Seventeen-year-old Olivia Ryan knows her grief has finally broken her when two boys she’s only met in her dreams show up at her mom’s funeral.
Jack, the boy she’s been kissing in her dreams, is a welcome distraction. But when she finds out he’s not only real, but he was driving the truck that killed her mom, she just wants to forget he ever existed. His claim that, like him, she’s a member of a powerful alien race only seals her desire to push him away, despite his insistence that he was sent to be her trainer and protector.
Kole, the boy from her nightmares, believes her soul is tied to a power second only to that of the creator of the universe. He plans to use that power to overthrow the creator. And of course, when he’s done with that, Olivia can take her place by his side as queen.
She's sure they both have the wrong girl, but when Kole almost traps Olivia in a dream in an attempt to bring her—and her power—under his control, denial is no longer an option. If she continues to reject her true self, she risks involuntarily destroying the universe with her own hands. But accepting who she is means trusting Jack, and trusting the boy who killed her mom might be beyond the capabilities of even her advanced alien heart.
Complete at 84,000 words, EMBROL is a work of YA science fiction with fantasy elements.
1 THE END
My art teacher says the eyes are the window to the soul. Apparently, I have no soul.
I studied the self-portrait lying on my worktable. Dull, lifeless eyes stared back. Yup, definitely soulless. Next thing I knew, I’d be wandering the streets in search of brains. I crumpled the stiff paper and pressed it into a tight ball. Why can I draw anyone, anything else, but I can’t draw myself?
Mr. Unrealistic-Expectations—aka my art teacher—was two tables away, making his daily rounds to check everyone’s progress. So what if this was the fourth time I’d started over? This assignment was impossible for me to complete, and on Friday, when I’d told him as much, he’d said, “Olivia, you’ll never survive Pratt with that attitude.”
Yeah, well, maybe I didn’t care. Maybe I was tired of “living up to my potential.”
He reached my table as the bell rang and poked the wadded up drawing with his pencil. “You destroyed another one?”
“I’ll work on a new one tonight,” I lied. I shoved all my papers into my portfolio and hopped off my stool. Working on this stupid project was the last thing I intended to do today. Birthdays are supposed to be fun.
Before he could offer his assistance, I shouldered the door open and headed out to the crowded outdoor locker area. I smiled at the heavy clouds overhead, breathing in the damp smell that always accompanied a rainy day in Mesa, Arizona. At least something good was happening today. Now, if I could just get rid of the lump that had settled in my gut this morning . . .
“How’s my favorite redhead on this lovely December morning?” Trevor hooked his arm around my neck, a cheesy grin plastered on his face.
I popped two antacids in my mouth. “Lovely December morning? What are you, forty?”
“Not cool, Liv. You make me promise to be nice and when I am, all I get is crap from you?”
“Yeah, nice—not retired. I love you just the way you are.” Those words came out more from habit than anything else, but I regretted them as soon as they left my lips.
“Heh. That was way easier than I thought it would be.” His hand curled around my upper arm, and he let out a high-pitched whistle that made me wish I didn’t have ears. About a million heads swung toward us.
If only I could melt into the concrete on demand.
“Today is Livy Ryan’s birthday,” he shouted.
I tried to yank free from his grip. He wouldn’t budge. “Trevor, you promised—”
“You don’t want me to be something I’m not,” he said, his face too serious to be sincere. “You said so yourself.”
I should’ve known he’d fabricate some loophole to wriggle out of his promise. This scene had been an inescapable part of my birthday since I turned seven. He’d been my knight in shining armor then.
Now, I just wanted to choke him.
People stared, some of them snickering.
“You know I hate you, right?” I made another lame attempt at escaping.
He laughed and raised his voice again. “Today is Livy’s seventeenth birthday. And what do we do when someone has a birthday?”
A mousy girl blushed, her eyelashes fluttering. “Sing?”
What does she see that I don’t? Sure, he was tall—almost six feet—and cute in a Trevor sort of way. His black hair curled up around the bottom of his cap, and he always had a twinkle in his dark eyes like he was up to something. Seriously, though, one time a girl actually sighed as he walked by—totally ridiculous.
Trevor pointed to mousy girl and winked, flashing his most obnoxious grin. She giggled and—along with, like, fifty other people—joined him in singing the world’s longest version of Happy Birthday. I pulled my hood up to hide my face.
He finally released me, and I shoved him away. “Your word is worthless, Trevor.”
“Aw, c’mon.” He held his hands wide in a penitent gesture as the first drops of rain plinked against the metal roof overhead. “It’s tradition.”
“I don’t care what you call it, you promised . . .”
He stuck his bottom lip out and made his eyes go wide.
“No way.” I poked him in the chest. “You know that pouty face doesn’t work on me.”
“Yes it does.”
I barely managed to withhold a smile. “You’re such a pain.”
Trevor’s arm found its way back around my neck. He draped his jacket over our heads and dragged me out into the rain—now falling in bucketfuls—toward the main building. “You love me.”
“So what? Doesn’t mean I like you.”
“You know, Liv.” He laid his hand over his heart and sighed. “You really know how to hurt a guy.”
“Whatever. You wouldn’t be happy if you weren’t making me crazy.”
“Maybe not, but you’re still my best girlfriend.” He always said that when he wanted to get on my good side.
I nudged him with my shoulder. “I’m so telling Brooke you said that.”
“She’ll never believe you, especially after last night—”
“Ew! No details,” I said. Trevor was the supreme ruler of too much information, especially when it came to his relationships.
“Aw, but the details are the best part.”
We entered the main building as a voice came over the loud speaker. “Olivia Ryan, please report to the front office.”
I ducked out from under his arm and smiled. “Bummer. Looks like I won’t be able to hear those details after all.”
“No worries, birthday girl.” He waved his phone as I backed away. “I’ll just text you.”
“Don’t bother. I blocked your number this morning.”
“Now you’re just making stuff up,” he called after me.
I pulled my phone out. No missed calls. Camryn should’ve called by now.
Three rings and my best friend’s voicemail picked up. Crap. It’s probably the middle of the night there. “Hey, Cam. I hope you’re enjoying your adventure down under because Trevor is being, well, Trevor. I can’t believe you bailed on me . . . Sorry. I’m not mad. Just feeling off today. Probably ‘cause you’re not here.”
I slipped outside again and stayed close to the wall, out of the rain. “Give your brother a hug and tell him I said congrats—even though his wedding ruined my birthday. I’m kidding. Don’t freak. And I know you’re super busy today, but call me as soon as you can. I need some moral support before I ask my mom about Pratt again. I hope you’re having fun. Really. Love you.”
My hand shook as I reached for the heavy door leading to the front office. What is my problem today? I let my fingers rest on the knob for a moment, trying to get a grip on my nerves before I yanked the door open.
Mom turned from the counter and smiled. Within seconds, my insides quieted, and the tension I hadn’t noticed drained from my shoulders and neck. I never understood why, but her presence always had that effect. Probably just her exceptional mom-ness.
She rubbed her hands together, her smile widening. “Ready for your dentist appointment?”
“Dentist?” There was no dentist appointment. I forced a blank expression. “Oh, yeah. I forgot about that.” I followed her out, and as soon as the door closed behind us, I let my jaw drop. “I can’t believe you lied.”
Mom headed down the main steps toward the faculty parking lot. “I know. I’m a terrible example.” She glanced back at me, her lips curling into a smile. “If you’re feeling guilty, you can go back to class.”
“Yeah, right.” I looked up at the clouds overhead. The rain had slowed to a drizzle, but the downpour was bound to start again without notice. At least we wouldn’t have to walk far to get to the car. “How’d you get off work? I thought you said you couldn’t take off on a Monday.”
“The three transfers that were scheduled for today were postponed, so, since things were slow, I cut out early. How was school today?”
“Totally boring. It was a complete waste of time for me to be here. Oh, and I got treated to the annual Trevor serenade. He’s such a liar.”
She laughed and stopped under an overhang, digging through her purse. “Did you really think he’d keep that promise? That’s how he shows you he loves you. Besides, this might be his last chan—” She clamped her mouth shut, only glancing at me out of the corner of her eye before she went back to digging.
She’s going to let me go? I bounced on my toes, clasping my hands in front of me. “You changed your mind?”
“That’s not what I meant.”
“But . . .” What else could she have meant?
She sighed, looking closer to her true age than she had since my father’s death almost ten years ago. “I don’t want to fight with you today. Maybe we can talk about this tomorrow?”
I was pretty sure that once tomorrow came, she’d want to put it off another day. Still, I said, “Okay. Tomorrow.”
“Good.” She swept her long, auburn bangs back, her smile returning along with her deceptive, but familiar, twenty-something appearance. Her keys jingled as she pulled them from her purse. “Where do you want to go first? Pedicures or the mall?”
Rain pelted the windshield as we pulled out of the mall parking lot. I stared over the steering wheel and took a deep breath.
“I think you should reconsider letting me go to Pratt next year.” Sure, I’d agreed to wait until tomorrow, but I’d been thinking about it since we left the school three hours ago.
Mom sighed. “I still think you’re better off taking a few art classes at the community college for your first year. Maybe next year—”
“You obviously don’t understand how much I want this.” I focused on the road, grateful for a reason not to look at her. “I’ve worked my butt off to get accepted early. I’m ready. Why can’t you see that?”
“Livy . . .” She sounded so tired. It seemed she always sounded tired lately. “New York is so far, and you’re barely seventeen. You’ve got your whole life to be a grown up. Be a kid a while longer.”
“But I’m not a kid.” Why did I ever think I could change her mind? “Please, Mom. You have to.”
She pushed my hair back over my shoulder. “I’m sorry, baby girl. I really think it’s best if you wait.”
“Yeah. So you won’t have to be alone. All you care about . . .” A red blur drew my gaze to her face.
Time all but halted. Every second passed with acute detail as a pickup truck plowed into us. My throat tightened around a scream. The passenger side groaned and caved in under the force of the impact, flinging Mom toward me. Tiny cubes of glass burst from behind her, showering me in a jingling rain, stinging my skin wherever they struck.
The seatbelt jerked her back, slammed her head into the grill of the truck. Pain blossomed at the base of my skull, and it seemed in the next instant everything was quiet except for the crunch of gravel beneath the roof of our car as it settled into place. I peered out the mangled windshield at the upside down horizon and the drizzling rain.
A mixture of asphalt and gasoline fumes burned my nose, and the smell of something sharp and metallic flowed in and out with each breath. Pain stabbed through my back and chest. My head felt as if it’d been tightened in a vise, the pressure building, slow but steady. I tried to lift it, but something heavy held it down.
“Mom?” Was that shrill voice mine?
She didn’t answer. Her upturned hand lay in front of me amid a mass of auburn hair—mine or hers, I couldn’t tell. Blood oozed into the gaps, pooling around her hand. I brushed my trembling fingers across her palm and recoiled.
How could she feel so empty? The image of her face as her head struck flashed in my mind—her eyes, so blue and vacant.
A whimpering rose within me. This isn’t real. This isn’t happening. I clawed at the steering wheel, the frame of the windshield, trying to free myself from this nightmare. My legs refused to cooperate, and every movement brought more pain, shooting through my torso and radiating out to my arms and my neck.
“Stay calm, hon. Help is on the way.” A woman crouched in front of the windshield and patted my hand. I jerked it away. That was how Mom’s hand should’ve felt—warm, pulsing with life. Tears formed in the woman’s eyes before she glanced up, then stood. She spoke to someone in a low voice, but I couldn’t make out the words.
Clouds crowded my vision, dark shadows creeping into the corners. Sound came in spurts. Sirens, soft in the distance.
They blared closer.
An invisible weight pressed down on my chest.
Something warm brushed my arm, pulling my eyes open. My breath caught. “How . . . ?”
The boy I’d never met but had been dreaming about for two years—the boy I’d come to call my angel—now hovered before me. The jagged edges of the windshield created a halo around his golden curls.
“Olivia,” he said, his deep voice soft and comforting.
The chaos around us faded away, as if only the two of us existed. My eyes slid closed, and for a moment, I was there beside him, examining the wreckage. I saw myself, my head pinned between the seat and the roof of the car, blood trickling a grisly mask over my face, my body bent in places it wasn’t meant to bend. Mom hung next to me, her petite frame held upside down by her seatbelt. She was clean, no blood except for the puddle around her hand. Her head rested against the roof, twisted at an unnatural angle, her eyes open, staring. Empty.
Pain shot through my chest, yanking me back to my body as a scream—my scream—shredded my eardrums. Piercing agony worked its way into every cell, throbbing with each beat of my heart. The clouds thickened, blanketing my vision, and I hovered somewhere between the light and the dark. The thread holding me there, the one I clung to so desperately, slipped in my grasp.
“Olivia,” my angel whispered. Warmth flowed into me from his fingertips against my cheek. “Come back to me.”
He pulled away, and the world turned black.