In Wicked Misery, Jess occasionally references how she and Lucen met, and how he stopped her from throwing herself in the river. That scene was chapter 1 in the original version of their story, and if you were curious, here it is below. But first, a bit of context might help.
Before Wicked Misery, Jess and Lucen existed in an unfinished draft of a YA novel, tentatively titled Bleed Like Me. I envisioned it as something like a paranormal version of The Breakfast Club. About 20k words into the story, I came to the revelation that Jess and Lucen would be far more interesting if I jumped ahead in time about 10 years. When I did that, I revised a lot of the worldbuilding, and well, the rest is Jess’s backstory.
A few notes: in my original version, the Gryphons were called guardians, and preds were called demons. Also, I lifted some of the lines verbatim, so you might recognize them. Finally, although I tried to kill the typos, this is from an unfinished/unedited draft, so consider yourself warned. Enjoy!
Bleed Like Me – Chapter 1
Jessica Moore clutched the metal rail on the row of seats in front of her. She would not puke. Would not.
The train swayed as it rounded a corner, and she clamped her mouth shut. For a second, her gift flared, sending tingles of power from her head down to her fingertips. So weird. Was it in its death throes? The guardians said any gift that didn’t mature by the time the gifted turned eighteen would vanish, and her birthday was in four hours. The thought made her face clench with misery.
Stupid, she told herself. It wasn’t as though her life was over, after all. No, just her dreams. Just everything she’d worked and prayed for since she’d been identified as gifted at age six.
Yeah, totally nothing worth puking over.
Jessica took a deep breath. Was that guy two rows over watching her? Were those girls in their pink hoodies giggling about her? Did she really look as craptastic as she felt?
She turned away, but the window only seemed to reflect back at her the scene she was running from—the three guardians at the New England School for the Magically Gifted, their faces a practiced mask of sorrow. Their words echoed in her ears. “While your potential is very strong, there’s still something about it that’s not quite right. I’m afraid with these doubts we just can’t admit you to the guardians’ apprentice program. We’re sorry. Not everyone’s gift develops.”
Jessica closed her eyes. Mercifully, the train screeched to a stop. She threw her backpack over her shoulder and scampered out. Whatever stop she was at didn’t matter. She had to keep moving or she’d lose it. Puke in public.
The Friday evening chaos on the platform distracted her for a moment. She leaned against a railing and swallowed. Head toward the sunlight or keep hiding in the bowels of the city? She didn’t think she could stand a blue sky, at the moment, but being confined to a train wasn’t helping. She’d just have to deal with nature.
A familiar-looking man wove through the crowd, and Jessica tried not to stare. Vibrations of magic—cold and cruel—emanated from him. He was a demon, all right, although it felt strange to call him that when his hair was the color of sunshine and his face just as warm and inviting. But even the non-gifted humans could sense something off about him. They unconsciously kept their distance, providing him a wide berth.
He glanced her way, his expression thoughtful. Jessica averted her eyes. Yup, she recognized him. He’d been hanging around the school today. But why? Given his dangerously attractive appearance, he must be a tempter—a creature of lust. He had no reason to follow her, no bargain he could offer. Lust wouldn’t help her become a guardian, even if it wasn’t too late for magical solutions. Besides, she would never strike a bargain with a demon. Her only goal in life had been to join the guardians and fight them. She might be a failure and a disappointment to her family and friends, but desperation hadn’t made her dumb.
Men and women jostled her as she fished through her backpack for her sunglasses. She cursed them silently. Good for them. They knew where they were and where they were going. She didn’t know any of that, not after this afternoon.
Jessica lugged the pack back on and descended to the street. This had been as good a stop as any. She crossed the street, heading toward the Esplanade. Last time she’d walked up and down the path along the Charles River, her friends had been with her. That was when they all thought they’d be accepted into the guardians together. And well, they all had last year. All but her. Jessica, the girl with the strongest gift in her class, had become Jessica the loser. No way could she face them when they all showed up at school tomorrow in their apprentice uniforms. They’d be so eager to congratulate her on an honor she’d been denied. Just imagining the scene threatened her eyes with tears of humiliation.
Her phone rang as she crossed the footbridge toward the path, the sound just noticeable over Boston’s noise. Vaguely, Jessica wondered how many calls she’d missed since she’d taken off from school. But whatever. She couldn’t bear talking to anyone right now.
Amidst the trees, the city’s rumblings and honkings quieted a bit, and the river’s smell began to overpower the tinge of exhaust. Jessica tugged her uniform skirt lower, wishing she’d had time to change into jeans before running. The air wasn’t precisely cool, but it would probably become so when the sun set.
The heels of her knee-high black boots clomped along the path, so at odds with all the joggers, rollerbladers, and smiling mothers parading their offspring. They looked happy. Beneath her sunglasses, she glared at them all.
Her cell rang twice more by the time she reached the Hatch Shell amphitheater, out of breath from huffing it with her impotent energy. Jessica stared off into the dark water. Throw the damn phone in, or throw herself?
“There’s got to be better ways to die than diving into a cold, mucky river.”
Jessica started, but she felt the demon’s chilly yet alluring power and knew without turning around that it was the guy from the train. Her jaw tightened. He’d followed her? Creepy.
“Besides,” he continued, “one of these noble idiots littering the path would probably jump in after you and pull you out.”
“I know what you are.”
“I’m not surprised. The question is, do you know what you are?”
Just her luck. She’d somehow attracted the attention of a philosophical demon. Still, now that she considered, it was no wonder he’d kept on her trail. Given how shitty she felt, he could probably sense her misery miles away and was lapping it up like a dog. The guardians taught that suffering of the demon’ own creation fed them the best, but in a pinch any torment would suffice.
He must be feasting.
Taking a deep breath, Jessica crossed her arms and faced him. Like her, sunglasses covered his eyes, but they didn’t mask just how hot he was. All along the path, female and the occasional male heads swiveled his direction. The fact that they were keeping their distance though, suggested he wasn’t trying to lure anyone in. And thank goodness. Even a fully trained guardian would have a hard time resisting. And since she wasn’t even good enough to be accepted for training….
Jessica swallowed down another wave of nausea.
The demon raised an eyebrow. “So do you?”
“Know what you are.”
The freaking cell rang again. Jessica threw her hands up in disgust. “Yeah, I’m a loser. Does that make you happy? Are you enjoying my misery?”
“Not as much as you’d think.”
“Good.” She kicked a stone onto the grass and stomped away.
Her heart missed a beat, and she almost stumbled right into a bicyclist. How the hell did a demon know her name? This had to be very, very bad.
Thanks to her momentary confusion, he had no trouble catching up and he held out a hand. “Lucen.”
Rather than take the offering, Jessica balled her hands into fists. “How do you know my name?”
“I noticed you last year.” Lucen dropped his untaken hand and stuffed both hands into the pockets of his leather trench coat. “I’d never seen anyone with so strong a gift be denied entry into the apprentice program, and I was curious why. So I watched you. Once it dawned on me, it was very obvious. So I came back this year because I knew you’d be denied again.”
“Ah ha.” Her throat was dry. The words came out like a croak. “So you know my name and you know why I’m a failure? Wonderful.”
Lucen smiled, and Jessica’s knees shook. Holy crap, just that simple gesture could turn her into a babbling pile of goo. She’d be toast if he blasted her with his real power. For sure, she’d end up like those poor addicts roaming the streets, used and spent by a tempter’s power, waiting only for another kiss to keep them alive. The thought made her ill, as much so as knowing her failure to be accepted into the guardians meant she could do nothing to help those people.
“You’re not a failure. Far from it.” Lucen wrapped a strand of her hair around his finger. “You are extremely gifted. But like us.”
Jessica forced out a laugh. This was insane. How bad could her day get? First denial into the guardians. Now she had a tempter who’d decided to toy with her. Probably right before he knocked her on her ass and turned her into a lust addict.
Her gaze darted toward the Charles. Maybe she really should throw herself in. Unfortunately, her misery hadn’t fully killed off the last dollops of hope in her blood. Well, she might just stayed tuned because this demon probably would do it for her soon enough.
He let go of her hair. “I promise you, there are better ways of dying.”
“Oh? Can you read my thoughts, too? Gee, I hadn’t realized demons were that powerful.” She stepped back.
“I can sense your emotions. And I saw you look at the river.”
Yeah, well, that did make sense. Damn, she’d been reduced to seeing logic in something a demon said. “You know, there’s millions of miserable people in this city. Can’t you go torture someone else right now?”
For some reason a burst of power surged through her at the uncharitable thought. Her gift must truly be dying for it to be acting this erratically. Jessica pushed passed Lucen and stormed up the trail.
“Good. Now do you see?” Lucen fell into step beside her. His long coat flowed behind him in the wind, making him look some kind of Hollywood goth, although Jessica knew the coat wasn’t a fashion statement but rather a way to block some of the sun. Demons rarely were out and about during the day.
“I see nothing.”
“Your gift is maturing.”
“My gift is sputtering and dying. Thanks for the reminder.”
Lucen snorted. “That would be true if yours was a normal gift, but it’s not.”
Jessica stopped in the middle of the path and spun around. A couple joggers cursed her as they were forced to suddenly dart out of her way. Lucen smirked.
“I don’t know why you think it’s so entertaining to tell me I have a demonic gift, but it’s not. It’s stupid.” Her voice rose in volume with every word, exposing her humiliation to probably everyone on the Esplanade. Jessica didn’t care. Finally, she had a chance to expel some of this rage she’d been holding in. And she was screaming at a demon. It was kind of a thrill, really. No wonder she tingled with magic from head to toe. She’d lost it, completely and utterly.
“There’s no such thing as a demoic gift so you can’t fool me into thinking I have one. I’m not dumb. I might not be gifted, and I might be an embarrassment to everyone I know, but dumb is one thing I know I’m not. So fuck off and find someone else to annoy.”
Lucen grinned. “How do you feel?”
He grabbed her arm and yanked her close. A strange scent, kind of like cinnamon, drifted from his pores. It made her heart flutter and her stomach roll all at once. Jessica closed her eyes, afraid of what he could do if he made eye contact.
“Are you excited, exhilarated, enjoying yourself?” He bent closer to her ear. “Think about it. When are you most emotionally satisfied? When you’re happy, or when you’re savoring the richness of your own misery? You love wallowing in your own despair, don’t you? You do your best to prolong it. Hell, you probably yearn for it, try to make yourself unhappy, don’t you? I bet you’ve been accused of that before. You never feel quite so alive as when you’re depressed or angry.”
Jessica opened her mouth to protest but she had no breath. No words. Fear shuddered through her. It was true. Happiness felt kind of thin to her. It was nice enough, but it never left her content. It was exactly as Lucen said—she felt most alive when she was unhappy.
Funny how the puking feeling had passed. Her insides felt like they were turning to rocks instead. “No one’s born with a demonic gift. I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
“Neither have the guardians. That’s why they couldn’t recognize it for what it was. But I can. Any of my kind can.”
“I think you’re lying.”
“There’s many things I’d like to do you, but that’s not one of them. I’ll never lie to you.”
She bit her tongue. Must resist what he was doing to her. Somehow. “Not buying it. And I’m stronger than that.”
“I’m not giving up on my life. I’m not so weak that I’d actually kill myself or let you turn me into an addict.” She hoped. Her body was making her increasingly less sure of that each second he stood so close.
To her shock, Lucen released her arm. “Why is giving up always called weakness? Sometimes accepting defeat, realizing you’ll never meet your goals and changing course takes far more strength. It’s weakness that makes people continue doing the same thing over and over again, refusing to acknowledge reality.” He took off his sunglasses and appraised her with dark blue eyes. “I don’t think you’re weak.”
“Good. Me neither.”
“So let me prove to you I’m telling the truth. Come to Shadowtown with me.”
To Shadowtown? Was he crazy? She cringed every time she rode the T through there. Some said it was only the demons’ magic that had forced the MBTA to even permit stops through that neighborhood. But if she backed down…. Crap. Had she really just lost a battle of wits with a tempter?
For someone who wanted to convince herself she didn’t have a death wish, she could truly be self-destructive.