When I was little, I wondered what it would be like to float in space. Just stayed there in suspense, waiting for nothing. That's what I felt like as Ty pulled me even farther away from the cottage. That's what I felt like as it burst into flame, debris flying everywhere.

I felt nothing at first. I just stood there, shocked. Even my sore spots seemed to be numb. It was like what had just happened didn't register yet.

Ty was speaking quickly into his cell phone, calling someone in. But I didn't really understand what he was saying.

Fire engulfed the place where three of my friends used to be. I couldn't see any bodies; that would be obvious with the vampires, but the Hunters would simply blow up, I guessed. Fritz, Deena, and Casey were dead, but I didn't care about that.

Suddenly, it hit me. Zane, Natalie, Madison. Gone. All gone. Slowly, I sank to my knees and stared at the fire, tears rolling down my face. It felt as if a chunk of my heart was being ripped into pieces. I would never see Madison act melodramatic again. Never look at Natalie's sad eyes watching Zane.


I'd never feel him kiss me again, never listen to his sarcasm. Never look at his gorgeous face again and wish things were different.

"Alex." Ty's arms went around me. "It'll be all right. Everything's going to be fine, the SCA is coming..."

"No, nothing's going to be all right!" I said fiercely, pulling away from him—but at the same time wanting to get closer. "They're dead, don't you get that? Dead for good." I closed my eyes, not wanting to believe it.

But then Ty's arms were replaced by another set of arms, cold ones. And I heard someone cursing. A lot. And someone else, muttering about how stupid that was and how lucky they all were. But the someone who was holding me was just silent.

I looked up to find Zane looking back down at me. Madison was at his side—she was the one cursing a lot. And Natalie was holding onto his arm for dear life, looking quite traumatized.

"What the-" I began, then broke off, hugging him as hard as I could. Then I hit him in the chest with my fist. "Don't you EVER worry me like that again!"

"Yes, Mother."

My breathing was hard, and I felt gasping sobs heave my chest. I was probably making the guys very uncomfortable, but they deserved it, in my point of view.

"Want to explain why you aren't fried vamps to me?" I asked my undead friends.

"Got out right before Fritz threw the explosive," Natalie replied, glancing gratefully at Zane. "Zane smelled it right before he took it out. It was pretty discreet."

"As you know," Madison continued for her. "We run really fast. And man, did we haul it this time or what?"

"This time?" I repeated, glancing up at Zane.

"We three have a colorful history," he smiled. "Maybe I'll tell you about it later."

"Maybe," I echoed, relieved. However, then I realized how close I was to Zane again and awkwardly disentangled myself from him, walking over to Ty's side.

"So, what's going on?" I asked him. "What's the SCA going to do about this one?" Understand that my faith in Ty's organization was kinda shaky. They didn't even realize that the Reynolds were whack jobs!

"Roxanne's going to be involved with this case herself," Ty said, as if I knew what that meant. "It's probably going to be bumped very high up on the list. As for you... Well, I think the cat's out of the bag. They'll definitely know that you're in on it now."

"If they want her memory to be taken, it's not going to happen," Zane growled, and fear stabbed at my heart. No way—Ty wouldn't let that happen. Neither would Zane.

"I agree," Ty nodded, touching my hair. "I doubt Roxanne will want that to happen, though, once I plead for Alex's case."

"I have my own case," I said dully. "Great." I glanced at the burning building. "Will your friends be here soon with a good explanation for the public, Ty?"


"Then let's go."


Roxanne looked just as intimidating as she had the first time I ever saw her. I felt tiny and insignifigant in the professional clothes I'd bought just for our meeting. A nice gray skirt, white blouse, and slate jacket. In fact, I was even wearing a pretty good pair of flats.

Ty had told me that Roxanne didn't want me to see the SCA headquarters, so we were meeting in the office of a law firm in town. On her downtime, Roxanne acted as a defense attorney.

This meeting was Hunters and the pesky human only, which kind of got me mad. Zane was just as big a part of this—couldn't he at least support me? And, um, Natalie and Madison too. Yeah.

Sitting at her desk, Roxanne looked at me with her calm, calculating eyes. I couldn't read anything there, but she didn't seem to be mad. Ty gave my shoulder a reassuring squeeze, and then we both sat down in chairs in front of her.

I winced slightly as there was a twinge in my back. Though it had been two weeks since Casey almost killed me, I was still very sore. My explanation to the 'rents about my wounds? Bad experience on a fair ride. Mom almost sued them, I swear.

"So," Roxanne began in her cool voice. "This is the infamous Alexandra Blue. The girl who has caused my agency so many problems."

"That's me," I replied, trying to sound cheerful and innocent. "I really am sorry about all this. I didn't mean to cause any trouble."

"I'm sure you didn't." Though her voice was smooth and measured, Roxanne sounded a little bit disbelieving. "Now, I want to talk to you first, Tyler." Ugh, he hated being called that, and I knew it. "I thought I told you to keep your distance from normal humans?"

My eyes moved to Ty's face. A shadow crossed his eyes, and he was silent for a moment, stone and impassive. Gently, I reached over and took his hand. Now it was him who needed the comfort. He looked ashamed, like he hadn't lived up to somebody's expectations.

His father's expectations? His mother's?

No, Ty's mom died before he even knew about Hunters. And his dad was dead too, now. Sometimes I wondered how many secrets could be kept from me, though.

"I'm sorry, Roxanne," Ty answered slowly. "But there are people in this world that I can't keep secrets from. Extremely trustworthy people. And one of those few people is Alex."

Despite the seriousness of the situation, I felt a smile stretching over my face. However, Roxanne looked a bit more annoyed.

"That is not a good enough explanation, Tyler," she responded, flicking some dark hair out of her face. "This is a very secret organization. Not only did your friend get herself involved in something she should stay out of, but she's now mixed up with Zane Cliffe, from what I hear." Her eyes fixed themselves on me.

"For the last time," I began wearily. "There is nothing going on with Zane and I. He's a good guy. Besides, if I'm human, I'm pretty much neutral, right?"

Well, she couldn't find a good response to that, and was silent for a moment. Then she spoke. "How do I know you're not going to betray the confidence of our society?"

I met Roxanne's eyes, and found myself glaring at her. You see, I'd just remembered what I'd faced recently. And lived through. Suddenly, Roxanne didn't seem so intimidating.

"I haven't told anyone yet, haven't I?" I pushed my hair away from my face so she could see how truthful I was being. "And the thing is, I'm involved in this thing personally. I want my friends to stay as safe as possible more than anything. I know that they'd be very unsafe if I told anyone. Besides, I could be useful to you, one way or another."

I could feel Ty's eyes on me. He was wondering if I was going to pull the connection out of the hat. No way. That could wait til later, and I wasn't sure if I trusted Roxanne yet.

She examined me, narrowing her eyes. Finally, she nodded to herself. "Yes. All right, I think that you've sold me—for now. If you slip up, Miss Blue, Tyler, there will be dire consequences. As for Cliffe... be careful. He's not trustworthy."

I stood, satisfied. "Says you. Come on, Ty, we have time to kill."

He stood, shrugging helplessly at his boss before leading me out of the office. As we headed into the elevator, he turned to me. "You're pushing it with Roxanne."

"I push it with everyone," I smiled, glad that we were the only two people in there. "And I'm not dead yet, am I?"

"You're getting pretty close," Ty grumbled, but the corners of his mouth turned up in an amused way. He was facing me now, and he rolled his eyes. "You know what? I think we should all chill out for a while."

"Yeah." I agreed, taking a step towards him. "Chilling out would be fine. As long as we can bring our actually chilly friends with us."

His brow furrowed. "They're your friends. If Roxanne hears I'm being friendly with Cliffe..."

"Don't worry about Roxanne." How was I being the calm one here? His breath was brushing against my skin, warm... unlike Zane's. That's because Zane's dead, and Ty's alive.

We were this close to kissing when the door opened and we jumped to opposite sides of the elevator. A prim businesswoman gave us a suspicious glance as she walked in and pressed one of the buttons. I gave Ty a mischievious glance and a wink. Maybe we'd finish what we started one day.

Then again, who knew. Maybe not.


You don't know where your life will lead. Maybe you'll be a normal teenager, maybe not. Maybe you'll find yourself sitting at a movie theater with your perfectly human boyfriend. Maybe you'll find yourself heading into a vampire's backyard.

Zane was in a hammock. He probably smelled me, but he wasn't acting like I was there as I walked through the grass. Instead, he simply laid on his back, staring at the cloudy sky. There wasn't much light, so his amulet, exposed and lying on his chest, didn't even sparkle. His eyes were dark.

"Hey," I said, walking up towards him. I stood in front of the hammock, waiting for a response. Slowly, his eyes slid over to my face.

"Sit." He moved aside to give me plenty of space on the hammock. It was surprisingly easy to sit down next to him. Probably too easy, but I wasn't worrying about that right now.

"So," Zane continued after a moment. "Has your latest near-death experience traumatize you in some new way?" I could tell from his tone that he blamed himself—and I could feel it emenating from him. He couldn't disguise that.

"Yes," I answered honestly. With confidence that surprised even me, I reached out to take his amulet between my fingers, skimming the smooth black stone. I met Zane's eyes. "I realized how much my friends mean to me."

He was quiet for a moment, then he laughed. "You're not worried about yourself at all? That part doesn't worry you now?"

"Not now," I shrugged, still fingering the stone. "Really, Zane. I'm over that. I've accepted that to keep my friendship with Ty-and you-my life will be at risk. But I truly thought that you were gone." I stumbled over my words, adding, "And Natalie and Madison. You're important to me." Another stumble. "Um, all of you."

He caught my hand-the one touching his amulet-in his. "You're important to me, too." I wasn't the only word-klutz, it seemed. "To all of us."

It happened quickly, and I did nothing to stop it. Zane's hand skimmed down my wait, then to my hip. He paused there, then pulled me forward. I toppled on top of his chest, our face inches away. He smiled lazily, but there was still sadness written in his eyes.

"What do you think is up with us?" I asked breathlessly, biting my lip. "This connection we have, I mean. Sometimes... it's like we complement each other. There've been times when I'm sad, and you're cheering me up. And you're moody, and I'm-"

"Ready to brighten my day." Zane reached up to touch my cheek. "Like right now. I don't know, Alex. I really don't."

Vaguely, my mind reminded me that just hours ago, I'd been about to kiss Ty. "Ty and I... I don't know what we are either."

"I'm not sure if I want to know." Zane's fingers had moved to my lips, pausing there. He gazed at my mouth, at my whole body. There was something unreadable there, and also something entirely too readable—thirst.

"I wish you weren't a vampire," I whispered.

Now that unreadable something was replaced by overwhelming sadness. "So do I. I wish that I was human for a number of reasons. You being one of them. I want to be your friend without wanting to bite you."

"Is it too much right now?" I didn't want to move from Zane. The hammock swayed a bit beneath our bodies, but he'd situated us so I knew it wouldn't break. Though Zane's icy cold body was combined with a September chill, I didn't care.

"No." Zane sounded sure as he played with a bit of my hair. In a vampiric movement, he brought a few strands to his mouth. Tasting. I froze, unsure of what to do next, and then he let go, smiling.

"So many times I see you, you're cocky, or moody, or sarcastic, or... fun," I said, reaching out to tentatively touch his face. "But I'm not sure if I've ever seen you sad. Not like this."

"Look," Zane began, abruptly serious. "I'm the Sire of Natalie and Madison. And two others." He winced at my questioning expression. "Like I said, I have a lot to tell you about my past. But the point is, I need to lead them. Madison is young for one of our kind, and she's inexperience. She's never been in really bad times. As for Natalie..."

I laid my head on his chest. There was no heartbeat. None at all. "Natalie is your friend, and she loves you."

"Unrequited love is difficult," Zane said softly, simply laying his hand on my face. "It's hard on the heart."

"Have you ever been involved with unrequited love, Zane, besides Natalie?" I asked cautiously. "Tell me if I'm intruding."

"Not at all." His voice was heavy. "No, I've never had my love unreturned by a woman. Not yet."

There was something in his tone that stirred my heart. He wasn't lying, but... "I know that there was a girl, Zane. Someone you loved. Natalie did tell me, and I can feel it."

He gave a sigh. "This connection really is going to complicate things, Alex. And as for the girl, there was one. I'm just not going to tell you about that, yet."

"That's fine." It wasn't, but I'd get it out of him eventually. "What does love feel like? Just in case I die before I get to feel it." I was blurting that out, and I blushed, instantly regretting it.

"You're heart's racing now." That was stated like a comment, casual. Long pause then. "You don't love Sanders?"

"Oh, I definitely love Ty," I replied, and I felt his gaze harden on me. "Just as a friend, definitely. I don't know whether I love him romantically or not. So tell me, my friend. How do I know?"

"I can't explain love to you," Zane said after a moment. "It's different for everyone. Some people can never be sure until they lose that someone. Whether to another person, or to... to death."

I raised my head a bit, looking straight at him. "She died, didn't she?"

"Yes." He looked straight back at me with such intensity than I almost shrank away. "Never let the one you love get away, Alex. Got it?"

"Got it."

"Good." One side of his mouth tilted upwards. "Alex, there's no getting around it. We really are friends now. You're stuck with me."

On You're stuck with me, my heart fluttered. And I knew he heard it, for he then said, "What a lucky girl you are."

"Oh, sure," I replied sarcastically. "Lucky, lucky me. Hey, think about it this way. Now you're stuck with me."

"Like my own personal parasite," Zane pondered, raising his eyebrows.

"I am no parasite," I told him firmly.

Zane had a really good, pointed comeback to that. "Says the girl who is currently lying on top of me."

Quickly, I remembered that and scrambled up to sit. I flicked my hair behind my ears, blushing furiously. A laughing Zane sat up and touched my face. "Don't be embarrassed. You're a pretty girl, Alex."

"Um, thanks." Somehow, I was incapable of saying anything snappy to him. Darn it. "So, friends? I'm off the dinner table?"

"Unless you want to be on the dinner table," Zane smiled. "Otherwise, I think you're safe."


Well, I know. The shortest one of them all. Alex just didn't have much to say to tie up this story.

OK, this is the beginning of a series, so look out for "Branded" the second story, which will be coming out VERY soon.

Some hints:

A character will get married. Any guesses?

Someone will be wanting to kill Alex. (GASP! NO WAY!)

Zane will have something witty and sarcastic to say. Oh, and he'll be very hot. Again, BIG surprise there.

Ty will hate Zane. Shocker.

Alex will get into a fight with someone. Woooooow.

So, basically, all I gave you is that somebody's getting married. Yay.

Thanks a whole bunch to:

MCRJunkieIsNotOK--I really appreciate all your reviews, considering that you're probably one of my most loyal reviewers. And you didn't actually think Zane got destroyed, did you? He can't go yet. As you can see above, he has too many fluffy sexual tension moments with Alex left.

BlackShadowWave--Muhahahahaha. Enough said.

Twilight Starr--Hope this was soon enough. And I'll try to have a terrific day. :)

Shawna--No. NEVER. Actually, I wouldn't say 'never' considering that some heads have to roll some time or another.

aussiegrl5070--Nah. I was just freaking people out. And yes, "RUN!" Or, in then words of Alex: "You are so dead." Gah, I hate that.

MysteriousOcean--Yay, almost tears! And don't worry, Zane PROBABLY has a fairly long time in the series, considering that I wubs him to death.

fusillade--OK, I'll do my best to work on that.

copykat--That had to be the oddest review you've ever given me. :)

Lady of Confusion--I can, and I will... When the time comes. But not now. ;)