Madly & Wolfhardt (Madly #1 & 2)


by M. Leighton

CHAPTER ONE

I lay in my bed, lost in thought, the night quiet around me but for the gentle purr of Jersey’s snore. Though I was painfully aware of Jackson, fast asleep on the other side of the thick wooden door, my thoughts weren’t entirely focused on him for once. No, they were shared this time with a girl by the name of Kellina Statford, the descendant of the Straus Maiden. Humans had unwittingly called her Little Red Riding Hood for decades.

We’d positively identified her through her medical record that afternoon. She was allergic to daisies, as I’d suspected, and she had a documented birthmark on her neck, one normally hidden by her hair.

I might’ve thought nothing of it if I hadn’t been looking specifically for something that reeked of her history, which this one did. It came in the form of a series of strawberry hemangiomas on either side of her neck, something the doctor reported as looking “like bitemarks.” That might be a little coincidental for some people, but when I’d read of her, my bracelet had warmed against my skin, assuring me on a physical level that she was the one for whom I searched.

Now I just had to figure out what to do about it.

I couldn’t hold my exasperated sigh inside. I had wanted to talk to Jackson about it, but he’d been almost frantic to dump me off with a trio of other Sentinels when we left the library. I’m not sure why, but I knew it had something to do with that electric moment we’d shared in the rain.

I suppose I should’ve been upset about it—shocked, appalled, distressed, taken aback—but I wasn’t. For some reason, I was ready to dive head first into whatever was between us, consequences be damned.

But then, at moments like these, in the quiet when Jackson was nowhere around, I felt like a wretch for betraying Aidan, even though I’d done nothing wrong. It just felt like I had. I was supposed to be having feelings like this for him, not Jackson of all people. Although politically problematic, it would have been infinitely preferable had I developed unruly feelings for another royal. But for a Sentinel? That was tantamount to sacrilege in the Mer culture. It was strictly forbidden for royalty to consort with anyone outside their class in that sense.

My head began to throb as a result of the deep frown that was pinching my brows together. Not liking where my thoughts or my night was headed, I rolled over onto my side and did my best to bury those musings as deep as I could.

It didn’t work nearly as well as I had hoped.

********

The next day did not start off in the best possible way. I’d awakened feeling as if I hadn’t slept at all, and then on top of that, Jersey had been in Jackson’s room talking to him when I got out of the shower.

I was toweling off my hair when I got back to our dorm room. Jersey was nowhere to be found, but I could hear a feminine squealing from the suite that adjoined ours. The door had been left slightly ajar. Curious and far too nosey, I’d crept over to peek through the crack.

Jackson had Jersey in a headlock, his muscular arm wrapped loosely beneath her chin, holding her to his side. With his other hand, he was squeezing one of her fingers, making her yelp.

“Ok, ok, ok!” she cried, half laughing, half not. “I promise! I promise!”

“I mean it, Jersey.”

“Ok, ok!”

Seemingly satisfied, Jackson let go of her and Jersey immediately darted across the room, getting as far away from him as the small space would allow.

“You’re such a sucker for girls,” she taunted bravely. “Like there’s any way I could keep something like that to myself.”

“Jersey,” Jackson warned, slowly edging his way around to flank her, effectively trapping her between the wall and his bed. “I mean it. Not a word.”

“It’s too juicy, Jackson. I can’t keep that to myself. I’ll spontaneously combust. You wouldn’t want my death on your hands, would you?”

“If you breathe a word of this, your death will be by my hands.”

“Yeah, right,” Jersey said sarcastically. I saw her relax the tiniest bit into her teasing, and, observant as he is, Jackson saw it as well, choosing that moment to spring. “You wouldn’t—ahh!”

Jackson leapt across and swept Jersey up in his arms, lofting her high over his head. At that point, I had no idea what Jersey was doing other than laughing. I was completely mesmerized by the play of Jackson’s muscles beneath the smooth, tanned skin of his back. They shifted and tightened in his arms and shoulders as he steadied the squirming Jersey.

“What was that?” he said. “I didn’t catch that last part.”

“Alright, Jackson. I’ll do whatever you want, just please put me down.”

“I think I need to hear some begging,” he declared.

Spinning Jersey, Jackson turned toward the door, toward me. He was looking up at Jersey, smiling, the long column of his throat exposed. His was the most perfect face I could ever remember seeing. And just then, it was relaxed and boyish, the most carefree I’d seen it since we were kids.

“You are the best brother ever. You are the most handsome brother ever. You are the smartest brother ever. You are the strongest brother ever. You are the…”

Jackson started laughing and I think Jersey trailed off. I couldn’t be sure because I wasn’t listening to her anymore. The world had gone completely silent, but for the husky vibration of Jackson’s laughter. I slumped against the doorjamb, the sound making me feel almost boneless. I closed my eyes and let the heavenly rumble wash over me.

When the room quieted, quieted to the point of eerie silence, I reluctantly lifted my lids. Two pairs of eyes were watching me, but only one made me feel weak as they stared. They were sky blue and serious as a heart attack.

Now sober, all remnants of good cheer gone, Jackson let Jersey down, setting her gently on her feet. With a punch to the arm for good measure, Jersey darted past him and through the partially open door, nearly bowling me over in the process. For one long second, Jackson and I stared at one another. No words were exchanged, no expressions. Just a deep, penetrating gaze that made something in my chest hurt.

“See you later, sucka!” Jersey taunted, slamming the door shut and locking it quickly.

“What was that about?” I asked, a bit shaken from seeing Jackson like that.

Jersey, still smiling, walked casually away from the door. “Oh, nothing. Just harassing Jackson.”

I should’ve known that, though she teased Jackson about not keeping his secret, Jersey would take it to her grave. If asked, she could maintain a confidence better than anyone. It’s just that you specifically had to ask, otherwise your deepest, darkest secrets would be as good as public information.

I really wanted to press her, but I didn’t. I just obsessed about it all morning. The only thing that helped was seeing Kellina Stratford in Calculus. It was one of the classes that I shared with neither Jersey nor Aidan.

Rather than taking my usual seat toward the back of class, I sweet-talked a boy in the row beside Kellina into switching with me. As I was pulling out my book and opening it to the appropriate page, I noticed Kellina watching me from the corner of her eye. I looked up and smiled.

“I can see better from here,” I confessed. “Near-sighted.”

Kellina just smiled back, a slightly distrustful twitch of her lips. When she turned back to face the front of the room, I took a minute to memorize her features, just in case I might need to know specifics at some point in the future.

I could see why Wolfhardt had become obsessed with the Straus Maiden if she looked anything like Kellina. Shoulder-length, glossy brown hair framed a perfectly oval face covered with the lightest of creamy skin. Her eyes were a soft greenish-gray, her lips were full and pouty, and her cheeks were touched with a natural flush of color.

From the side, Kellina looked like the model that had sat for those old ivory cameos I’d seen in the human history books—pert nose, long graceful neck. She was quite stunning and I was a little surprised that she didn’t have boys fawning all over her.

As Mr. Sterling droned on about definite integrals, I thought about how I was going to help Kellina. Should I tell her the truth, explain her heritage and the existence of the Lore, as well as the Mer? Or should I try something more subtle, like befriending her to keep an eye on her until such a time as the need for the harsh truth became necessary?

I decided to start with the more subtle route. I hoped not to have to shock anyone into a catatonic state before lunch. With that in mind, I caught up to Kellina as she was walking out of class.

“Kellina!” I called as she approached the door. She stopped and turned toward me, surprised. “Hey,” I said, coming to a stop in front of her.

“Hey,” she responded uneasily.

“I wanted to ask you about your bag. What kind is it? It’s killer awesome!”

Kellina looked down at her brown leather messenger bag and then shyly back up at me. “Thank you. It’s Louis Vuitton,” she said.

“Ooo,” I said in mock appreciation. I had no idea what a Louis Vuitton was. That was one reason for the uniforms at Veritas Academy; the Mer knew that, being buried beneath the sea for most of our lives, we’d be high-fashion challenged. “Nice. Where did you get it?”

If possible, Kellina looked even more uncomfortable, a bright red stain crawling up her neck toward her face. “It was a gift actually.”

“What a gift! Who got it for you?” I asked, not afraid to be nosey. I knew it wouldn’t come across that way because we were talking about accessories. For all she knew, I had every intention of tracking down a bag like hers.

Kellina’s petite nose curled up. “A boy in one of my classes. I think he has a crush on me.”

She looked so disbelieving my heart went out to her.

“And why wouldn’t he? You’re gorgeous,” I said.

The bright red deepened and settled in pools on her cheeks. It was plain to see that Kellina was painfully shy, but she had no reason to doubt her attractiveness. She really was quite beautiful.

I could see that she was struggling for something to say, so I jumped in to help.

“Hey, me and a couple of my friends are going down to the beach tonight. Do you want to come? Nothing big, just a bonfire, some music and S’mores.”

Kellina eyed me uncertainly.

“Come on. It’ll be fun.”

Finally, she smiled and nodded, casting her eyes toward her toes.

“Alright. That sounds like fun.”

“We’re meeting at my room at eight.”

I gave her my hall and room number and then we parted ways.

Now all I have to do is tell the others that we’re having a party.

CHAPTER TWO

At lunch, Aidan and Jersey had wholeheartedly agreed to a bonfire and marshmallow roast that night. I knew that the only other person I needed to sell on the idea was Jackson.

It wasn’t that I felt like I needed to ask Jackson’s permission; it was more that I knew I needed to include him. I mean, it was essentially up to us to recapture the Lore and save Atlas, so it would behoove me to keep him informed of my progress.

Of course, it was no skin off my nose to seek him out. All day long my mind had intermittently drifted back to that morning, when his face had been so relaxed and he’d laughed so easily. I grudgingly admitted to myself that I’d use virtually any excuse to see him. This one just had the added benefit of being legitimate.

Sixth period was just getting started. It was the longest of the day—literally and figuratively. The minutes seemed to tick by at a snail’s pace and it didn’t help that it was ten minutes longer than any other period of the day. Since deciding I’d talk to Jackson, I was so antsy to get home I could barely stay in my seat. It was for that reason that I pled a headache and left school almost an hour early.

As I walked to the dorm, I wondered if Jackson would even be there. Until yesterday, I’d never seen him, so I could only assume that he had others watching me during class time while he was out doing who-knows-what. I found that the prospect of him not being home slowed my step and dampened my enthusiasm.