About Daughter of Glass
Sasha Alexander has a powerful ability. Either that, or she’s dangerously mad.
Her father shrouds her in isolation, convinced he’s protecting her. But the seven guardians that only she can see insist she’s gifted. Her companions since her mother’s suicide, they protect her from hurt, pain and fear. They also keep her from feeling love. Sasha doesn’t know how to react when Noah explodes through her defenses. This strange young man with the scarred hands suddenly makes her feel again.
But unless she can learn to control her own emotions, the biggest danger to them all may be Sasha herself.
As blood pooled slowly on the white marble dining room floor, I kept my head down and focused on each drop. They exploded on impact and sent ripples outward through the scarlet puddle. It struck me as a good metaphor for my life: I was that drop of blood, sending shock waves through everyone, and everything, around me.
A normal person would be terrified. Here I stood, surrounded by people I didn’t trust, watching a pool of blood only I could see. A pool of blood that would disappear as soon as my guardian did. Fear, the guardian in question, smiled thinly at me and tucked his necklace of razor blades back around his neck. I had never asked why he did it, the cutting; it only happened in situations that would make any normal person run.
That was my fleeting instinct as the man named Mr. Bain watched me from the head of the long dining room table. The black he wore seemed to swallow up the light around him. The arrangement of white orchids in the middle of the dining room table looked wilted, even twisted, against the outline of his dark presence. He leaned against the lone chair at the head of the table- my father’s chair, no one else ever sat there. Amber eyes with flecks of red sought mine and attempted to pin me with them; attempted to fill me with desolation and despair.
But I was not a normal girl. I was tired from my walk from Noah’s to the square, and I already missed his presence. The horrific spectacle of my guardian bleeding for me only sharpened this wanting, this desire to Feel that dogged me whenever the strange boy with the scarred hands wasn’t around. I knew I needed to stay away from him; various guardians and this last trip to his studio had convinced me of that. But I didn’t know if I could. It was like a drug, this ability to Feel.
And now this strange wrong man wanted something from me? I broke eye contact and sank into a dining room chair without asking anyone’s permission. “I’m sorry,” I said, my head between my hands. “You want me to do what, exactly? Work for you?”
It seemed absurd. I wasn’t allowed to leave the house without Lars. My life, until recently, had consisted of school, the occasional psychiatrist’s visit, a gallery opening or shopping trip, and the cage called my home. And now my father wanted me to… what? I looked at him, wanting nothing more than to crawl into my bed and sleep myself into a coma. The day’s revelations had been heavy.
“Just an internship,” my father said carefully. “To work for the council. It’s nothing you can’t handle, Sasha. And I would be there.” He clenched his jaw as if discussing something distasteful. I looked mostly like my mother, but I had my father’s stubborn jawline. I set it in my best defiant position and glared back at him.
“I don’t understand why you would ask this of me,” I said, truly puzzled. “You never share your work with me. You don’t even want me to be a part of your fundraising efforts during election season. But you want me there with you, during actual council meetings? Daddy, that makes no sense.”
He stared at me with flat despair, on the verge of telling me… something. I would never know, because Mr. Bain decided to interrupt.
“Perhaps I can best explain it to her, Jack,” he said, not meeting my father’s eyes. My father the mayor, one of the most important men in Whitfield, stood like a ghost in his own dining room, watching me as if he was powerless to do anything. I watched him open his mouth and snap it shut again before nodding sharply. I wanted to protest; I wanted to yell with everything I had. This was ridiculous; we stood in my father’s house, and this man was, presumably, a guest, and yet his words had carried a clear dismissal.
Even worse, my father listened. He looked at his gold watch and gave me what might have been an apologetic look, or what might have merely been fear, and shuffled out of the room. Leaving me alone.
Alone with the man who called himself Mr. Bain.
I watched as Mr. Bain walked right through the puddle of blood on the floor, smearing it all over the bottom of his shoe. I knew the blood wasn’t real, in the sense that the chair I sat in was real; it would disappear with my guardian, just like Dez’s cigarette butts vanished when he left my presence. But for now, with Fear still in the room, the blood was real enough.
Real enough to make footprints where Mr. Bain tracked through it. I watched, horrified, as the bloody footprints got closer and closer to me. Then suddenly I couldn’t see him anymore, because he had come to stand directly behind me. I sensed, rather than felt, his presence there like a sucking abscess. For lack of anything to look at, I stared at the bloody footprints on my dining room floor. If it was real blood, I wondered idly, what would it take to clean it up? And then, in the same scattered way, I found myself hoping that whatever the man wanted from me, it wouldn’t carry him away into other parts of the house. I imagined his bloody tracks on the living room carpet, and couldn’t suppress a shiver.
“Don’t worry, Sasha,” he said at my back, in a voice that was probably supposed to be soothing. I folded my hands stubbornly in front of me and sat ramrod straight, exactly as if I had been called into the principal’s office for getting in trouble at school. If this man was trying to intimidate me, I wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. I suppressed a childish urge to stick my tongue out at him. “I’m not here to hurt anyone.”
Fear surprised me by crouching over the back of a chair directly across from me. His razor blade necklace swung free in the light of our crystal chandelier; it looked dirtier and rustier than ever. His expression reminded me of someone playing a high stakes poker game, someone who knows he’s losing. Desperate. “I don’t like this one, Sasha,” he whispered. That was strange; Fear never whispered. Most of the guardians never bothered, because of course only I could hear them. Only I had to bother sorting out their spectral voices from what passed for reality around me.
“Me neither,” I murmured back, not caring what the stranger leaning against the back of my chair thought. Whoever he was, he had the power to just dismiss my father in his own home, but he didn’t have the same power over me. I wouldn’t be pushed around.
“Of course you wouldn’t hurt anyone, Sasha,” Mr. Bain said. I realized he was answering my end of a double conversation; that wasn’t what I’d meant at all, but repeated back to me through his view of the conversation, it almost sounded like I’d made a threat. And Bain had taken me seriously. How odd. “No one’s asking you to.” He leaned in closer, until both hands rested on either side of me on the dining room table. He had effectively trapped me within the arc of his arms. I felt chilly, this close to him, as if he didn’t have any body heat to give off.
Cloves and smoke, I thought. My fingers flexed against the table’s surface, inches from his own perfectly manicured ones. I didn’t like being this close to him. I didn’t like being this close to anyone, except possibly Noah. His strange cologne tickled my nose, threaded through with a bite of metal.
The scent of metal… oh, hell. I didn’t look up; I didn’t have to. I heard the light clink of metal clinking against metal, threaded through the sound of satin sliding against bare skin. She didn’t even have to speak and I knew she was there, somewhere behind me and this strange man.
Anger. She’d arrived. Great. My two least favorite, and some of the most powerful, guardians together in one room. This was bad. Very bad. It told me volumes about how I really felt towards the vaguely threatening stranger leaning over my chair.
“Go. Away,” I managed through clenched teeth. Bain merely laughed, low and rich, like I’d said something cute. I meant it as a warning, but he didn’t seem to get that. “I mean it,” I repeated, and I felt Anger move even closer. The red satin of her dress brushed against my leg. I could see the flash of scarlet from the corner of my eye. I kept my gaze fixed on Fear, however; I didn’t want Bain to see me stare at nothing, so I looked resolutely ahead. Anger reached out with scarlet-tipped fingers and raked them against my forearm.
“Careful, Sasha,” she cautioned. “This one… he isn’t like the others.” This admission seemed almost reluctant as Anger flowed around the table, full of liquid grace. She stood slightly behind Fear and stared at me with dark eyes.
“Now, that’s not good manners,” Bain said, pulling out the chair next to mine with lightning-fast reflexes. He was seated beside me, smiling unpleasantly, before I could even turn my head. “You haven’t even heard what I have to say.”
“I don’t need to,” I said, wrapping my arms tightly around my abdomen. I felt so cold, so suddenly. It couldn’t be natural. “I don’t even know you, and you don’t know me. If you did, you’d know I don’t… do certain things. Like council meetings,” I finished lamely. I wanted to say, ‘like be around strangers,’ but couldn’t without sounding like a complete crazy person. And there was no way I was spending time around a person who drew out my fiercest guardians, who now stood across from us like two attack dogs.
“We’ve been watching you,” he said, suddenly low and fierce. “We know what you’ve been doing, sneaking off to Old Town Square with strangers.” I felt a prickle of unease, quickly stifled. “Or are they strangers?” He smirked. “You know how your father feels about that part of town. We aren’t exactly welcome there. Have you ever stopped to wonder why?”
I said nothing, only looked rigidly ahead. Bain rocked the dining room chair back until it sat on two legs.
“You’ve heard your father complain about them for years now, Sasha. How backwards they are. How set in their ways. Obstructionists on the council, all of them. And until now, they never really seemed to like us much, the Old Towners. But that’s not true in your case, is it, Sasha Alexander. Not anymore.”
“That’s none of your business,” I growled. Anger resembled a cat about to pounce, her nails hooked like claws onto the table surface. “None of this has anything to do with me.”
“Doesn’t it?” Bain let the chair fall with a thump. He leaned in so close to me I thought I might choke on his clove-spiked scent. “The Council finds itself almost evenly split between Old Town and New Whitfield, Miss Alexander. And given their obstructionist nature, this is a most distressing place to be. There’s some really important legislation coming up soon, and we really need the vote to go our way.” He paused to let his gaze flicker towards my guardians, where it lingered, tracing their figures with his eyes. Again I had that prickle of unease, stifled almost the second I felt it. I knew it meant Fear was just doing his job, keeping my unease at bay, but if tiny amounts were leaking through then I must be something close to terrified. Fear nodded grimly at me as Bain continued to stare right at them.
“But what does this have to do with me?” I asked in a small voice that seemed childish to my ears.
Bain smiled, as if in triumph. “You’re very powerful,” he said softly. “Like your mother.”
I almost fell out of my chair in shock.
“Wh…what do you know about my mother?” I stuttered.
“I know the two of you are very much the same,” he continued in that same soft smug tone. “I know that she worked to…help… us on the council more than once. I know she could be very influential when she tried. I think I see the same potential in you.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I insisted blankly, but inside I was screaming. I was screaming at my guardians to make him stop talking, to make my father come rushing back into the room, for me to run from it myself. But I sat rooted there, exactly like the big oak tree outside my bedroom window.
Because I did know what he was talking about. My guardians existed not just to keep me from feeling emotions, but to keep me from using them on others. I would never do it willingly, but they were insistent that it might happen if I felt hurt or threatened or angry, without them to guard against it. It had happened with my mother, they insisted, which was why they were so vigilant. Without them, I could influence how others felt, make them experience emotions that weren’t their own. At least, that’s what they claimed. That’s why I was supposedly so dangerous. Since they had always been there, and I essentially led the life of a hermit, I had never had the chance to find out.
I didn’t want to start now. I shuddered in horror at the idea of using my abilities to make the Council vote a certain way. Besides, there was no way my guardians would let me. That’s what they were for: nothing got in, and nothing got out.
“I think you do,” Bain insisted. “And I think you’ll find that I can be very persuasive. Dangerously so.” He paused again to let his words sink in. “If you decide not to help me, to help us and your community, then I’m afraid you may find yourself lacking the company of certain Old Towners you’ve become rather close to recently. Some might say… too close.”
I snapped my head around to stare at him, open-mouthed. He had to be talking about Noah. Threatening Noah. There was no one else in Old Town who even knew I existed, except for that Cassandra woman who seemed to hate my guts. Not only did he claim to know about me and what I could do, but he knew about my feelings for Noah. He knew enough about them to hit me where it hurt.
Anger hissed from her position across the table. She looked like she wanted to launch herself at the man and wrap her fingers around his throat. For the first time in my life, I fervently wished she could.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I told Bain, envisioning Anger’s talons digging into the soft skin of his neck. “I can’t influence anyone. I mean, not at all. You just don’t understand. I’m not like my mother.” I hoped that last part wasn’t a lie. I’d spent my entire life trying not to be like my mother.
“You’re more like her than you know,” he insisted, and I thought I saw something wistful in his eyes. I practically vaulted from my chair, my head spinning.
“I can’t,” I insisted again. “I just can’t. I have to go. I have to…” I searched desperately for an excuse, and came up with none. “Just go,” I finished lamely, backing towards the front door, and what felt like safety: the enveloping night. I couldn’t stand to spend one more minute in that house where my mother had lived and died, where my father had just thrown me to the mercy of a complete stranger, and where I was afraid all my secrets and wards were coming tumbling down around my head.
I backed quickly out the door, exiting into the foyer, my eyes locked on Mr. Bain. His peculiar amber eyes flashed, the red flecks in them starkly visible in the bright light cast by the chandelier. Once again I had the impression of fangs when he smiled at me, and then I could take it no longer. I didn’t stop to see what he was doing, whether he was coming after me, or whether my guardians were still there. I whirled as soon as my feet hit the foyer and ran.
Straight into Lars, my mountain of a bodyguard and chauffeur.
The impact was enough to make me stagger. I gasped as he caught me by the forearm, managing to keep me from falling flat on my behind. His ice blue eyes stared into mine.
“I have to go,” I hissed. I had no better explanation prepared, and fully expected to be detained.
“Well, come on then,” he said, his grip on my forearm changing from protective to guiding. He led me to the front door and held it open. “I’ll drive you. I think we’ve had enough of you scampering down trees and over fences for a few days, don’t you?”
I could think of nothing to say, so I only nodded dumbly. I let myself be led to the back seat of the familiar shiny black car. Before I knew it I was shut up safely inside, my legs tucked up underneath my folded arms. Fear was waiting for me, sprawled out opposite me across the plush backseat. “Where’s Anger?” I hissed, anxious to communicate before Lars got back in.
“Not needed anymore,” he chuckled. “You’re pretty much experiencing nothing but sheer terror at the moment, dear.”
“Well, that’s good,” I said with a sigh, sinking back limply into the seat. “Not that I’m terrified,” I added quickly. “But that she’s gone. The two of you at once… it’s a potent combination.”
“But we helped you face down Mr. Bain,” he reminded me.
“For now,” I said with the sinking realization that Bain wasn’t done with me. He couldn’t be. People like Bain didn’t give up easily.
“For now,” he echoed. Then Lars got in the driver’s seat, and there was no more chance to talk. At least, not without sounding schizophrenic.
“Where will I be taking you?” Lars asked. I thought about it for about half a second. After Bain’s speech, I didn’t dare risk going back to Old Town. He struck me as the kind of creeper that would have someone watching me, or even be doing it himself. This made me doubly glad for Lar’s presence.
“Ex Libris,” I blurted out. It was a ‘safe’ place, one my father approved of, and close to home. Maybe I could lose myself in books and coffee long enough to let my brain cool down and let Bain’s information settle.
Lars only nodded.
Alarming thoughts chased each other despite my best efforts not to think about them. Bain seemed to be threatening not just me, but Noah too. Given my recent discovery that Noah had some kind of ability of his own, I wanted to keep Bain as far away from him as possible. He knew about my mother, about her abilities, although exactly how well remained to be seen. And he wanted to use me to influence the town council, which was unethical and downright creepy.
Plus he didn’t always look human, and he seemed to be able to sense, if not exactly see, my guardians. Yep, that about summed it up. I rested my spinning head against the cool glass until we pulled up to Ex Libris.
“I’ll wait,” Lars said from the car. I tried to hide my look of disappointment. I had really been hoping for some true alone time, but I would settle for Lars staying with the car. As I crossed the brightly lit parking lot to the chain bookstore and coffee shop, I remembered Bain’s words, about how I’d been seen, and thought maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea to have a bodyguard after all.
I had just settled down with a stack of semi-brain-dead magazines and a steaming cup of caramel coffee when someone slammed a huge purse down on my table. It was floral, battered, and stuffed to the rim. A shadow loomed over me.
“Hello,” said a pleasant, vaguely familiar voice. I looked up to see the blond woman from the square staring down at me. She didn’t look exactly friendly, but she didn’t seem alarmed or disgusted either.
“Um, hello?” I tried back. She slid into the seat across from me and rummaged through her enormous bag. “Uh, I don’t mean to be rude,” I said, shocked by both her appearance and behavior. “But I was kind of hoping for some peace and quiet here. It’s been a brutal day.”
She found what she was looking for: a battered gold pocket watch, unearthed from the mess that was her purse. “I know,” she nodded sagely. She paused to smile at the waiter who brought her a steaming cup of something in a real china cup. She sniffed at it appreciatively. The scent of herbal tea wafted over me. Gross. I hated herbal tea. She sipped and looked up at me with huge, expectant eyes. “That’s why I’ve come.” She consulted the watch again before offering me what was probably supposed to be a reassuring smile. “You’re ten minutes late, by the way. What kept you?”
I gaped at her, wondering if she was as mad as I was, and then remembered how she’d looked in Noah’s painting. I had to restrain myself from checking to see if she had vines growing up her feet. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. How can I be late? I didn’t even know I was coming. And it’s not like we had an appointment.”
“But I knew,” the young woman answered, still calmly sipping her tea. She had to be crazy; there was no other explanation. “I knew you were coming, and it was supposed to be ten minutes ago. So something unexpected happened. Probably something bad; delays usually are.” She dumped the enormous bag at her feet. I followed it with my eyes and didn’t see any vines growing anywhere. “I’m Cassandra,” she said with a regal nod. “Cassandra Blackwood. We have a lot to talk about.”