The Guarded Princess
The Perfect Guy
The Determined Ex
By keeping to herself and alienating her peers, Cianne Baxter manages to keep her visions and the horrifying physical changes they force upon her a secret for years. All she has to do is survive her last year of high school and resist HIM, then she can disappear into a life of self-imposed solitude.
Tristan Bertram knows this is his last opportunity to convince Cianne to give him a chance. Over the past few years, he’s come to realize that not only is she beautiful and intelligent, Cianne seems to calm his inner demons. He will have her because his determination is far stronger than her resolve.
When Tristan discovers that Cianne is much more than the star of his dreams, he is prepared to be her everything. But a hidden past, jealousy, and hate threaten to end them before they even get started. Tristan must decide if having Cianne’s heart is worth his life; while Cianne has to rely on the very abilities she is fighting so hard to hide to save herself.
Present, August 12th,
Cianne’s (Cy-anne) steps faltered as she entered the main doors of her high school. As she focused on the image in the mirrored trophy case in the entrance foyer, she realized the grotesque sight reflected in the mirror was her.
An unnerving feeling tugged at Cianne as she walked through the main doors of West Hills High school. Last night’s nightmare was still fresh in her mind. She swallowed the lump in her throat and averted her eyes when she passed the trophy case and moved toward the busy hallway that led to her locker.
Remaining calm was her top priority because…if she lost her composure, bad things could happen, so Cianne immediately changed the direction of her thoughts. Instead of focusing on the dream, she hummed a tune in her head. Only, that did little to distract her. Her nightmares always nourished the seeds of her fears, and those fears were branching out just like…
Cianne took a small step toward the mirrored trophy case, then another. She could hear the whispers of those who gathered around her, but it didn’t distract her from the image. It was her, only her veins were as black as coal and very visible just beneath her paper thin, pale skin as they branched outward. That image, in itself, was enough to warrant fear, but the vision of the blood red eyes that hauntingly looked back at her could have easily evoked madness.
There was something different about last night’s nightmare that made her skin crawl. He had been there.
Stress and the constant fear of being discovered were things Cianne (Sahy-an) had to live with every day, but she usually kept them under control. Albeit, a shaky form of control. Her only solace was in thinking that as long as she didn’t allow herself to get distracted or involved, everything would be alright.
Everything will be fine.
Cianne continued through the hall, avoiding other students and faculty as she went. She kept her head low as she walked. When she reached her locker, she let out a sigh of relief.
No distractions. No complications.
She started chanting those two phrases to an upbeat tune in her head when an intoxicating fragrance brought her mantra to a halt. The scent circulated around her like an invisible smoke cloud.
Cianne closed her eyes as she slid closer to her locker. She inhaled the scent that was as familiar to her as her own, allowing herself to enjoy the clean pleasurable aroma that never failed to announce his presence.
She gave in to temptation and sniffed the air again, then opened her eyes and quickened her pace of taking what she needed from her locker. Tristan Bertram was the one person in the entire world who was capable of distracting her, so she needed to be gone before he spoke to her.
Grabbing a couple of thin binders out of her locker, Cianne then dug into her bag and pulled out a folder she didn’t need and placed it inside. As she did, her attention was drawn to the bottom of her locker, where she spotted the book she needed under a pile of loose papers. Cianne crouched down, pulled the book out, and placed it inside her shoulder bag then stuffed the loose papers that spilled out onto the floor back inside her locker.
Before she pushed the metal door closed, she fumbled inside her bag for her cell phone. It only took her a moment to discover that it wasn’t in her bag. Cianne patted the pockets of her fitted jeans only to come up empty.
“Where is it?” she asked herself, as she lifted and shuffled the cluttered chaos inside her locker. “Really?” she hissed as she stood.
Cianne smoothed her palm up over her forehead and down the back of her head until it rested on the nape of her neck, pinning her hair to her bare skin. She looked up at the ceiling and did a mental review of her morning in an attempt to remember where she saw her phone last.
It was on the kitchen table this morning when she ate breakfast. Right in the middle of enjoying her eggs and toast, she was responding to a text message when she experienced a vision.
Visions had a way of disrupting her day. Not because her visions were painful—because they didn’t have to be. It was because her visions were preceded by a physical change.
In a way, she appreciated the physical changes that occurred before her visions. One would argue that she should be grateful for those fleeting moments just before the revelation of someone’s pending misfortune was thrust upon her. She knew that if anyone witnessed her freak show warning signs, her life would be a series of needle pricks, lab tests, and doctors. But being helpless while in the throes of one of her ghastly visions was even worse. The visions could last from a few seconds up to twenty minutes or more. So, those little physical “alarms” gave her a chance to get to safety before the visions started.
Where is my cell phone?
“Are you looking for this?” Tristan’s scent—diluted by the space between them before—was closer and was much more concentrated.
Cianne stilled as the sound of his voice vibrated through her, warming her in ways that caused her to blush. Annoyed, she grimaced at her reaction to Tristan before turning around to face him.
Tristan, in all his glory, stood directly in front of her, mere inches away. Their eyes met and…
Sadness, pain, death.
The words were just a whisper inher
mindnow,but still she heard them loud and clear. Cianne dismissed the three words she heard following every first look into his eyes, as usual. She lowered her eyes before they revealed how he made her feel. What she didn’t consider was her eyes settling on his lips.
Not his lips, she thought as she moved her gaze to his chest.
Worse idea ever. Why not go for the gold and drop your gaze further south, Cianne, she taunted herself. The thought had her eyes twitching with anticipation.
No! Cianne cringed, deciding his eyes were her best option.
With a lift of his hand, a wave of heat washed over Cianne’s entire body. The reaction her body went through when Tristan was near, she explained away as nervous attraction. Clearly, she was both nervous and attracted to him. Only she had a feeling that the heat she felt was no more normal than she was.
Cianne took a step back to widen the space between them. While hot, this level of heat didn’t compare to the heat she felt at their first meeting a few years ago in middle school. On that day, the heat that assaulted her was intense. She actually feared that her skin had burned that day as she fled to the girl’s bathroom.
The mirror revealed that she was perfectly fine. Needless to say, her little freak out had been the talk of the school. Well, it was the talk until one of the teachers fell in the gym. Cianne had made sure she kept her distance from Tristan Bertram the rest of that day and every day that followed.
That was why being near Tristan was so unsettling to her.
She continued to back away from him until she felt the cold steel of her locker door through the thin shirt she wore. Cianne embraced the chill that seeped into her skin as her eyes lowered to the palm of his outstretched hand. In it was her cell phone. Relieved, she stretched her lips into a rare smile. If she lost another phone, it would be the third one this year.
But her relief at the sight of the phone didn’t ease her anxiety. Tristan’s attention was on her and he was standing too close.
Cianne didn’t reach for her phone right away nor did she look up at him. To be honest, she didn’tneedtoo to look at Tristan. She knew his face like she knew her own. His tanned skin was impeccable, with the exception of a barely noticeable two-inch scar that began at the lobe of his left ear and trailed under his chin. His eyes were blue, remarkable and depending on the light, could transform from a light Carolina blue to a dark royal blue.
He stood about six foot two, taller than her five foot eight. He had the body of a professional athlete, with sculpted streamlined muscles that made her want to stop and stare. His dark brown hair was cut close now, but for a couple of years he wore it longer, so she knew it had a little curl to it. Cianne liked the curls but short was a good look for him too.
Today, he wore a fitted gray T-shirt, black cargo shorts, and a pair of black and white running shoes. As always, he was a mix of what she called comfortable-perfection. Everything about him was perfect, though nothing compared to Tristan’s most incredible asset, his smile. Cianne had a mental meltdown whenever she saw it.
Seemingly confused by her reluctance to take her phone, Tristan extended his hand more. “I found this on the floor over there.” He motioned to the hallway she walked through earlier.
Cianne tried to stay calm as she focused on his outstretched hand and was relieved that the familiar warmth he always ignited inside her had decreased to a mild annoyance.
Tristan sighed as he lowered his hand.
Cianne knew that he wanted some kind of response from her so she went over several in her head. Don’t say something stupid…and try to sound normal. She decided on, “Thank you. I thought I lost another one.”
That wouldn’t win “the best response ever” award but it was all she could manage.
Ignoring the urge to caress his palm, Cianne took the phone from Tristan’s hand without touching his skin. She glanced back up at his smiling eyes and almost sighed before turning her back to him and facing her locker.
“I…uh, I’m glad I found it then.”
She fidgeted with stuff in her locker to look busy but she was certain she just looked ridiculous. In Tristan’s presence, Cianne found it virtually impossible to relax. He was definitely the kind of guy who got a girl’s blood racing…or boiling. Especially when she felt his eyes on her.
Cianne nervously glanced at her hand. No dark veins.
Somewhat comforted, she tried to think of why he was still there, staring at her. Is my hair out of place? Does he hate my new shirt? Calm…nope, she was failing at staying calm. She actually launched into a self-conscious breakdown, picking apart everything she could think of that could be wrong.
Tristan cleared his throat. “I was thinking,” he began, “there’s a back to school party in Phoenix this weekend and-”
“Hey, Tristan,” a chorus of passing girls sang out, interrupting him.
Cianne saw them pass by out of the corner of her eye.
They giggled, waved at Tristan, and jostled one another as they walked by.
“Hey,” Tristan said, as he tilted his head slightly in their direction. He followed with a halfhearted smile and waved.
With her appearance forgotten, Cianne thought that his voice sounded automatic, almost empty. She dismissed it as the sound of the girl’s arguing over which of them were the intended recipient of Tristan’s greeting amped up in volume even though they were moving away.
Cianne looked over at Tristan then past him to the group of girls as they made their way down the hallway. The girls erupted in a single inharmonious scream when they looked back and saw Tristan watching them too. Cianne shook her head at the high-frequency giggles of her classmates and focused back on her locker.
The clicking sound of Tristan opening his own locker was almost deafening. She had to get away from him. How they had been assigned lockers next to each other was still a mystery to her. Not just to her–it seemed that every girl in their graduating class openly questioned their locker assignments. His homeroom was on the north side of the building so his locker should be located in the north hallway, not next to hers which was in the east hall.
Cianne had no clue how it happened, but she refused several bribes from his admirers to switch with her. She wasn’t about to give her assigned locker to anyone. At least that was what she told herself before Tristan started a regular campaign to engage her in conversation. It was already difficult ignoring the pull of his magnetism but now that he was her locker neighbor, avoiding him was almost impossible.
The sound of ruffled papers coming from Tristan’s locker was a hopeful sign that maybe he forgot what he was about to say about the party. Cianne was reveling in her reprieve when his hand gripped the side of her locker door. He slowly eased the door she often used as a barrier between them back until he had a clear view of her profile.
“So, about the party—,”
“I don’t go to parties,” Cianne said, without hesitating. She leaned forward, using her long dark hair to hide her face.
Cianne glanced up when she heard the familiar voice and saw Brian, Tristan’s best friend, walking up. Relief washed over her, but she kept her head lowered.
Tristan tapped her locker a few times. “Right.” He sighed as he moved her locker door back the way it was.
When he closed his locker, she felt rather than witnessed him turn and walk away.
Tristan glanced over his shoulder at Cianne before stepping in pace with Brian. “What’s up?”
“I thought I would jump in and save you from embarrassing yourself. Damn dude, tell me you weren’t about to do what I think you were about to do.” Brian chuckled.
His friend’s loud laughter never bothered Tristan’s before but today he felt it like coarse sand moving over his exposed nerves. Cianne brushed him off again and even though he never let it trouble him before, this time, it did.
“What are you talking about?” Tristan thought it best to pretend not to know what he was being accused of as they walked into their homeroom.
Brian sat down at the desk next to Tristan and blatantly stared at him, while Tristan stared blankly straight ahead. Tristan wondered how long it would take his friend to realize he was being ignored. After a few students passed between their desks, Brian finally spoke up.
“You know what I’m talking about. Cianne? Don’t think so playa.” Brian snorted. “She only dates college guys, remember?”
“Maybe,” Tristan murmured. He waved hello to a couple of girls who touched his shoulder as they made their way to their seats in the back of the room.
“Yeah, ok.” Brian shook his head. “If the fact that she’s never dated anyone here at West Hills doesn’t drive it home for you, as far as I know, she’s never dated anyone at Westbrook either. Believe me, I’ve asked around.”
Tristan’s brows wrinkled as he returned Brian’s famous stare-down. There was so much he wanted to say but all he could get out was, “Really?”
“What? I was curious,” Brian explained with a crooked smile.
“Curious?” Tristan laughed. “So, you’ve resorted to interrogating her friends?” This amused Tristan because he had done the very same thing. Well, he wouldn’t really call what he did interrogation. Cianne’s name may have come up on occasion when he was talking to some people who knew her.
For Brian to ask around, now that was interesting. His closest friend wasn’t the kind of guy who did research on a girl. Brian approached dating as a numbers game. He simply saw a girl he liked and asked her out. Brian once told Tristan that it really wasn’t a big deal if a girl turned him down because he would just move on to the next one. The more he asked, the more chances he had to secure a date. The strategy worked well for him.
“I’m a guy. I would have to be either dead or into you to not get worked up over Cianne Baxter.” Brian broke eye contact to speak to a cute brunette whose name Tristan hadn’t memorized yet, then met Tristan’s gaze again. “Look,” he whispered, “Brenda is wearing my new favorite shirt.”
As discreet as possible, Tristan looked toward the classroom door but didn’t focus on the voluptuous Brenda, who was rumored to buy her shirts a size too small to emphasize her shapely look. Instead, he thought about how Cianne looked in the new top she wore today. The sudden shift from the image of Cianne standing by her locker just minutes ago to images of her hugging on some random college guy made him pulse with anger.
In the four years they’ve known each other, Cianne had never even given him a second glance. He was aware that he was just as good as any college guy; he just needed a chance to prove it. Tristan frowned as he realized that his teeth and palms ached. He pushed the thought of Cianne with some other guy out of his mind as a wave of awareness hit him. He felt the rumble of his own laughter bubble up out of him as he contemplated his feelings of jealousy.
Tristan ignored the questioning look Brian gave him and gave himself a mental scolding. Jealousy was a foreign emotion for him, and right then he decided that it was one he could do without.
Tristan was gone. Cianne pursed her lips, slowly exhaled, and rested her shaking hands on the frame of her locker. She tried to disregard the looming presence behind her but even when silent, Tranae was hard to ignore.
“Don’t give me that look,” Cianne said, as she closed her locker door. She turned to face her best friend who happened to be wearing her patented ‘What is wrong with you?’ expression.
“How did you know I was behind you?” Instead of waiting for an answer, Tranae just rolled her eyes and waved her hand in a dismissive gesture. “Why didn’t you talk to him? You could be a little friendlier since you guys share the same space this year.”
“I had nothing to say. Or would you have preferred, ‘Thanks for finding my phone Tristan and uh, I’ve been aching, just plain aching to kiss you for all of four years, do you mind?’” Cianne said sarcastically.
Tranae rolled her eyes. “That would have been better than turning your back on him day after day.”
“Yeah, well.” Cianne shrugged, as she slipped her fingers under the strap of her bag and lifted it higher on her shoulder. They walked down the corridor side by side, instinctively avoiding a large number of students that filled the hall around them.
“Don’t you think it’s time you’ve gotten to know the opposite sex a little better?” Tranae asked. The two hurried down a set of stairs and into their homeroom. “…and I don’t mean tutoring them either.”
“I know the opposite sex,” Cianne countered with a smirk. The room was almost full, but they managed to find seats next to each other.
“I mean up close and personal. Spending time alone, kissing, touching, faking orgasms.” Tranae wiggled her brows. “You know…the normal things girls our age do when we like a guy.”
“I’m pretty sure none of that is going to make me normal, and why don’t the guys I tutor count? Aren’t they the opposite sex?” Cianne pouted playfully.
“You know what I mean Cianne. Aren’t you even a little bit curious about dating? The only guys you spend time with are those college idiots you tutor,” Tranae paused and raised a finger. “…and no, they don’t count.”
“No, not curious in the least.” If she was entirely truthful, dating was an interest of hers, but Cianne decided long ago that it wasn’t an option. Especially with someone like Tristan. “I’m shy I guess.”
“Bullshit! You…are not shy.” Tranae laughed as she leaned her upper body closer to Cianne. “The only guy you freeze up around is Tristan. You act totally normal around other guys. Look chick, you’re too beautiful¼” Tranae sighed when Cianne exhaled forcefully. “Well, you are. Is it so bad that you were blessed with beauty? Just accept it already, I have.” She popped her collar. “Now, like I was saying.You’re beautiful, and smart, and the nicest person I know. Doesn’t all that cancel out that little issue you think is so bad that you don’t deserve love?”
“I can live without that kind of love, Tranae. Mother Teresa did. I just want to focus on my education.” Love is overrated. “What you need to do is stop focusing on me and worry about yourself. What are you going to tell your father about your cell phone?”
Tranae rolled her eyes as she reached inside her purse. “So, you want to be a nun now,” she continued, “and what are you talking about? My baby is just fine.” She gave Cianne a suspicious look as she held up her colorfully bejeweled lifeline.
The homeroom bell rang out just as their homeroom teacher, Mrs. Franklin, slowly pulled the door closed. She allowed a few more stragglers in before shutting it softly. All conversation ceased as the morning announcements went out over the intercom.
Cianne watched Tranae unpack her books. Homeroom was the only classroom time they shared in the last seven years. When the bell rang, Cianne would go to the third floor which was exclusive to AEA students.
West Hills High School was one of the ten schools in the State that offered the program. AEA or Academic Enrichment Academy was a program that was offered only to those students who excelled in academics, which was Tranae’s weakness. One of her few as it were.
Throughout her morning, Cianne did her best to focus on her classes, but lunch couldn’t get there fast enough. She was starving. When lunch time eventually rolled around, she went to her favorite burger spot, Crimpy’s Burgers.
Crimpy’s was located two blocks from West Hills High and it was Cianne’s lunch time hangout three days a week. It was a well-known spot but the place hadn’t gained hot status yet. Most of her peers stayed on campus or went to the pizza shop that was directly across the street from the school. The great burgers and her peers’ lack of interest made Crimpy’s the perfect place for Cianne, who hated crowds and was a burger girl to her core.
She glanced at the time as she sat at her usual table, which was located in the rear of the restaurant, and played on her cell as she waited. After sitting for a few more minutes, Cianne checked the time again. Tranae being late was something she would never get used to. It was moments like this that made Cianne wish she had more than one real friend in the world.
Overall, Cianne found it easy to make friends. She just didn’t care for the problems that went along with having them. The “he said/she said” games and petty arguments were not the price she wanted to pay for companionship. Besides, having friends meant sharing your secrets, along with the good, bad, and the ugly times. Cianne preferred to keep her good and bad to herself, with an emphasis on keeping the ugly a secret.
An unearthly grumble that came from her stomach provoked a sigh. Tired of waiting and fearful that her stomach would soon eat her from the inside out, Cianne decided to order her food. With a bounce in her step, she made for the cashier.
Happy she hadn’t waited another second; she returned to her seat with her usual, a number three combo meal. The set up was simple: ketchup mountain, remove the pickles from the burger and set the drink aside for later so the ice can dilute the sugar. Set and ready, Cianne dipped a fry into the ketchup on the side of her plate then put the hot crisped-to-perfection treat into her mouth.
“Mmm.” She mumbled with satisfaction as she pulled the book she was reading from her bag.
Books had always been a mainstay of Cianne’s life. They were her introduction to the world and not just her small corner of it. They introduced her to people imaginary and real she otherwise could never meet. They were her travel guide and companion, taking her all around the world in a matter of days without her ever leaving the safety of her home. They taught her languages, cultures, and customs that she may never experience but would always respect and appreciate. Most of all, books were a great way to give people she didn’t want to engage an indirect brush off. It worked 90% of the time.
Before Cianne was able to find the dog-eared page she folded yesterday, three familiar words of warning whispered in her mind.
Sadness, Pain, Death.
For just a second, Cianne lost control and her entire body went rigid before she forced herself to relax.
Tristan’s deep, smooth voice caused her body to involuntarily shudder. Cianne was hesitant to look up to confirm that it was actually him standing on the other side of the round table, one of the few physical barriers between them.
Though the need to respond was automatic, she couldn’t because she was still dealing with the fact that Tristan was actually standing in front of her outside of school.
…and, where was the warmth that usually warned her of his approach? What happened to the broadcast of his pleasant aroma before he appeared? How was it that all of the necessary signs failed? She didn’t even have to look at him to hear those haunting words this time.
“You mind if I sit here?” Tristan asked.
Cianne took her time raising her head up to see exactly who she expected to see. Tristan held a tray with just a plate of overflowing fries and a cola on it. She had to clear her throat because he looked amazing as usual. Her hand that held the book sort of fell limply to the side, exposing some of her face.
“I’m waiting for someone.”
When he smiled, her heart actually skipped a beat.
“No problem,” Tristan said, “I’ll leave when your someone gets here.”
Seriously? Cianne frowned. Why isn’t he leaving? Fine, I’ll just ignore him like I always do.
She shrugged but didn’t fail to notice that he bypassed the chair he stood behind and moved to the seat beside her and sat down. Cianne side-eyed him briefly before reaching for her drink and taking a much-needed sip to ease her dry throat.
Tristan grabbed the bottle of ketchup from the middle of the table and squeezed it, covering his fries completely. She felt him watching her, somehow feeling him smiling. Cianne didn’t even realize that she was flipping the pages of her book as she wondered why he was sitting with her. Hadn’t she been clear about not going to that party?
Maybe this isn’t about the party. He may need help with a school project or something. Doubtful, but it could be the case.
Maybe Crimpy’s was crowded, and there were no seats left. Cianne glanced around the restaurant. There were several empty tables.
Why didn’t he sit at any of them?
Maybe he didn’t like eating alone.
Not a big deal, him sitting here.It wasn’t as if they hadn’t gone to the same school for four years. All she needed to do was relax. That’s all. I can relax around him, she told herself. As casually as she could, Cianne placed a fry in her mouth.
Copyright 2013. Shea Swain. All Rights Reserved.