldn’t show me since she just had to will her hair to be a certain way and it would be.
Without a mirror, I was sure I made a mess of it; I could feel the ends sticking out this way and that from the plait, but that was okay. It wasn’t like I was out to impress anyone. It also didn’t stop the girls just across the way from putting their heads together and laughing just loud enough that I could hear it.
They’d like you if you’d just get to know them, I gritted my teeth as the spirit spoke to me. Ah, come on, Cassy. Don’t I get a ‘good morning’?
I would have just ignored the spectral girl, but she also happened to be my best friend. I turned away from the group and spoke under my breath, hoping no one would notice.
“I love you, Liz, but you know this is exactly why no one wants anything to do with me.”
Psh, so you talk to yourself now and then. They should feel lucky you decided to grace them with your presence, She finally showed herself, floating a few feet in front of me.
She’d been a pretty girl, from what I could tell. Her clothes didn’t give away an era of death and she hadn’t been keen to share. Unlike most ghosts, she stayed with the times, adjusting her hair, fashion, and speech with the modern patterns. I figured she’d either died recently and things hadn’t changed too much or she’d died a long time ago and had time to adjust to being a ghost. Either way, it didn’t seem like she’d be talking about it anytime soon.
Which was weird, because most ghosts wouldn’t shut up.
“Sure,” I sighed. There was no point in arguing. Liz was positive to a fault and this would only start an argument that would be sure to draw the type of attention I avoided.
“Any particular reason you’re out here this morning? I usually never see you before school.”
I would say that I just wanted to see you, but it’s more that I wanted to warn you the x-team is on the move.
“You really don’t have to call them that,” I sighed.
A bunch of do-gooders with powers? What else would I call them?
“I don’t know,” I conceded. “What are they doing?”
Gathering stuff. Preparing. Some important people are coming to town.
“Like what kind of people?” I sighed again. Liz always somehow missed the most important details. “Government people? CLM people? Fucking Cirque du Soleil?”
She just shrugged.
Probably not the circus. They looked like they were either prepping to fight or getting out of town.
That meant it was likely the government. Despite the balmy fall air, I couldn’t stop a shiver. If they were conduit hunting that meant I’d have to skip a week or two. I didn’t think there was any way to detect conduits outside of a strip search or to catch them using powers in the act, but being totally out of reach was the safest bet. I had no interest in being disappeared by spooks.
“Thanks for the warning. See if you can find out when they’re showing up.”
Can do. She popped a smart salute and then faded into thin air.
I stared at the spot she’d just been with jealousy. My powers allowed me to mimic most of the things a spirit could do, but teleporting was something I still hadn’t worked out. It didn’t seem possible, but neither did walking through walls and that was a piece of cake.
The same girls were snickering again, so my conversation hadn’t gone unnoticed, but at least some talking behind my back would be the worst of it. Embarrassing, sure, but I knew very well that it could get much, much worse.