A freak storm dumped two battered children into a river in the Cleveland Metroparks. No clue to their identity or why anyone tried to kill them. Yet that mystery was nothing compared to the secrets the girls protected.
Lara could work minor magic, though she didn’t know how she did it. Aggie could turn into a wolf. They knew they came from another world, but didn’t know how or why, where that world was, or how to get home.
Their only chance to find answers was to stay together, follow the stray bits of magic that they sensed around them, and find Aggie’s twin brother.
But first, they had to survive high school.
Michelle Levigne has lived most of her life in Ohio, on the North Coast. She started writing her own stories in junior high, when she couldn't find the books she wanted to read in the library and didn't have enough money to buy out the bookstore. Her first professional sale was in conjunction with the Writers of the Future contest.
Her first place winning story, "Relay," appears in Writers of the Future Volume VII. Between that publication and the release of her first novel, Heir of Faxinor, she wrote and published more than forty short stories and poems in fan fiction, ranging between "Star Trek," "Beauty & the Beast," "The Phoenix," "Highlander," "Starman," "V" and "Stingray." This included a brief foray into fan publishing with the 4-issue fanzine "Starwheel."
She has a BA in theater/English from Northwestern College and an MA in communications/film from Regent University. Published titles explore mythology, epic fantasy, and futuristic adventures.
Aggie looked out at the frozen surface of the fishing lake made from the old sandstone quarries, glowing a soft, almost eerie white in the sparse moonlight through storm-heavy clouds. Maybe it was this late night drive through the deserted park that depressed her, combined with two fruitless, exhausting hours searching for a sports video or jersey Jack didn't have.
"Dan knows I don’t approve of a man his age trying to monopolize your time. Especially since you’re still in school," Grace said, slowing for a patch of ice across the road.
"You talked to him? Why?" Aggie grinned at the strip of icy, snowy road lit by the headlights.
"Oh? I wasn’t supposed to see him breathing down your neck during that last business social? Why do you think I kept sending you into the kitchen for more appetizers?"
"You’re my Mommy and you were protecting me from big bad Dan." Aggie laughed. "You impressed all those bigwigs among the developers Dad’s trying to cozy up to, that’s for sure."
"A man’s home life reflects how his business is run." Grace gasped as the car made a loud popping sound and lurched to the left across the road. It headed straight for the rocky barrier around the fishing area.
Aggie bared her teeth as the car went airborne for a moment. She hated falling. Jumping was one thing. Falling with no idea where or when she would land brought on nightmares of fire and being pulled in ten different directions, landing so fast and hard water was like concrete.
All four wheels slammed down hard and the car skidded on slushy asphalt, abruptly slamming to rest against the sign that informed passersby the trees along that section of park road had been donated by the Berea Kiwanis.
Both women let out little shrieks—then silence. A hard, icy rain slammed into the windows from all directions.
"Aggie?" Grace sniffed and reached across the seat.
"I'm okay, Mom. How about you?"
"Fine. I think. I should have let that nice salesman talk me into the car phone. That felt like a flat tire."
Two minutes later, with the flashlight on her mother's key ring, Aggie determined they had two flat tires. She knew how to change a tire, but they only had one spare. She brushed the sleet off her hair and face as she climbed back into the car with the bad news.
"We aren't too far from home. Maybe ten minutes to walk out of the park. I could go to the police station and call Dad. Or even walk home."
"I'm glad you know your way around. I've never been in the park after dark. It all looks like an alien world." Grace gave her a considering look. "Have you been in the park after dark?"
"If I have, it’s always been alone—or with Lara." Aggie grinned, earning a raspy chuckle from her mother that turned into a cough. "You're not going anywhere with that cold and the rain coming down like it is. You stay here where it's nice and warm and listen to the radio. I'll be back in no time." Aggie handed the keys back to her mother. She hit the latch on the door. It didn't open. "Mom?"
"Oh, all right. But be careful. I feel bad enough as it is, letting you go alone. I'd never forgive myself if you got hurt." Grace unlocked the door.
"I'd never forgive myself if your cold turned into pneumonia." Aggie tugged her pea coat tighter and stepped out into the slush and mud piled around the car where the sliding wheels had dug furrows. "Now lock up and don't open until a policeman shows up, hear me?"
"This is Berea, not New York or Chicago or Los Angeles—"
"Or the rough side of Cleveland, Mom?" Aggie crossed her eyes and slammed the door before her mother could laugh.
Aggie trotted around the first bend in the winding park road, putting trees between her and the car, just enough distance before she shifted to wolf and ran. A flicker of light up ahead caught her attention. Aggie skidded and strained her eyes to see through the icy rain. Was that a car?
The white-blue glimmer of light vanished, replaced a moment later by a flicker of red. Tail lights. The car had turned off the bridge she needed to cross to get into downtown Berea, and turned right instead of left. Maybe if she ran—
Sleet slapped her face and added to the layer of slush on the asphalt and hibernating grass and the waterfowl habitat off to her right. Voices penetrated the hissing. Aggie faced into the wind, taking deep, slow breaths to taste the air. Nothing came to her nose and tongue but the damp and cold, and the wind was from the wrong direction.
Grace Harsey screamed.
A man laughed.
Aggie bared her teeth and ran. Gloves and jeans and pea coat vanished before her hands touched the ground. Claws and horn-tough pads dug through the slush, clacking against the frozen asphalt. The half-hidden moon saw a black wolf tear through the trees, leaping the bike path, arrowing across the road in one long, dark leap.
They were four, all dressed in dark clothes that smelled of beer and cigarettes, dirty sweat and the acid tang of metal; guns held close to the skin. The tall one held Grace by her throat, bending her backwards over the hood of her car. The one with no hat and a shaved head rifled through the contents of the car. The one with a cigarette in the corner of his mouth pulled out his gun and aimed it at Grace, snorting laughter when the woman whimpered.
The short, fat, pimply one saw the wolf leap across the road straight at him.
He shouted and raised his gun. Fired. Another gun went off. His bullet missed, coming close enough to scorch Aggie’s ear. The tall thug swore and leaped backwards. Grace yelped and slumped, sliding down the side of the car. Aggie caught the pimply one's shoulder with her jaws, raking open his jeans jacket with her right front paw, catching his patched jeans with her rear claws. He screamed and went down. The other three ran.
Grace shrieked—the sound broken off by sudden coughing. Aggie smelled her mother's blood and flung herself off the man. She stumbled, transforming back to Human before she took two steps. The man never saw, scrambling to turn over and stumbled away, whimpering, leaving a trail of blood.
"Mom?" Aggie couldn't breathe. She was afraid to even touch the woman who stared at her with such wide eyes, her face pale, blood seeping around her fingers, through her coat, pressed so tight and hard against the gunshot hole low in her ribs.
Incredibly, Grace smiled. She shook her head a little and reached out a hand to her daughter. Aggie took it. She felt the chill in her mother’s flesh, felt the blood trickling out of her body, smelled death creeping close, waiting to take his prey.
Until this moment, she thought the battering she had taken and survived in her childhood was the epitome of helplessness.
"So that's what you are," Grace whispered.
"I'm sorry." Aggie went to her knees in the slush and tried to put her arms around her mother without moving her. The woman was in a blessed state of shock and felt no pain for now. Aggie would have smelled her mother's pain, bitter and sharp and sour, mixed with her blood and the stink of medicine in her breath. It just wasn't there.
"Sweetheart...I wish you had told me." She tried to smile, but a shudder racked her body and she gasped. The trickle of blood through her fingers steamed in the icy air.
"I wanted to. Mom, I can carry you to the police station—no, I can drive on the stupid flat tires!" She slid her arms around her mother.
"It's all right," Grace whispered, her eyes closing. "I understand. So marvelous...magic. I knew you were...magic from the...day we...found you." She smiled, never reacting as Aggie lifted her and slid her into the front seat of the ransacked car. Glass from the shattered window was all over the inside of the car. It cut Aggie's hands through her gloves, cut through the knees of her jeans, but she paid it no attention.
"Yeah, just like Superman," she said, resurrecting the old family joke.
No, it had only been a joke between her and Grace. Jack didn’t like being reminded that 'his little girl' hadn't been born to them. He didn't want to remember Aggie had been found, and not brought home as a newborn.
Aggie pushed that thought to the back of her mind and finished gingerly sliding her mother across the seat. Turning, she wriggled into the driver's seat and reached for the keys in the ignition.
They weren't there.
A growl escaped her. Aggie glanced at Grace, who seemed even paler in the dome light of the car. Biting her lip against crying in rage, she slid out and searched the floor of the car. Then the slushy ground where the muggers had stood around her mother. She found broken glass scattered all along the road, right in the path the car had taken. Nothing else.
If Lara were here, she could find the keys. Lara was good at finding things.
"Lara—" Aggie swallowed hard, refusing to give in to the helplessness that threatened to send her running, racing, tearing through the trees and snow, across the rotting ice, screaming her anger and fear and hurt to the uncaring sky.
Lights blinded her, magnified and distorted by the tears she couldn’t hold back. Rubbing her eyes with her torn, wet gloves, Aggie saw a police car slide up behind the Saturn. She ran to the officer as he got out.