Blood Moon: Chapter One
“Ruby Grace!” Luna exclaims, grabbing my hand as I step out of the bathroom. “Connor and Brandon asked us to play beer pong.”
My heart skips a beat at Connor’s name.
Truth be told, he’s half the reason I’ve stayed at the party this long. Actually, who am I kidding? He’s the whole reason I’m still here.
Luna knows him better than I do. She’s my best friend and college roommate, and for the past few years, she’s been coming to this small town in the Adirondack Mountains for ski trips.
I only met him a few hours ago, but that was enough. He’s tall. Muscular. And the proud owner of a pair of dark eyes that sent a cold shiver through me the instant I saw them.
As for Brandon—the other beer pong contestant—I can’t remember who he is.
I do know this: I’m terrible at sports. And my lack of coordination is unlikely to impress Connor.
“Are you sure you want me to be your partner?” I ask Luna.
“They asked for the birthday girl,” she says, grinning.
“Are there any other birthday girls?”
Instead of answering, she digs her nails into my upper arm and pulls me out of the house and into the backyard, where twenty or so people are chatting in circles and lounging in the steaming hot tub.
I shiver in the winter clothes Luna loaned me and glance up at the sky, where the full moon glows overhead. It seems bigger than usual, casting down an eerie light. Maybe that’s normal up here in New York. I wouldn’t know. This is one of the few times I’ve ever left Florida.
Most of the people outside are wearing all-leather clothing that shouldn’t give them nearly enough warmth in early January. Some of the girls even have skirts on, their legs bare except for boots that reach their knees.
“How are they not freezing?” I ask, running my hands up and down my arms to chase away the chill.
Luna shrugs. “They grew up around here. They’re probably used to it.”
It’s as good of an answer as any, and as we saunter over to the ping-pong table on the deck, I can’t help but notice the heads turning to follow us.
I almost feel like prey.
But they’re not looking at me. They’re looking at Luna, with her light blonde hair and tall, willowy frame. My best friend looks like she belongs on a runway in Milan—not on her way to a game of beer pong at a house party in a small town.
In her presence, I’m just part of the background. What I have going for me are my eyes—the unique turquoise color gets some second looks and compliments—and my brains. But I don’t like being the center of attention, so I’m perfectly happy letting Luna take the spotlight.
We approach the ping-pong table, where pyramids of red plastic cups are ready to go on each end.
“There she is.” A guy with light brown hair heads over to me and drops a ping-pong ball in my hand. He must be Brandon. His eyes roam up and down my body, and I take an uneasy step back, not wanting to give him the wrong idea. “It’s only fair for the birthday girl to shoot first.”
“Sure.” I hurry to the opposite side of the table, glad to put some space between us.
On the other side of the table, Connor crosses his arms over his black leather jacket and glowers at me, as if he’s annoyed I’m even here.
“Are you going to take your shot or not?” he snarls.
His antagonistic tone takes me by surprise, but I manage to compose myself. “I’m just analyzing my competition,” I say, trying to sound cool and collected even though my heart’s beating so fast that it’s about to burst out of my chest.
I center myself and line up my shot, glad to have something to focus on besides the intense way Connor continues to stare at me.
I take a deep breath, and with a flick of my wrist, throw the ball in what I hope will be a perfect arch.
Instead of landing in one of the cups, the ball hits Connor directly in the crotch.
My face flushes with embarrassment.
“Keeping your eyes on the prize?” he asks, and my cheeks burn even more.
Everyone’s staring at me, waiting for my response. Even Luna, who’s usually quick to back me up on everything, is sitting this one out.
I have two options. Own it and try to fire back, or embrace the embarrassment and apologize.
I’m not usually one to fire back, but I’ll probably never see these guys after tonight.
Maybe it’s time to be daring for a change.
“You call that a prize?” I tilt my head slightly and give Connor a small smile that I hope looks flirty and mischievous.
There’s a second of utter silence, like a record stopping, and I immediately question my sudden moment of boldness.
Because Connor’s glaring at me like he wants to rip my head off my body. And from the way some of the guys nearby crack their knuckles and move in like hawks, I have a feeling they wouldn’t stop him.
His gaze sweeps around at the onlookers surrounding us, who look ready to obey whatever command he gives them. His arm muscles tighten, he clenches his jaw, and I wonder if I should run before he and his friends attack me like a pack of wolves.
His eyes stop on Luna, and his voice is a whisper, but still clear in the night. “Continue.”
She bites her lip and glances over at me, question in her eyes.
I nod at her to take her shot. I’ve probably lost any chance I might have had with Connor—if I even had one at all—but hopefully we can move forward and forget this awkwardness ever happened.
She squares her shoulders and tosses the ball, but it goes far too far, flying past the end of the table and landing a few feet behind the guys.
Unlike me, Luna’s a natural at sports.
“What was that?” I ask her.
“I might have taken a tequila shot or two while you were in the bathroom.” She giggles, and I’m surprised, since Luna’s not the type to get drunk at parties. She’ll nurse a can or two of hard seltzer throughout the night, but that’s all.
A few girls wander by, and I can’t help thinking about them like gazelle, moving slowly and gracefully as they graze on their Solo cups, their stares lingering on Conner a little too long. A particularly pretty one with light red hair doesn’t even try to hide her leering.
He smiles at her, igniting an angry fire in me.
What’s wrong with me?
I barely even know this guy.
Somehow, I force myself to refocus on the game. Both guys miss their next shots, and I wonder if they’re going easy on us.
When it’s our turn, I grip the ball, trying to ignore the alcohol buzzing in my head. Above, the moon glows like a lantern, half covered in shadow.
“The moon was full a bit ago,” I tell Luna, my voice low.
“There’s a lunar eclipse tonight. It won’t be long until it’ll be blocked completely,” she says, and as the shadow continues to creep across the moon, shivers prickle up my neck.
“Come on, Scarlet,” Brandon goads me. “Your turn.”
“It’s Ruby,” I correct him.
He rolls his eyes. “Oh, my bad. Still though, it’s your turn, Ruby-Scarlet.”
I miss my shot, as does Luna with hers.
The guys obliterate us in their next round. Soon, all our cups are gone, the beer they once held sloshing in our stomachs. The alcohol makes me feel far more relaxed and warmer than when the game began, and Luna’s eyes are glassy and unfocused.
Brandon holds his hands up. “That’s game, ladies! Time for the victors to claim our prizes.” He saunters over me, his gaze fixed to my chest. “Want to join me in the hot tub?”
I take a step back.
“No, thanks,” I reply, trying not to inhale his beer breath.
He grabs my wrist and jerks my body toward his.
“What’s the matter? No bathing suit? That’s okay.” He lowers his face closer to mine. “We’re not shy around here.”
“I said no.” I try to free myself from his grip, but he’s stronger than he looks.
Feeling slightly panicked, I glance around and search for Luna, but she’s disappeared.
A split-second later, Connor is somehow by Brandon’s side. He wraps a hand around his friend’s bicep, squeezes, and Brandon’s hand goes limp.
“Don’t touch her,” Connor growls, staring down at Brandon like he’s ready to throw him down if he so much as thinks about moving.
“It’s all good,” Brandon says sheepishly, even though I take the opportunity to give him what I hope is a particularly withering glare. “We’re just having some fun.”
“I don’t think she’s having fun.” Connor stares at Brandon, who looks down and away, shrinking before my eyes.
“Whatever, man,” Brandon says under his breath. “She isn’t even one of us. You want her? Take her.”
He yanks his arm out of Connor’s grip, glances back at me with hate and resentment, and strides over to the hot tub.
But my attention is on Connor. His dark eyes lock onto mine, swirling with such intensity that I can barely breathe. There’s only a foot of space between us, and the fog from our breath in the freezing air is so close that it’s nearly touching. His body feels magnetic, like it’s latching onto mine and drawing me closer with a force I can’t resist.
The moment’s cut short when the red-headed girl from earlier glides over and frowns at me. She places her hand on Connor’s shoulder, as if to claim him for herself. “Hi,” she whispers to him, pressing herself against his chest.
Every cell in my body urges me to rip her off him. But I stand strong, not wanting to make another scene.
He yanks his gaze away from mine and looks down at her, his eyes softening. “That game got me all riled up,” he murmurs, and he brushes his lips against hers as if he can’t get enough of her. “Want to go inside?”
“Always.” She gives me a victorious smile and flips her hair over her shoulder, leading him away from me and into the house.
He doesn’t look back at me, and my heart sinks with disappointment.
He has a girlfriend. Of course he has a girlfriend. I shouldn’t have expected anything less.
Anyway, it doesn’t really matter. In a few days, Luna and I will be back in our dorm at the University of Florida for another semester of classes, all thoughts of everyone in this town forgotten.
Speaking of Luna, I don’t see her anywhere. But she can’t have gone far. So, I dig my phone out of my jacket pocket and tap to call her, grateful for the gloves she loaned me that let the screen sense my fingers.
It rings a few times, then goes to voicemail.
I don’t bother leaving a message. Instead, I switch to send her a text. But as I begin tapping out the message, my head throbs and the letters blur, making it hard to see what I’m doing.
It’s not the beer. It can’t be. Or maybe—
The pounding in my head intensifies, and my stomach swirls. I can’t keep the sick feeling down. Everyone at the party is chattering, but their voices blend together until the sounds assault my brain like strobe lights.
Did Conner and Brandon drug the beer?
My stomach clenches and thrashes, and I flee the deck to the edge of the woods, not wanting anyone to see me be sick. Along the way, my phone slips from my hand, falling into the snow.
Desperate for something to ground me, I look to the moon.
It’s full again, the shadow gone.
But it’s red. Blood red, like something out of a nightmare.
How’s that possible?
I don’t know, but a moment later, pain hits me like a freight train. Light sears through my brain, and I keel over as my bones shatter and break through my skin, shredding me apart from the inside out.
I try to scream, but no sound comes out.
Then, as suddenly as it came on, the torture stops and I’m running through the woods, the bare trees blurring like paint strokes in the corners of my eyes. I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m running on instinct, deeper and deeper into the forest, so far that I have no idea how I’ll ever find a way out.
Let go of control, a voice inside me urges. Hand it over to me.
The voice is quiet, but familiar in a way I can’t explain.
No, I think, trying to resist.
Relax, she coaxes. I can help you, but only if you let me.
I can’t explain why, but I believe her.
And so, trusting my instincts, I surrender control and hand it over to her.
The next thing I know, I’m lying on the ground, staring up at the sky. The moon is full again, but the red is gone, leaving it a perfectly normal color. Totally normal… except I swear I see the outlines of a wolf carved into its surface.
I blink, and a person shimmers into view above me.
No. They’re both blonde, but this person’s hair is so blonde that it’s practically silver. Her eyes are violet, unlike Luna’s warm brown ones, and her pale skin is supernaturally dewy. She’s barely corporal—she seems more like an angel than a person—and if I squint, she shimmers in the moonlight.
Her hair blows in the wind like silver ribbons, and she reaches down, pressing her thumbs against my temples. “Everything’s going to be okay,” she whispers, her voice musical and soothing. “But I need you to remember that no matter what happens, don’t tell them your eyes aren’t brown.”
Before I can ask what she means, electricity explodes in my head, bright white light floods my vision, and everything goes dark.
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