Sweet Venom
Page 2

 Tera Lynn Childs

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“Can I help you?” Red snaps in a very nonsolicitous tone.
“Yes,” I reply. “You can leave.”
“Excuse me?” She crosses her arms defiantly under her chest, like I’m going to be frightened away by her aggressive boobage. “I don’t know who you think you are, but—”
With a quick flick of my wrist, I pop my sunglasses up and lean down to look her directly in the eye.
“You were just leaving,” I say, keeping my tone even.
Her eyes widen as her brain disengages. “I was just leaving,” she repeats.
Then, as if pulled by some unseen rope, she stands and crosses to the stairs, disappearing out of view. When the hypno wears off, she’ll wonder how she got wherever she’s going. But serpent-beastie will be long gone by then.
With the girl safely out of the way, I evaluate the now standing hydra. From the necks down it looks like an overgrown lizard who’s been hitting the gym. Too muscular for my taste—I don’t go for the bulging reptilian type—but I can see how some girls might want to hit that. From the necks up . . . well, whoever said two heads are better than one never met a hydra.
Too bad humans can’t see its real form.
All monsters can affect a sort of false appearance—in faerie circles known as a glamour—so their hideous, grotesque features are hidden from unsuspecting human eyes. Unfortunately for the monsters, I’m not an unsuspecting human. I’m a descendant of Medusa, and I suspect a whole heck of a lot. My eyes see their true nature, and this beastie’s true nature is a slimy, scaly, nine-headed snake. Not exactly the perfect specimen Red thought she was getting.
The hydra’s eyes lock on mine before I drop my sunglasses back into place. Too bad my freaky hypnosis power only works on humans. Then again, that would make my job way too easy. Where’s the fun in that?
“Huntress,” it snarls.
“I prefer Gretchen. But, you know.” I flash it a bored look. “Whatever.”
The freak show moves awkwardly, its undulating tail taking out a couple of chairs.
I check over my shoulder to make sure the drunken trio hasn’t noticed—they haven’t—then turn back to face my foe. It might look big and scary, but this isn’t my first hydra rodeo. I know just how to take it down.
As the freak show reaches for me, I spin right, dodging the grab and sending the monster lurching forward. With the creature off-balance, I take a well-aimed leap onto its back. It writhes, trying to throw me off. I wrap my legs around the scaly body and my arms around one of the necks and squeeze. The table goes flying. I need to hurry, before someone decides to notice all the noise.
Inching my way down its back, I lean off to one side, searching for the spot where its thick, armorlike scales give way to a softer underbelly. My fangs drop. I dive forward, sink my fangs into the tender flesh, and sigh as my snake-girl venom pours into its bloodstream.
There is no better feeling than this sweet surge of victory.
In a flash, it’s gone and I’m thudding to my knees on the floor.
Bye-bye beastie.
Chapter 2
Things are going to be different in San Francisco. I mean, obviously things are different—like the mega-tall buildings, the millions of people, and the predominance of concrete over grass. This town is pretty much the complete opposite of Orangevale in every way.
But I want Grace Whitfield—me—to be different too.
Frozen like a statue on the sidewalk, I stare up at the imposing facade of Alpha Academy, the private prep school whose full-scholarship offer is half the reason we’ve moved to the city. It’s a giant cube of glass and steel, a monument to modernity that makes the simple single-story stucco and Spanish tile of Orangevale High look like something from California’s prehistoric past. This building gleams shiny and new in the morning sun. The perfect place to start over. I know this is the opportunity I’ve been waiting for all my life. After sixteen years in the same small burb, going to the same schools with the same students, I finally get to be someone new. Someone not me.
Before I can smile at the thought, a person knocks into my shoulder, sending me and my backpack tumbling.
“Excuse you much?” The girl gives me a disgusted look, dusts off her shoulder like I might have given her a virus, and stomps off toward the sparkling glass double doors.
Everything about her screams confident. Rich brown hair with auburn highlights that swings as she walks, dark-wash skinny jeans and a magenta V-neck sweater that cling to every single curve, and (most of all) the superior-to-absolutely-everyone attitude. Just as different from me as San Francisco is from Orangevale.
The new me should say something to her retreating back. I want to say something like No, excuse you much, since she, you know, crashed into me. But I don’t. I stand there, watching her disappear into my new school, a huge lump of dread in my stomach at the realization that nothing has changed. I’m still the same old Grace, the quiet, passive pushover who can’t stand up for herself.
So much for different.
“Grace Whitfield?”
I look up from my spot on the bench across from the guidance counselor’s office. The counselor, the woman who just called my name, gives me an encouraging smile.
She looks nothing like the balding, middle-aged, tweed coat–wearing counselor in Orangevale. The one who’d rubber-stamped all my advising sessions and handed me the appropriate papers about SAT prep classes before checking off my name and moving on to the next kid on the list. Not that I needed his help—I know what I have to do to get into a good school and earn a scholarship—but it might have been nice if he’d looked up from his computer for two seconds.