Steal With A Kiss, A Parched novel will be released within weeks. Here’s a little taste of what’s to come! Also, stay update-to-date on the release information by visiting this post: http://zuleikaarkadie.wordpress.com/2013/09/14/steal-with-a-kiss-a-parched-novel-updates/
Steal With A Kiss
A Parched Novel
Reluctance Isn’t A Virtue
After everything that I’ve faced—the man-sized rats, zombies from hell, ghouls made of black dust, flesh-eating giants, and legendary vampires—Molly, my father’s assistant, is the spookiest. There’s no arguing with her. What Felix Benel says goes or else she’ll turn me into a bumblebee. That wouldn’t be so bad. At least I’d be free to live life on my own terms.
She’s a peculiar-looking woman. Her skin is white like cotton balls or marshmallows, a sharp contrast from her brown hair that’s pulled back into a neat chignon. Her eyes are sapphire blue with no flecks in the coloring. She reminds me of an antique ceramic doll with coiffed hair and a crinoline dress. So far she hasn’t blinked, and her facial expression is stuck on one mode—bland. I wonder what planet my father found her on. I’ve come to the conclusion that she’s not really a human being.
“This black card is for your expenses. If you need cash, you can use this at any ATM, or you can go inside of any bank in the world and cash will be dispensed to you. These are the keys to your dorm suite.” She holds up the keys for me to take.
I hesitate. “But so soon?”
Molly’s unblinking eyes remain on my face. She doesn’t flinch. I can tell that she’s not interested in engaging in a two-way conversation. So I reluctantly take the keys and drop them into the leather satchel I picked up in Mexico last month.
“You’ll have a roommate,” she continues now that I’ve alleviated her burden.
I roll my eyes. “Perfect.”
“There’s a portal to the House of the Seven Daughters of Benel in the bedroom closet. The doorway will appear when you want to see it.” She takes a thick folder off the large desk and gives it to me. “This contains your class schedule, campus maps, a syllabus for each of your classes, and a few more items you should look over. Your textbooks are on the bookcase in the study station.”
“But I didn’t pick any classes.” I feel like I’m in the midst of a crisis here. My independence is being trampled.
“Felix has chosen them for you.”
“But why?” I flip the folder open and read the list: Archeology 288, Anthropology 320, Ancient Asiatic and African History 488, and Linguistic 218. It says that I’m a junior at Monroe Vecksmith College in Blairewood, Rhode Island. Great—dumped in New England again. “Well how can I be a junior when I’ve never been a freshman or sophomore?”
I widen my eyes at Molly and wait for her reply. Boy, am I frustrated. She’s empty-eyed again. No reaction is the only response I’m going to get from her.
“Is my father around? I need to talk to him.” I sound like a brat, but I don’t care.
“He’s attending a meeting—”
“I’ll wait,” I say, cutting her off as I plop into a black leather swivel chair.
“In Geneva,” she finishes.
I sigh, irritated. “Well… That’s not going to work for me.”
And just as I’m thinking about the fastest way to get from New York City to Geneva, I hear, “I’ll take it from here, Molly.” Standing on the other side of the desk is Felix Benel, my father.
“Yes, sir,” Molly says dutifully. She straightens her posture and walks out of the room. I notice that she has a steady, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other catwalk stroll. It’s pretty seductive for someone who’s wound up as tight as she is.
My father and I are alone, and suddenly I regret getting what I asked for. He sits down in the big chair on his side of the desk. The king-size seat suits him. His eyebrows are ruffled. I think he’s agitated.
“How are you, Zillael?” He says my name with an accent.
“I’m fine, I think,” I mumble, looking him straight in the eyes. Not because I’m challenging him—heck I was braver a minute ago! It’s just that his skin is so smooth, and the slant of his forehead is unique. I actually see myself in the shape of his eyes and cheekbones and the way his top lip curls up. My goodness, we really are father and daughter.
“You should pay attention while you’re in Blairewood,” he starts in an instructive tone of voice.
“Yeah, about that. I don’t think I need to go to college because I’m… I mean, why?” I want to kick myself for inarticulately making no point at all.
As a response, his careful gaze lingers on me. I’m waiting for him to slam me for sounding so stupid. Heck, I deserve it. Instead he sits back and interlaces his fingers in front of his chest. “Did you enjoy your journeys with Falu and Ben Artiste?”
“I did.” I’m jumpy like I used to be after drinking too many mochaccinos from Macchiato on 5th in Manhattan—which isn’t too far away from here.
My father is referring to the escapades I’ve been on for the last month and a half with Fawn and Ben, who were reestablishing contacts for the Earth Foundation. We basically trekked from Mexico City to the northwest region of Russia—on the coast of the Bering Strait—where we met a three hundred-year-old Chauchu woman. She wasn’t a vampire or any other type of supernatural being. She was an average human who had extended her life because she had only ever eaten food that grows from the root.
We went everywhere. We communed with gypsies, nomads, and undiscovered tribes of human beings that society and time have left behind. These people are the eyes and ears of all the things that modern day society is too disconnected from to notice.
“I want you to be content, and you will be,” My father is more calm than I’m comfortable with. I don’t think he understands how impossible that will be if I end up at Monroe Vecksmith College.
“I know I can’t work with Fawn and Ben because I guess my plight is different than theirs, but I feel like I’ll be wasting my talent if I’m doing nothing but sitting in a classroom bored to death. Wasn’t I born for a purpose?”
“Are you sure you’ll be bored?” He cracks a tiny smile, and I’m taken aback.
“Um.” I gulp after losing my train of thought. Dazzled by my father—that’s creepy. “I’m sure,” I croak nervously past my dry throat.
“All of your sisters have attended university to some degree, Zillael.”
“Not Adore.” I’m quick to point out.
“I’ve instructed Ad’ru for her entire life.”
I scoot to the edge of my seat. “Well could you teach me too? I’d rather learn from you than some boring professor—that’s what teachers are called in college, right?” I’m babbling.
He chuckles, displaying a set of sparkling white teeth. However, I like the way he’s regarding me; I’m confident I just might get what I want. I mean, I could be his intern, or maybe Adore can teach me everything he taught her.
“Remember these words, Zillael. Pay attention. Your instincts are mightier than your power of strength—trust them.” A sharp buzz rings somewhere on his body. His tone sounded so final.
I thought I was this close to changing his mind. “But—”
He lifts a finger, gesturing for me to wait, and reaches into his suit jacket to take out a cell phone. “Felix Parker.”
Anticipation makes my heart rate accelerate. New arguments form in my head, and they’re pretty articulate. Words like theory and practice bounce around up there. If my power is strength, then I’ll get no exercise at all sitting at a desk for hours on end. I was made to be out in the trenches, battling the forces of evil—kicking some serious behind.
“Yes, I see…” My father rises to his feet. “Please hold.” He turns to me. “That’ll be all, Zillael. I must leave.”
My mouth falls open and not because he walks right through the wall and out of the room—that doesn’t surprise me. We weren’t done talking yet! With a little extra time, I could’ve convinced him to change my plans. Now I have no choice but to do exactly what he says. Just as strongly as I want to run the wind to Mozambique to rejoin Fawn and Ben, I feel I’ll self-detonate in less than three seconds if I don’t follow his orders.
It’s early evening when I reach Monroe Vecksmith College. On one hand, I’m wound up from downing three caramel mochaccinos. When I left Cork Group, I walked to Macchiato and spent the majority of the afternoon sitting at a table drinking sweetened coffee and watching people pass by.
I loved growing up in that city. New Yorkers have a way that vibes with my sensibilities. They’re not unfriendly; they’re just too busy for social pleasantries. Young, old, and those stuck in the middle, everybody has somewhere to be and pronto. I would have had no complaints if my father enrolled me in NYU or Columbia, none whatsoever.
I’m queasy as I trek across the grassy quad on the way to my dorm room. I haven’t felt this sick in ages. I’m breaking out in a cold sweat, and I have chills. Lots of people are around, and I notice something interesting about the campus scene, but the cramps in my stomach make it difficult for me to determine what that is.
The sourness in my stomach is rising to my mouth. I bend over to clutch my knees. People watch me as they pass by. I can hardly focus on them as I search for a private spot. I find a narrow gap ten feet ahead of me that separates two Gothic-style buildings. I run into the fissure, and after a number of stumbling steps, grab my knees and lean back against the rough wall.
I find myself wondering where in the world is Vayle. We haven’t seen each other since parting ways a month and a half ago. He set off to reconnect with his mother, brother, and the rest of his family while I ventured out with Fawn and Ben. Vayle was furious that I didn’t choose to go with him, but when Fawn invited me to hit the road with them, I didn’t have enough willpower to resist. So Vayle and I kissed good-bye, and since then, he hasn’t checked on me once. To be fair, I haven’t looked in on him either, but I’ve been way busier than he has. I do miss him an awful lot, especially when I’m feeling this awful.
The cramps feel as though they’re ripping through my insides. I also notice that the air around me has turned icy cold, and I have the funny feeling that I’m being watched. I gaze at the visible slice of sky. The sun hasn’t dropped, and there’s no fog, so the uncomfortable change in temperature isn’t the work of vampires. A group of them can generate a fog that neutralizes sunrays. When they’re out in the daytime, that can only mean trouble. Especially since the good ones have chosen to become human again.
I focus on a window with an iron screen covering it. I can’t see past the screen, but whoever is staring at me is behind it. That sharp pain thrashes my stomach again. I shove my forearm hard against my belly. My mouth opens wide, and all the mochaccino I drank splashes against the muddy grass. “Heck,” I breathe, once it’s all out.
Internally, I feel a hundred percent better, but externally, I’m still freezing. Whoever’s behind that window is still watching me, which means it’s time to blow this scene. So I sprint up the grassy path to a high brick wall. I scale it and land on the outer edge of a crowded, covered patio. Everybody’s watching me as if they’ve just seen Spiderman drop from the Empire State Building.
Within one sweep of my eyes, I determine what’s weird around here. Couples. There are a whole lot of them. Girls are either sitting on boys’ laps making out feverishly, or the couples are side-by-side smooching and whispering sweet nothings. My father said to trust my instincts, and they are beeping out of control.
One by one, more of them notice me. It’s creepy. Every New Year’s Eve, I used to veg out on the Twilight Zone Marathon. I feel like I’m trapped in one of those episodes—the scene is that weird. It could be nothing but my overactive imagination looking for excitement in what is sure to be a mundane future though. But I still hurry up and get the heck out of there before they all rise, twist their heads off, and ask me to join their new sex colony or something.
The main part of Monroe Vecksmith College looks like a city of castles. On the outskirts, toward the dorms, the architectural flamboyance is more toned down. The buildings are red brick and block structured. I pass a dining facility, a study hall, a fitness center, the Housing Administration, a Ticket Office, and a stadium-sized football field. Several groups of athletic boys in sweat-drenched T-shirts and long shorts clash into each other on the grass. I find myself wishing I could join them. It looks like fun.
Up the hill and across the street are my new digs. According to Molly’s notes, I’m in room 1007, which she labeled “penthouse suite.” I didn’t know colleges had those, but I’ll take it. Regardless, the illustrious “penthouse suite” is on the tenth floor. Other than a few more couples strolling past, the building is pretty much empty. I choose to take the stairs.
I run into a guy and girl sucking face near the third floor entrance. I slow down to watch the guy. He stops kissing and blinks at me as if he’s waking up out of a daze. The girl glares at me, grabs his hand, and tries to tug him out of the stairwell, but he just won’t move. I don’t stick around to see what happens next because, seriously, I don’t care.
Finally, I make it to my dorm room. Once inside, I’m impressed. A short set of steps in front of the door lead to a cozy sitting area. A sofa and two comfy chairs are place around a wooden coffee table. There are two rooms on each side. My name is written on sheet of paper that’s been sloppily taped to the door on my right. I start off in that direction but stop. My instincts are pulling me to the other side. I change direction and go into the other room.
The room fans out into three tiers. At the top, a huge bed is positioned against the wall. The bedspread is made of lime-green brocade. On the second tier, which is slightly to the right and nearest to the door, is a comfortable seating area that looks a lot like one in the shared space I just left. On the bottom tier, which is positioned slightly to the left, is a sleek white desk made of polyurethane with a red leather desk chair behind it. A wall-sized black metal bookcase that’s loaded with books runs the length of the space. The backdrop is one wall-sized window that looks out over the campus.
Something tells me that this room is mine, but to be sure, I go to the closet and open the double doors. I don’t recognize any of the clothes because they’re extremely small for my frame, but I do see the light of the portal that’ll take me to the House of Benel across the back wall.
Ticked off, I gather a bunch of the clothes hanging in the closet and rush them into the other room. It’s plain with a full-sized bed, a desk, and a couch—without the three-tier floor plan. The fact that my roommate tried to steal my space speaks volumes about the kind of person she is. I drop the clothes on the unmade bed. I go back and forth five times before I’m done unloading all of her crap on top of her bed. Then I lie across my bed and close my eyes. I quell my anger by reliving the last leg of my recent excursion.
Fawn decided to introduce me to Enu. She promised to show me the Emerald Sea, and she did. When we swam in it, our bodies glowed green. That was pretty amazing. We didn’t wear a stitch of clothes the entire time we were in Enu. We bathed in underground cave-pools alongside native Enuians. The people reminded me of fingerprints—not one looks like another. They vary in the slightest of ways. Each Enuian’s skin, hair, eyes, ears, nose, lips, and face shapes are uniquely their own. The only way I could distinguish males from females was by their figures. Females are slightly rounder in the hips and butt, like humans. Fawn told me that they don’t develop breasts or sexual organs unless they’re turned on. If they’re aroused by a humanoid creature, than a man will develop a penis and a woman will acquire our lady parts. Apparently they weren’t turned on by me.
I sat between two males, or man’taks, and neither grew penises. Instead they told me about the seasons of harvests and the specific kinds of joy each fruit brings. I’m supposed to return for the Tilt when the sun falls dut west. The man’tak said this season, they’ll harvest the lo’nuk and rim’kek, and the fruit will make me dance into the sky, whatever that means. Heck, it sure does sound fun. We were only in the universe for twenty-four hours tops, but it was equivalent to a week on Earth.
“Zill, are you here?” Vayle calls.
I open my eyes. I leap off the bed but pause to listen to the high-pitched sound of girls speaking excitedly. One of them is headed this way, and I run to open the door to my room before she’s able to. She stands with her blue eyes expanded in disbelief. I tower over her.
“Oh,” she says.
“Are you the roommate?” I ask.
She looks caught. “Yes.”
“Then you know that is my room.” I point in the other direction. “That’s yours.”
She huffs. “First come—”
“No, not first come,” I growl. “You took my clothes out of my closet and moved them. Didn’t you see my textbooks on the bookshelf? If we’re going to make this work, then you shouldn’t do that ever again,” I say as if I’m scolding a naughty child.
The pint-sized blonde searches over her shoulder for support. Oh boy, what a motley crew. Sabrina is with them, standing way too close to Vayle, and another guy is staring at me with stars in his eyes. This guy is also blond and looks like the adult version of Bamm-Bamm from the Flintstones cartoon.
I snarl at my “boyfriend.” “Well hello, Vayle.”
“Hello, Zill,” he says in the same biting tone.
What a tool. On that note, I turn my back, stomp into my room, and slam the door.
He and I, we’re done!
If that’s even possible.