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Gena Showalter is the New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than thirty novels in a thrilling blend of genres: breathtaking paranormal and contemporary romances, supernatural humor, and cutting-edge young adult novels. Visit her at GenaShowalter.com.
A few months later...
Have you ever stumbled upon a secret you wished to God you'd never learned? A dark and dangerous secret? A secret people would kill to protect?
And, yeah, I almost died for it.
My name is Camille Robins. I'm eighteen and in my last month at New Chicago High, District Eight.
It all began on a balmy Friday evening when my friend Shanel Stacy borrowed her parents' car and picked me up...
"I can't believe we're doing this," I said, already breathless with anticipation and nerves. I slid into the passenger seat.
"Believe it, baby," Shanel said as she buckled into the driver's side. With a few clicks of the keyboard, she programmed the Ship's address into the car's console, and we eased out of my driveway and onto the street.
Because sensors kept the car from hitting anyone or thing and because computers navigated the roads, we didn't have to steer or even keep our eyes on our surroundings. We could chat and consider all the things that might go wrong at the famous nightclub.
Get caught lying to our parents -- a possibility. We'd told them we were staying the night with another friend of ours. A friend we'd invented. Get thrown out -- another possibility. We weren't rich or fabulous like the usual patrons. Make fools of ourselves -- the biggest possibility of all.
Neither one of us had style.
Shanel studied me, her intent gaze starting at my dark hair and stopping on my boots. Underneath, my toenails were painted blue to match my eyes. "Why do you look like you're one second away from barfing on the floorboards?"
"I'm not good at clandestine activities. You know that."
"This isn't clandestine. This is fun."
"Fun?" So not the word I would have used.
"Oh yeah." Shanel smiled slowly. "Fun." But a moment passed in silence and she lost her grin. Her expression became pensive. "I wish I was an Outer."
Outer. Aka alien. My face scrunched in confusion. "Why?"
"Think about it. Some of them can control humans with their minds. I could make boys fall in love with us; I could force people to notice us; we could become the most popular girls at school -- no, the world -- with only a thought."
Sounded good in theory, but...I have nothing against Outers, I just don't want to be one, no matter what their powers are. They lived and walked among us, but some people still hated them and treated them as less than, well, human. I've seen them teased and taunted unmercifully. I've seen them pushed and beaten.
I wanted to be noticed, but I wanted it to be for something good.
Besides, Outers didn't look like us. Some of them had horns. Horns! And not just on their heads. Some of them had blue skin and multiple arms (ick), some of them excreted a gooey green slime (gag). Some of them changed color with their moods (okay, that wasn't so bad).
"What if those mind-controlling powers you want so badly came with a price? Like green scales and fish breath?" I asked. Yeah, some of them had those, too. "Would you still want to be an Outer?"
I'd take that as a no. Shanel and I were "Invisibles," not seen or heard by our school's elite, but even our socially non-existent lives were better than those of the Outers. "So, uh, do you think he'll be there?"
She didn't have to ask who he was. Erik Troy. Gorgeous, delectable, mouthwatering Erik Troy. A boy who rarely glanced in my direction, despite the fact that staring at him had become my favorite hobby.
"I told you," Shanel said. "I was standing at my locker and heard Silver tell him they'd meet at the club."
Silver and Erik were best friends and the hottest boys at our school. While Erik was human, Silver was an Outer. A Morevv, one of the most beautiful races I'd ever encountered. I admit it: I wouldn't mind looking like a Morevv, with creamy skin and angelic facial features. Truly, Silver was the only fully accepted alien I knew.
Shanel wanted him; I wanted Erik (obviously). A perfect match-up for sure: best friends hooking up with best friends. If only the boys would cooperate.
"Think Ivy will be there?" Shanel asked with a bitter edge. "Probably not." Silver had an on-again-off-again thing with popular Ivy Lynn, a human and someone I'd always wanted to be. The two were currently off.
Erik, too, was a free man. But he liked his girls older -- or so I'd heard. Probably because he looked older than the average high school boy. He was bigger, stronger, more masculine.
"Do I look okay?" I asked, my nervousness increasing.
Shanel's green gaze swept over me and she grinned. "You're like a sexy beast ready to be unleashed."
I couldn't help but return her grin. She'd always had a flare for the dramatic. "Yeah, but do I look old?"
"Baby, you're practically geriatric. If I didn't know you, I'd swear you were nearing thirty!"
I nodded with satisfaction. The length of my long brown hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail to highlight the ten pounds of makeup I'd spackled on, and I wore a black synleather brassiere top with matching skirt. It was nice to be out of my conservative school uniform and in something sexy.
"What about me?" Shanel asked, skimming her palms over her curves.
I gave her a once-over. Moonlight seeped from the car windows and surrounded her in golden light. Her skin was pale and freckled, her eyes just a bit too large. She wore a tight pink dress that totally clashed with her mass of red curls, but somehow looked great on her. "Silver's going to be drooling over you."
Squealing, she clapped and held out her arm, wrist up. "Sweet. Now, smell me."
I sniffed and my nose wrinkled. "Uh, I'm sorry to tell you this, but you smell like dirt."
"Don't be sorry. That's wonderful news! I did a little recon and learned Morevvs adore earthy scents. I rubbed mud into all my pulse points just before I picked you up."
"Diabolical." I grinned.
The buildings outside were getting taller and closer together, so I knew we'd reach the club very soon. Another wave of nervousness hit me. "What if we can't get in?"
"Oh, will you stop worrying?" She ran her tongue over her lips. "You know the Ell Rollis my dad hired to work on our house? Well, I commanded him to meet us at the club. He'll get us in."
My eyes widened. Ell Rollises were a race of ugly...things that smelled like garbage. They were big, unnaturally strong, and once given an order they thought only of that order. Only when the task was completed did they relax. If Shanel had ordered him to get us inside the Ship, he'd get us inside by any means necessary.
Maybe Erik would ask me to dance.
The car eased to a stop and a feminine computerized voice said, "Destination arrived."
Shanel uttered another squeal of delight and punched in the code for parking. A few seconds later, the car stopped. "This is going to be the greatest night of our lives!"
A girl could hope at least. We emerged and stood outside, gazing over at the club as a warm breeze slinked around us. Made of polished silver chrome, the Ship was shaped like a round, multilayered craft with hundreds of lights circling every other tier.
Even from this distance we could hear the gyrating music, a bump, bump, grind that demanded movement. A line stretched around the building and led all the way to the opening. I searched the masses for Erik, but I didn't see any sign of his (hot) body or (sexy) blond head. Was he already inside?
"You ready?" Shanel asked me.
Breathing deeply of perfumes, sweat, and eco-friendly exhaust, I gripped Shanel's hand. "Don't leave my side, okay?"
"Don't insult me. As if I'd leave you." She glanced toward the crowd and gasped happily. "Look. There's the Ell Rollis. Come on." She leapt into motion -- leaving me behind.
With a sigh, I raced after her, high heels clicking against the pavement.
The closer we came to the club, the louder the music and voices became and the more realization set in. God, I could get in so much trouble for this. I usually obeyed my parents and followed their rules exactly. Only the thought of spending time with Erik had been able to lure me to the dark side.
Shanel ground to a stop in front of the male Ell Rollis who stood at the curb. When the Outer spotted her, he nodded in greeting. He had dry, yellow skin, no nose (that I could see), and sharp lizardlike teeth. I tried not to stare.
"I wait here just like you say," he told her, his voice heavily accented.
"Thank you, John. Now, here's what I want you to do next. Create a distraction so that Camille and I can get inside that building." She pointed to the double doors. "Then, run away and hide. Okay?"
John -- what a weird name for such an inhuman creature -- gave another nod and stomped in the direction Shanel had pointed, pushing through the thick crowd. We followed. A few people gasped, a few growled in anger. Most smiled nervously and moved out of the way, as if their greatest wish was to please the hulking beast.
Up front, John skidded to a stop. Two burly guards waited behind a glowing, blue laserband that stretched across the doors, preventing anyone from passing. In unison, the men crossed their hands over their massive chests.
"I will distract you now," John told them.
The two men looked at each other and laughed.
"You're ugly and you stink," one said. "Go away."
Without another word, John reached out and grabbed him by the throat, lifting him off the ground. Murmurs and gasps swept through the crowd. Scared, I backed up a step. I might have even run back to the car, but Shanel tugged me into a shadowy corner.
"Let him go, you alien scum." The guard still standing withdrew a pyre-gun from his waist and aimed it at John's chest.
Before he could fire, John knocked it against the wall and it shattered. All the while, he shook the guy he held, the man's legs nearly touching the laserband. If they did, his clothes and skin would be horribly singed.
"Turn off the laser, Turk," he c... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.