Tessa Conley isn't ready to go back home to Austin when her summer course in London comes to an end. She gets her wish as she steps into a new world of urban fantasy and mystery when she is transformed into a living gargoyle, complete with wings and a tail. Mostly human by day and gargoyle by night, Tessa is not alone in her new world with other gargoyles in the bookstore she now calls home. Bree, her best friend from Austin, is kidnapped and held in the UK. Tessa uncovers the mystery of her birthright and learns what kind of monster she's become in order to save her friend … if she can survive the horror her new life holds in store.
One of the key ways to bring an element of fantasy into a modern setting is to pair an unsuspecting human with a mythic form. Werewolves are traditional, and have produced some excellent stories, but what caught my eye about this story was the addition of an often-overlooked mythic creature, the gargoyle. It makes for a refreshing and unique story that captures the imagination. – Joseph R. Lallo
"With SCALES, newcomer Amity Green kicks off the exciting new FATE AND FIRE series in big way. Wild, creepy, and deeply imaginative dark fantasy. Highly recommended."– Jonathan Maberry, New York Times bestselling author of V-WARS and GLIMPSE
"Amity Green's novels will hold you spellbound from the first page to the last. Wise and witty, Amity proves she is a talent to watch!"– David Farland, New York Times Bestselling Author
"Amity Green proves that there's still room for invention in YA fantasy. Leave it to a Texas Gargoyle in London to teach us what it means to be human."– D.J. Butler, bestselling author of WITCHY EYE
Change is Fate's little sister. Fate and I shared a long, hateful history, where Change and I were virtual strangers. Change can make you or break you, just like Fate. I've let them do both. The trick is to embrace what they bring.
I was nineteen the first time I killed another person. Blood dripped from my claws, and I just stared as he went. I stood over him, watching his paling face while sight left his eyes, breath left his lungs and his soul went straight to hell.
There'd been a time when I didn't even like to watch such scenes play out in a movie.
Change played time like a fiddle while Fate watched me dance.
I hated to love my new life. Most nights I raged inside. Some nights I remembered the girl I was in another lifetime—a pastel-tinted, musical, lonely life in the sunshine. Those times were a few short months ago that felt like decades on the day. Sometimes I wondered if my new way of life was also my own, personal brand of mourning for the girl I used to be ….
And then I was set free.
I should have known my first trip out of Austin would turn my life upside down and nearly get me killed twice in the first year. I didn't have one of those cushy lives some kids did, where the biggest worry was whether they'd get into their dream college, so why should the rest of my life be easy?
The sourest lemons can make the sweetest lemonade. The time wasn't all bad even if I spent most of it looking over my shoulder. I'll be hypervigilant for eternity. Outrunning Fate will do that to a girl. The problem is, Fate is fast and stealthy, and fights dirtier than death. I adapted and grew, learning to face wonder with a true smile and death with a steely, locked jaw. I could never return to Austin, but when I first left, I couldn't wait to get out. Looking back, I'd still choose to leave, despite near death. I should have expected it to be a train wreck. I should have known.
The first thought I had when the jumbo jet's engines whined and we took off from Austin was that I wanted to spray the guy next to me with Febreze. I fidgeted, wondering if someone in the plane might want to switch seats. Every seat was full. The middle aged wannabe hipster guy next to me smelled like armpit and moth balls, which gave my stomach one more reason to get all knotted up. I thought he was going to get chatty when he first claimed his seat but he'd caught my uninterested vibe quickly and zonked out hard instead. The only thing lively about him was the stench. Calm, cool breaths didn't do their job when they were laced with body odor.
A flight to London from Austin, Texas is a long one. That kind of time allows the mind to travel as far as the body. I didn't have a window seat and my stomach didn't do well if I tried to read for long so I watched across the aisle as clouds overtook the view and there was nothing left to see. The sole of my shoe popped softly as I fidgeted, rubbing my feet together. The older lady who sat on the other side of my seat glanced at my shoes when the popping sounded again. I took my hair out of the ponytail and put my seat back to try and relax.
I was grateful for the time to reflect on the events of my last few days in the United States, although thinking about it stung like I'd been bitten by a fire ant. I'd left for good reasons. They were hard memories I'd done my best to make smaller and smaller, but like the tiny ants in the South, sometimes the little things packed the biggest punch. I just wanted to get the hell out of Austin and far away from the past eighteen years of my life. Seeing how I was almost nineteen, I was ready for new experiences.
As long as I could remember, I'd overheated when my emotions got the best of me so true to form, I was melting from the inside out. My hair grew damp so I twisted it all up into a bun to get it off my neck. I kept catching my jaw locking up, and sweat beaded down the valley of my chest, soaking my bra. I hated that.
A brochure about Beautiful Scotland hung out of the seat pocket so I snatched it up and fanned myself. Moving the air did wonders, both cooling my soaked face and pushing putrid air off Mr. Hipster and out into the aisle instead of up my nose.
"A little motion sickness?" An attendant pushed a strand of grey hair behind an ear and thrust a can of ginger ale into my hand, sans little cup of ice. She didn't wait for an answer, just reached across me and turned a nozzle above us. Chilled, canned air blasted right onto my drenched forehead.
"Thank you. I don't know why I didn't think of that." I really knew why. I'd never been on a plane before. She didn't need that information, though, because I planned to hold the appearance of a cool, well-traveled young lady for the duration of my trip to study in England.
The attendant smiled with red, stained lips, like she didn't believe a word of it and bustled away. I closed my eyes and concentrated on calming down and cooling off.
The hipster yawned, smacked his lips and adjusted in his seat, leaving his greasy head full of shaggy curls resting on my shoulder and his mouth wide open.
"Hell no, buddy," I said. I shrugged hard, jolting him awake.
He sat up, looking at me like I had two heads while he straightened his black framed glasses. Considering how I'd nearly snapped, he was pretty lucky I didn't slug him. I took in a cold, calming breath.
"I'm fighting motion sickness here and I need some space, so please, just … stay over there." I didn't wait for a response, just closed my eyes again and fanned away, trying to control my temper.
Everything was going to be okay. I had my shot at making a change in my life. I was breaking away, one sweaty mile at a time. I had to be cool until I landed at Heathrow, then the classes and tours through the play houses and museums would begin. I'd be immersed in the things I loved most.
Finally, I cooled down some and got comfortable with one of the flimsy pillows they handed out. I fell asleep and dreamed about getting lost in the UK.
* * *
The London theatre was wonderful. The workshops, grueling. No complaints from me, though. Weeks before in Austin I'd been elated to get a message from my beloved Professor Douglas. When my laptop had chimed into the quiet of my Saturday morning, a simple email from my British Literature teacher changed my life profoundly. The wonderful man wanted to send me to England, and he'd done it. Since arriving in London, my writing load was over-the-top huge but I loved my time on Tottenham Court Road. The museums were my favorite part of the trip, but they were considered a "tour" rather than a workshop or a class. I was liberated despite the tight schedule, and it felt great.
I did my homework in the commons in order to stay out of the confines of my dorm room. The large hall was furnished with old armchairs and a threadbare couch, with numerous long tables and metal chairs. The thin carpeting smelled like mildew. A snack machine was bolted to the wall over by the metal, double doors and the thing started buzzing like a chainsaw running out of gas every twenty-five minutes. I studied there happily despite those things. My whole life was lived in a cage. I'd been given the golden opportunity to leave Saint Vincent de Paul's Home for Girls in Austin. The place really was just a glorified orphanage that had a good school and a pushy gaggle of nuns. There I got three meals a day, the opportunity to take early college English classes, and a dry place to sleep every night. The fact that I felt smothered like a flame fighting for oxygen was an obstacle. Some nights at the Home I struggled against the urge to explode and do something radical to retaliate against my surroundings. I wondered if I would lose it, like, start random conversations with myself in public, and end up in a mental institution. The thought of returning to the Home kept me on edge, no matter how hard I tried redirecting my focus. Those times were far away since I changed my outlook.
I wanted to experience as much student life in London as I could, so I wasn't at the dorm much. And besides, my room smelled like stale cheese and I only had two scented travel candles my best friend, Brea, gave me before I left Austin.
Aside from school, the nuns did their best to ignore me. They'd taught me to speak well, which day-lighted as both a blessing and a curse. I stood out from other kids for that reason, too. Social issues aside, sounding intelligent when speaking wasn't much to complain about. I knew no other existence, and it had been my life for as long as I could remember. So I rolled with it.
Student life in London was a huge improvement. English breakfast was served daily in the cafeteria below the dorms starting at seven, but I'd grown into the habit of grabbing an apple or a banana off the buffet line and taking off for a brisk, morning walk. The dozen or so other kids studying there got the vibe and left me alone. I didn't know a single one of their names. I never went out with them, just took off by myself. Being outside in Great Britain sparked a sense of wonder in my soul. I was ready to explore every mile.
A shop on a corner close by had the best Earl Grey and I stopped there a lot and checked my email or Skyped with Brea back in Austin. She seemed too far away, although it had only been about a week since I'd left. I'd see her at the end of the summer when the program was over.
I wanted to go back to the States, but not back to the orphanage. After helping myself to a trip through the records department I had a new perspective on the Home. The door was open so I allowed myself a look at my intake files and regretted it that instant.
The fact that I'd been lied to by nuns, of all people, wasn't lost on me. Nothing was that pure. The contents of the files with my name held typical junk, except for one. The lack of contents inside was spooky. No birth certificate. Two photographs of a towhead blonde toddler with coppery-brown, tell-tale sad eyes. Case-worker evaluations for the last two years. Medical records from each time I had a fever, which numbered so many that I didn't bother to count.
"You were spawned by aliens and left at Zilker Park to be raised by swans," Brea once told me. We'd busted up laughing about that. But despite her joking assertions, the questions tortured me. I hadn't been stirred together in a petri dish. Everyone had parents.
I'd dealt with fevers my whole life and they got worse when I was upset. It was like I'd go thermal when I thought about it all too much. Was I destined to become one of the people who simply broke down one day, doing something crazy? Did I feel like someone who was pushed too far, becoming a menace to society instead of just a cast-off child?
I hated going there so I changed focus by allowing myself to consider Tottenham Court my new home—a process that created determination in me like I'd never known. I would do everything I could to avoid returning to St. Vincent's. I was no longer an orphan. I was an independent young woman who needed no one, and nothing.
Wednesday greeted me with another gorgeous morning in downtown London. I had my tea and fruit and was on my way back to the dorm to meet with the class for the day, window shopping and daydreaming.
When I turned to walk to the next building, I hadn't fully pulled my gaze away from the last one because I smacked right into a guy who was coming from the other direction. My backpack fell to the sidewalk and my water bottle hit right on the bottom, erupting like a mini geyser, splattering both of us with an explosive spray of water.
"I am so sorry!" I didn't know if I should help him dry off or die of embarrassment first.
The man I'd just soaked swatted water from a soft looking button down shirt. He used one hand to wipe a streaming drop from his cheek. He was smiling, thank goodness.
"I've already had a shower this morning, love." He had a fascinating accent. The long O's and the rolling R's of his brogue were from farther north, someplace in Scotland maybe.
"I'm truly sorry. I've always been a noodle." I wiped at my own clothes.
"You're cup's run dry," he said, handing me my backpack. "Would you care to join me for a drink? We can't have you wandering the street, crashing into random strangers, dry."
Tempting. Dark brown eyes set in a fan of thick lashes watched me for an answer. His streaked blond hair was tied back at the nape, hanging in a corn silk fall over one broad shoulder. Natural bronze skin that belonged in morning sunlight shone from under the rolled cuffs of his shirt, giving me a peek of his muscular forearms. He smiled easily at me; the kind of smile that made little crinkles around his eyes. He was beautiful and charming in a way I'd never encountered.
"I'd better not." Reluctance mixed with fear in my words, but I knew it was for the best. "Sorry to soak you and run off, but I have class today so I'd better get going."
"Ah, studying abroad. I should have known by the accent. Well enjoy your day. I'm Kai."
"Tessa." I took the hand he offered and we shook our greeting quickly.
"It's a pleasure, Tessa."
I could listen to him say my name all day, staring as the S flowed over his tongue with a little burst of air for the A. He thought I had an accent. Cute. I pulled my hand away.
"Take care." He smiled again and walked away.
I took a deep breath and forced myself to keep my sight facing forward so I didn't stare at him walking away like some love-struck girl-nerd.
I don't know where the urge came from, but I whirled around. "Kai?"
"Yes?" He turned half way and peered over a shoulder.
"Do you drink tea in the mornings?" I mentally slugged myself. That was easily one of the dumbest things I'd ever said.
"Well, yes, most days." He grinned.
"Sorry, I mean … we're in England, after all, right?" I laughed a little, sounding completely awkward. "So, would you like to meet me for tea in the morning? I go to that café on the corner, there." I pointed back the way I'd come.
"That would be delightful, Tessa."
"Would seven work? I have to meet my class at nine." That gave me about two hours to spend with a real-life hot guy. Happy day.
"Seven is perfect."
"Great. See you in the morning, then." Yay, for Nerd Girl! I triumphed.
"See you in the morning."
"Okay," I said, trying not to sound overly enthusiastic. I turned toward the dorms so he wouldn't see me grinning like an idiot.
I was a little soaked from my water-bottle explosion and probably on the verge of being behind to meet my class. Normally, I would have been frantic at the thought of being a minute late. But I couldn't stop smiling.
* * *
Breakfast with Kai went a little too perfectly. I worked to ignore the feeling that something was up. Fun romances with guys like Kai didn't happen in my life. I really wanted the chance to be happy and get the guy for once so I went with it, all in, thinking maybe I was paranoid.
I'd worked a little harder on my hair and make-up that morning, curling my long tresses into spirals that hung down my back. I wore my favorite white miniskirt with an amethyst baby-doll top and I was thankful I looked good because he was dressed in low riding jeans, a white button-up shirt and just the right amount of sexy.
When it was time for me to get back to the dorms for morning classes, he walked me to my building. He leaned close, which I'll admit, caused me to panic, briefly. But then he placed a soft kiss on my cheek that lasted a perfectly comfortable amount of time. His breath warmed my face. My senses filled with the scent of him. I closed my eyes and committed the feeling to memory. When I opened them, he'd picked up a strand of my hair, letting it fall through his fingers.
"Like honey in the sun and shade," he said, lowering his hand. "Beautiful."
"Thank you." I'd never been referred to as "beautiful" before, even if he was only talking about my hair. "I'd better get going."
Perhaps, life was going to shift in my favor for once. I mentally flipped Fate the big ol' bird and entered my first class of the day smiling like a dope, Kai's kiss tingling on my cheek.