Summer People by Neal Litherland
YA sweet paranormal romance novella, approximately 12,000 words
Cover Art by Winterheart Design
Bethany just wanted to get a job and get away from home for the last summer before college. Her aunt’s café seemed like the perfect place. Of course that was before she met Sean with his angel’s voice and devil’s eyes. And it was before Danny, who keeps paying mysterious calls, came into her life. It might be her last summer as a girl, but does she want to become a woman with a man that has secrets?
“Ladies and gentleman, may I present a good friend of mine,” Sean said, his crooning persona dropping back over him like a liar's hood as he gestured toward Danny. “He wasn't sure he'd be able to get up here tonight, so make him feel welcome.”
Sean began to clap, the minister leading a chorus in welcoming the outsider. Danny took the stage, the toe of one boot pushing the microphone stand to the side. He stood, eyes closed as if listening for something faint. The applause stopped in short halts like a car on a wet road, and finally the room was silent except for the sound of baited breath. Then Danny began to play, and even that sound stopped.
Snatches of dream floated through the air like tendrils of spring mist, warm above the thaw. They sung a story of life returning, of love and desire growing to bud and bloom; the notes drew memory and wove the heartstrings into a patina that brought unfelt tears to the eyes. The song dug deep, reaching into the black Earth of the spirit and drawing forth shoots of passion that ran strong as flood waters and smelled of sunshine and sea breeze.
For a moment, Danny was caught there; a beautiful and rare creature standing in the last ruddy glow of a true summer day. He cupped the strings like a lover, and his lips were slightly parted. It was as if he was drawing the essence of the melody into himself, or as if he were breathing out his soul.
Then Danny opened his eyes, and the dying light glinted dark and feral in them. He was looking right into Bethany.
The crescendo echoed in the room like a Robin's declaration. It could have ended there, and Bethany was sure that in another time or another place it would have. But as Danny's fingers grew shadows on the slick strings, his hands curled into talons, and he began to stroke the tune once more.
The music whispered this time, sliding through the room, transforming things familiar and comforting into things macabre and dangerous. It was the sound of a tree's claws reaching out of the dark for your bedroom window, and the breath of a nightmare raising gooseflesh on the back of your neck. It was the tang of fear sweat in your mouth and the way you curled up against the night. It was a coffin nail knock that reminded you the darkness was filled with teeth.
Danny stopped suddenly, and Bethany watched as the last kiss of day turned his skin from the russet red of a forgotten god to the milky white of a graveyard angel. His eyes closed again, and when he opened them, they were full of pain. His fingers uncurled from the strings, transformed into rheumatic claws. She heard his knuckles pop in the airless stillness that followed the song; a silence deep enough no applause or cheers could ever hope to fill it.