In honor of the release of Scion, which is told entirely in Russ’s point of view, please enjoy this Russ POV bonus scene from the book that started it all, Chameleon. It’s the first scene of the book, so it’s spoiler-free no matter where you are in the series. Happy reading!
Chameleon Chapter One (From RUSS POV)
It was three in the morning and I’d never been more awake. After months of planning, the night was finally upon me. Slipping through the unlocked front door, I smiled. I’d really outdone myself this year. And, for once, I was sure Dani was going to be happy with her birthday surprise. Of course, that didn’t mean she’d still like me in the morning.
By the angels, I hoped she still liked me in the morning.
The place was dark, but it wasn’t hard to find Dani’s room. Aside from the fact that I knew every square inch of the Webber’s house by heart, all I had to do was follow the obnoxious sounds of the saw mill coming from the back of the house. Dani snored like a freaking freight train. When we were younger, we used to have sleepovers and I’d always have to spell her quiet so I could get some sleep.
I came to stand at the head of her bed and watched her for a moment. She could hardly be described as peaceful with all that racquet she was making, but I wanted to remember every single thing about this night. Just in case…
She rolled over and mumbled something incoherent. The girl liked her sleep, and she was usually an uber grouch if she didn’t get enough of it, but I wasn’t about to let that stop me. “Psst! Dani, wake up!”
“Russ,” she groaned. “Go home right now.”
Chuckling, I shoved into her bed with her. When she refused to move an inch, I poked her. “Scooch over.”
“No. And be quiet on your way out. If my parents find you here—”
“We won’t get busted.” Especially not when I spelled the room soundproof. “Sit up. I have something for you.”
She’d wake up for presents. Even at three in the morning. Dani loves presents. To her credit, she did try to resist the call of gifts once she read the numbers on her alarm clock, but she still pulled herself into a sitting position and rubbed the sleep from her eyes.
I clicked on her bedside lamp and moved to sit right in front of her, matching her Indian-style position like we were about to have some kind of special powwow. A birthday powwow. As I settled in, Dani let her eyes rake over me. She’d been doing that a lot lately. It was one of the reasons I’d decided that tonight would be more than just her annual Russ Devereaux Birthday Surprise. “Mesmerized by my stunning good looks?” I teased.
Dani blinked back into focus. “What?”
“You were staring at me.” And it was driving me crazy.
I may be the king of restraint due to necessity, but I was bound to crack if she was going to start undressing me with her eyes every time we were together. Wanting someone as badly as I wanted Dani was hard enough, but seeing my desire returned in her eyes was…
I swallowed. I had to do something. I couldn’t keep living like this, in this torturous limbo. I’d been waiting for Fate to throw me a bone somehow, but she was taking too long and I’d run out of patience. Tonight, one way on another, things were going to change between Dani and me. Please, Mother Creator, let this be the right choice.
“That was just me sleeping with my eyes open,” she lied. “It’s three in the morning. What are you doing here?”
It was so Dani to cover up her embarrassment by pretending she was annoyed with me. Too bad she never fooled me. She was nervous right now. Want to know a secret? I was trying to make her nervous on purpose. My whole intent tonight was to make her see me in a new way. What better way to do that than to crawl into bed with her in the middle of the night?
We hadn’t been in bed together since we were kids. Back when the fact that we were the opposite sex didn’t matter. It definitely mattered now. She looked so incredibly sexy at the moment that I could hardly think of anything other than the fact that I wanted to obliterate the word “friendship” from all known languages.
“What happened to the Disney Princess nightgown you wore the last time we were in bed together? That was hot.”
But not nearly as hot as the tank top and panties she was wearing right now. Damn. I hadn’t expected her to sleep so risqué. I’d genuinely been prepared for Captain America pajamas or something, considering her infatuation with Chris Evans. But this…she looked… Double damn. Even if this plan totally backfired on me tonight, right now it felt like the best idea I’d ever had.
As I took a mental picture of her, Dani finally realized she wasn’t wearing a bra and freaked out, pulling her covers up over her chest while glaring at me. If she hadn’t been awake before, she definitely was now. “You’d better have a damn good reason for being here or you’re going to be very sorry.”
She was pissed but it was worth it. I gave her a pout. “Since when do I need a reason?”
She opened her mouth to unleash a verbal tirade but I lifted a hand to stop her. I didn’t need to hear her rant. No lecture in the world was going to make me feel bad for sneaking in here and catching a semi-naughty glimpse of her. Am I shameless? Why yes. Yes I am. It’s one of my many talents.
Besides, it was almost time. “Patience grasshopper.”
Watching the clock, we both waited in silence for the neon light to flick to the right number, and then I grinned. “There. It’s three eleven in the morning on September twenty-third. You are officially sixteen.”
I reached for the ginormous box that I spent an hour trying to wrap perfectly and said, “Happy Birthday, Dani.”
She was speechless. A rarity, I assure you. I laughed at her shock. “Surprised?”
“Actually, yes. Very.”
Not that she hadn’t figured out why I was here the moment I woke her up, but I’m pretty sure she expected something much more…public. My birthday surprises for Dani were something of a legend here in Carmine. This was by far the lowest key I’d ever gone. I had my own selfish reasons for keeping it private this year, but I still knew she’d love it. She hates her birthday surprises as much as she loves them.
She tore her eyes from the package I was holding and gave me a wry smile. “For future reference this surprise is a lot better than most of your previous ones. Definitely better than last year.”
Thinking back to the epic surprise of last year, I frowned. “You didn’t like the poem I wrote you?”
“The poem I could live with. Even though I don’t think anything that starts with, ‘Dani, Dani, she’s good for the heart. She likes crap like Shakespeare and hates when I fart,’ really counts as poetry. But the fact that you recited it during a mandatory pep rally thrown in my honor?”
The pep rally. Definitely one of my finer moments. “Yeah. That was a good one.”
“How did you get Principle Green to agree to it anyway?”
“I’m a very persuasive guy. Now if I could only persuade you to open this gift already.”
I dropped the package into Dani’s lap, laughing at the way she grunted when it knocked the wind out of her. The box was a lot heavier than she’d been expecting. Ten pounds to be exact.
She pulled the bow off and stuck it on my head. “Should I be scared?”
And now for the best part. I handed over an old picture she’d drawn way back in the fourth grade.
Dani’s parents are obsessed—like, borderline psychotic—about taking pictures and keeping stupid crap. They had an entire bedroom in this house that they used for scrapbooking and storing junk.
A few months ago I was in need of some blackmail material, so I asked Dani’s mom Rachel if I could look through the scrapbooks. Not only did I find a picture of a lobster-faced Dani wearing a sweater with a unicorn on it—definitely blackmail worthy—I also discovered the drawing I’d just handed her. It was a picture of the two of us swimming in a pool of red Jell-O, and it was titled, “My Birthday Wish.” The moment I saw it I knew exactly what I’d be doing for her birthday this year, and I asked my dad for a spell that would work.
“Where did you get this?” she gasped.
“I’ll never tell. But tonight, Miss Webber, you are getting your birthday wish.”
Her eyes popped wide open and her face lit up as bright as day. “No way!”
If I hadn’t spelled her room, she’d have wakened her parents with her squeal. She was so excited. This was going to be absolutely perfect. “Get dressed.”
I came in the front door, but I crawled out the window because that seemed a lot cooler and more rebellious. Dani—typical girl that she was—totally had a weak spot for the “bad boy” type. (Captain America, aside.) I had no problem playing the role for her. As I disappeared out the window, I called back in a whisper, “Don’t forget your swimsuit.”
“You are a freaking genius!” Dani squeaked when we broke into Brad Halloway’s back yard to borrow his pool.
I knew she’d like that. Brad is such a douche. He’s your typical entitled rich prick in a small town. Any chance Dani and I have to hate on the guy, we take full advantage of. Plus, his pool is heated and it was starting to get chilly at night. I didn’t want to freeze.
Dani skipped across the pool deck, proudly holding her giant bag of Jell-O. Her excitement promptly died as she realized it would take, like, a thousand of those bags to turn all this water to gelatin. “Okay, so maybe you’re only a genius in theory. You’d need like five hundred pounds of this stuff to make this pool solid.”
“Where’s the trust?” I asked as I caught a handful of the pinkish dust she was now dumping in the water. “This is industrial-strength Jell-O.”
“Even still. It’s barely going to be enough to turn the water red.”
She was right of course, but I still pretended to be hurt by her skepticism and pushed her toward the other end of the pool. “Just make sure you spread it out, Doubty McDoubterson.”
She started pouring the Jell-O all around the edge of the pool and called out to me in a whisper a few seconds later. “You see? It’s not even turning red. It’s barely pink.”
Showtime. “Ah, but you’re forgetting I still have this.”
I held up the handful of Jell-O power I was holding and whispered the quick transformation spell my dad taught me before blowing the granules into the water. As they floated down and dissolved, Dani cocked her head to the side and looked at me like I was mental. “That’s it?” She shook her head and chuckled to her self. “You are such a moron.”
I’d be offended if she wasn’t right about the situation. In fact, if Dani hadn’t thought there was something completely off about this, I’d have thought she was the moron. “I can’t believe you have that little faith in me. Go get the skimmer and start stirring.”
You see, the thing is, I have magic, but Dani doesn’t know it. She doesn’t even know that magic exists. Dani is human. And the number one rule in the Supernatural world—the thing they start drilling into our brains from the moment we’re old enough to understand—is that humans can’t know we exist. Their minds supposedly aren’t capable of handling the truth of it.
The rumored statistic is that only one in a thousand humans can really accept supernaturals when they learn of our existence. The other nine hundred and ninety-nine either go crazy and end up in mental institutions, or become hunters and dedicate their lives to killing supernaturals out of fear. Sadly, I’ve seen a few of the mental patients myself, and my dad has grappled with a hunter once or twice, so though I’m not sure how they came up with the official statistic, I’m sure there’s truth behind it.
But Dani’s different. She’s special. She’s the one. I know she is.
Dani’s shocked gasp pulled me out of my thoughts. She was stirring the water with the pool skimmer and thanks to my spell, she was mixing cherry flavored Jell-O instead of water. The proof was right in front of her, but she just kept staring down at the pool as if waiting for it to turn into water again. I couldn’t help feeling smug. “Told you so.”
Her head shook slowly back and forth. “I don’t get it. This shouldn’t be working.”
“Maybe the Jell-O knew my birthday present would be totally lame if it didn’t work.”
I could have turned the pool to Jell-O before I brought her here and told her I’d spent all night dumping a million pounds of gelatin into the water, but I chose to change it in front of her eyes because I wanted to test her. I figured if she accepted the impossible stunt easily enough, then she was definitely the one in a thousand that could handle the truth. And if she freaked out, well, then I’d have to subtly start doing magic in front of her a little more often to ease her into the truth.
But she wasn’t going to freak out. She was the one. She would accept it. She’d accept me. She had to.
I gave her a few minutes to mentally process everything and then stripped down to my swim shorts and stuck my feet in the pool. FYI? The concept of swimming in Jell-O is way better than the actual act. “This feels pretty nasty.”
Smiling, Dani joined me on the pool’s edge and nodded, wrinkling her nose as she lowered her feet into the goop. “Slimy.”
Dani looked down at the Jell-O and smirked “At least it’s warm.”
“Yeah.” I bit the inside of my cheeks to keep from laughing. “That’s why I picked this pool. It’s the only heated one in town.”
Dani grinned at me. “How very insightful of you. I thought you picked it because Brad is a prick.”
See? I told you she’d appreciate that. “Happy coincidence.” I shrugged. “And I swear I don’t know anything about his big pool party on Saturday.”
We finally cracked up, and as the laughter died down, Dani began swirling her legs around in the Jell-O. “It kind of tickles.”
“It’s gross. You sure you want to go all the way in?”
I have to admit I was really hoping she’d say no, even though I knew she wouldn’t.
The things I do for the girl sitting next to me…
I’d have to shower for a good hour to get the fruity smell off me, and it was going to be a nightmare for my skin. I’d be all dried out, and I was running low on my moisturizer. I buy a special kind on the supernatural black market. It’s incredible, but really hard to get.
“Of course!” she chirped, as I knew she would. Her next statement, though, caught me off guard and knocked the wind out of me. “It’s not every day your best friend magically fulfills one of your life-long wishes.”
It took me way too long to respond. “What if I could?” I asked.
“Magically make all your wishes come true.”
I swallowed down sudden butterflies. Was now the time? She seemed to be fine with the pool of Jell-O in front of her. There was nothing scary about this moment. She was even a big fan of the Supernatural. Okay, maybe she was just a fan of the show Supernatural because Sam and Dean Winchester were “yummy.” Her word, not mine. But still. I’d heard her say having magic would be cool. How could she not accept the truth?
Before I could work up the nerve to tell her, she threw her head back and laughed. “Yeah, that’s all I’d need. I’m spoiled enough as it is. Besides, if wishes came true every day they wouldn’t be magical anymore. Nope, once in a lifetime’s good enough for me. Now come on, I’ll race you to the other end!”
And that was that. She took off into the nasty, gooey, slimy-yet-sticky Jell-O, and I had to join her or she’d call me a pansy for the rest of my life. Man, I really hoped sugar didn’t make your skin break out.
It was gross. So, so gross. But Dani was thrilled by the experience and that made it all worth it. Still, I nearly cried tears of relief when she called it quits and agreed to a dip in the spa. She even beat me to it.
My brain clouded over with a foggy haze when she leaned back in the steaming water, closed her eyes, and released a long blissful sigh. “We should make spa hopping a weekly occurrence.”
I was definitely game. Especially when I slipped into the water with her and she gave me that look again. Her eyes darted quickly over my chest. She licked her lips and swallowed as if her mouth was suddenly too dry. I met her gaze, wanting her to know I was feeling it too, but I might have been too direct because she looked away and tried to pretend the sexual tension hadn’t been there. What I didn’t get was, why was she being so shy? She had to know I was crazy about her.
“Seriously Russ, you’ve outdone yourself this year. Thank you. Best birthday present ever.”
Her eyes were closed again so she didn’t see me smile. She truly would have been content with a ten-pound bag of Jell-O and a night of trespassing. I loved that about her. But I wasn’t finished with the gift giving. I reached over the side of the hot tub to my pile of dry clothes and grabbed the smaller package I’d brought with me. “Really?” I teased as I held out the necklace box. “So then I didn’t need to get you this?”
Her eyes popped open and she stared in confusion at the present in my hands. “What’s this for?”
“You didn’t think I was only going to give you a bag of Jell-O for your birthday did you? I’m way smoother than that.”
Her face softened in a way I wasn’t used to. Serious was not a look I often saw on Dani Webber’s face. Seriously pissed off maybe, but not just serious. “You gave me a lot more than just a bag of Jell-O and you know it.”
My skin itched with awkwardness. Yeah, her surprise tonight was a lot more meaningful than a bag of Jell-O and a chance to vandalize Brad Halloway’s pool right before his big party. I’d essentially fulfilled one of her life-long dreams tonight. But that didn’t mean she needed to bring it up and get all mushy about it. I shrugged, refusing to acknowledge the magnitude of the gesture. “Yeah, well, now I’m giving you that so shut up and open it.”
“Yes, sir,” she teased with a mock salute.
I held my breath as she tore off the wrapping. I was usually good with the gift-giving, but this gift was different. I was either reaching a new level of amazing and romantic, or I was crossing a line and was going to seriously freak her out. Her reaction was anyone’s guess.
She flinched when she recognized the velvet box as a jewelry box but quickly laughed. “Russell Alexander Devereaux what did you do?”
She didn’t believe there was really jewelry in it. I couldn’t blame her. I’d never given her jewelry before. Actually, she probably expected something funny or random—like a lock of my hair or something.
Insecurity punched me in the gut. It was too much. She was going to freak. In a bad way. “Just open it,” I said after she caught me in the middle of my mental breakdown.
She took so long lifting the lid of the box I nearly snatched it from her hands and did it for her. The anticipation was killing me. Then she gasped.
What she saw was a beautiful, expensive antique necklace, but what she had was a very powerful amulet filled with generations of Devereaux magic. It was meant to lend strength and protection to its wearer. “Do you like it? It’s been handed down in my family for generations.”
She forced another nervous laugh. “Very funny.”
Yup. Definitely crossed a line. But I couldn’t take it back now. Had to press on. Swallowing back my nerves, I took a breath and explained its significance. “Dad gave it to my mom when they got married. After she took off and left it behind, he told me he’d never be able to give it to another woman so he gave it to me.”
All the blood drained from her face.
“I can’t accept this.”
She tried to hand me the box and I pushed it back. “I told Dad I wanted to give it to you, and he agreed that I should.”
She shook her head. “But it was your mother’s. It’s an heirloom. This should stay in your family.”
Didn’t she understand at all? She was my family. She was my best friend. She was the love of my life. She was my everything. “You’ve been my best friend since we were riding tricycles and making mud pies. I want you to have it.”
After searching my eyes for a long moment, she looked back down at the necklace. Brushing a trembling hand over the amulet, she whispered, “I—I don’t know what to say. Thank you, Russ.”
Okay. I’d freaked her out, but maybe I’d also scored some more-than-friends points. One could only hope.
She was completely overwhelmed, but I was on a roll now and I couldn’t stop. I slid across the hot tub, moving to sit right next to her. It was now or never. There was so much I wanted to say to her. So much I felt, and so much I needed her to know before I missed my opportunity and some other guy moved in because she thought I saw her as just a best friend—or angels forbid—a sister.
I’d known Dani for thirteen years now. I’d been in love with her for about three minutes less than that. And we’d been best friends for about three minutes less than that. I saw her, I loved her, she hit me with a shovel, and we’ve been best friends ever since.
In all the thirteen years we’ve been inseparable, I’ve never once made a move on her. I’ve never given her any hint that I wanted more than her friendship. I assume she knows, but I refused to go there because I was hiding this huge secret.
My mom left my dad and me, abandoning us completely because she was human and my dad never told her the truth about us. But eventually she had to find out because her son was a warlock and wouldn’t be able to control his magic at first. When Dad finally explained, it was too late. He’d waited too long. He got too deep in the relationship—married her and had a supernatural child with her—before giving her the chance to accept us. She couldn’t handle it. I couldn’t do that to Dani.
Dani was different. Dani would handle it. Dani could do this. Everything was going to be okay.
I took a deep breath. “Dani, there’s something I have to talk to you about.”
Her head snapped up and a mixture of emotions crossed her face. Confusion. Fear. Hope. It was the hope that gave me courage.
My dad always said my mother was strong. He was convinced she would have handled the truth if he’d only trusted her and been honest before getting into a relationship with her. I wanted a relationship with Dani, but I wasn’t going to make the same mistakes as my dad. She would know everything about me before I asked her to trust me with her heart.
Until lately, my fear of losing her—of her not accepting me—always kept me from telling her the truth. But I couldn’t hide anymore. I needed her. I hated the “just friends” status and if I had to live it for even a day longer, I was going to go insane.
I took her hand in mine, the truth dripping from my lips, and then my thoughts completely derailed. Her hand was cold and clammy. And it was shaking. Not just trembling, but violently shaking. And she looked pale as a vampire. “Dani? Is everything okay? You look like you’re about to pass out.”
“I’m fine,” she said. But her voice sounded ragged, out of breath. She reached for her head. “It’s just a headache. I haven’t been feeling all that well for the last couple weeks, but I’m okay.”
What the hell? “A couple weeks? Why didn’t you tell me you were sick?”
“Because it hasn’t been that bad. I’m fine, I promise. I’m already feeling better.” She smiled and gave me her full attention. “Now, what were you saying? You wanted to tell me something?”
I wasn’t completely convinced she was fine, but I knew she’d never admit to being really sick even if she were, and the color seemed to be coming back to her cheeks, so I took her word for it and tried to refocus my thoughts back to the reason I’d brought her here tonight. “You’re my best friend.”
She frowned. “Duh….”
She really wasn’t going to make this easy. “Because you’re my best friend, there’s something I can’t hide from you anymore. But before I tell you what it is, you have to promise you’re not going to freak out.”
She stiffened next to me and sucked in a breath, but, nervous as she was, there was a spark of excitement in her eyes. I could do this. “Um….” I took her hand again as I tried to force the words out. “Dani, I…”
Damn it! Why was this so hard? I was such a freaking scardy cat.
“You…?” she prompted.
Just spit it out, idiot! You can do this! You have to do this!
I took a deep breath and said the words again, slower this time.
She blinked at me, completely confused, so I tried to explain. “Supernatural beings, like the kind you read about in books—witches, vampires, werewolves—they’re real. I’m one of them. I’m a warlock, Dani. I have magic. My dad too.”
She blinked again. Opened her mouth. Closed it again. Blinked some more. Cocked her head to one side. Frowned. Shook her head. Opened her eyes. Blinked again. And then she plastered her hand to my forehead. “We need to get you home,” she said. “You feel way too hot. I think meningitis is supposed to make you delusional and that can kill you.”
She thought I was crazy. That was fine. She was allowed to be confused. Shocked even. It was a lot to process. “I’m not sick, Dani.”
I moved the hand she was holding against my forehead to my cheek, and shivered from the feel of her touching my face. It wasn’t a “friendly” gesture. It was intimate. And it was amazing. This was how I wanted things between us.
Dani sucked in a breath, feeling the special connection as much as me, and goose bumps exploded up and down her arms. She wanted me as much as I wanted her. I was sure of it.
But then the moment was broken and her confusion gave way to anger. Now it was time for the backlash I’d been expecting. “I know I sound crazy but—”
“Crazy?” She barked out a harsh laugh. “You don’t sound crazy. You sound like a moron!”
I flinched. She wasn’t scared or in denial, or even a little angry. She was over-the-top pissed. And she was hurt. I could see it in her eyes. But why? What had I done that hurt her? I was telling her the truth. Was it really so awful to have magic? Was it because I’d waited until she was sixteen to come clean? Had I made my dad’s mistakes after all?
“After everything you’ve done tonight to make this the most perfect birthday I’ve ever had, you’re really going to ruin it now?”
Okay, that just made me mad. I had done everything I could to make this night perfect. I’d wanted to make this as easy as possible for her. This was supposed to be a special moment between us. Why was she getting so bent out of shape and acting like a jerk? “I’m not trying to ruin it!”
“Then stop being a coward and just say what you really want to say!”
And that’s when I finally got it. She wasn’t pissed about me being a warlock. She didn’t actually believe I was one. She hadn’t heard a word I’d said. Not really. Her human mind had edited the entire conversation to fit her expectations. She knew I cared about her, and she’d thought I was finally going to admit it. It had hurt her that I hadn’t. She thought I was lying to her, making up a ridiculous story because I wussed out of telling her how much I love her.
She waited for me to say something, but I couldn’t. My throat was closed up with too much emotion. My heart was breaking. I’d been positive. So sure that Dani would be the one in a thousand who could deal with the truth. She’s the strongest, bravest, most understanding human I know. And she loves me. I know she does.
And she just didn’t get it. Couldn’t get it. Her mind was simply human. It wasn’t her fault, but how could I ever be with her now? I couldn’t tell her the truth and risk breaking her mind. My secret had to stay a secret. But how would I ever explain this?
Just then, the back porch lights of Brad’s house flicked on. “Who’s out there?” Mr. Halloway shouted. “I’m calling the sheriff!”
It was time to go. Dani and I bolted before they let the dogs out of the house, and we didn’t get a chance to talk again. She ran home and stopped me with a look when I tried to follow her. I’d have to think of something—some way to fix this—tomorrow because she needed a few hours to cool off.