For seventeen-year-old Evan, graduation means the freedom to leave behind her small-town life and find where she belongs. She never expected it to be in a different world.
Across time and space, deep in a mysterious jungle, Evan discovers the hidden heritage of her mother’s people and her own legacy. She becomes their elemental, a protector gifted with the power to control nature. The role has its challenges, but the biggest is the inexplicable connection with her scarred bodyguard, Ren. Frustrated and fascinated by him, Evan resists the magnetic pull after realizing there’s more to it than simple attraction.
Claiming her birthright reignites the wrath of a ruthless enemy with a score to settle. To protect her new family, Evan will need to call on her formidable power. But embracing it could cause her to lose herself and the man who holds her heart.
And that's Rae Miles' debut novel, Successor, in a nutshell!
But guess who has an excerpt from it?
ME! HERE! NOW!
The blare of music and drunken squeals bounce off the weathered walls of the abandoned barn. The racket invades my refuge in the cluttered hayloft, and the stars beckon me to venture outside through the open window. I’d love nothing more than to get away from the chaos of the kegger. But as Leila likes to put it, soul sisters are always there for each other—including as designated drivers. Seeing as she’s the closest thing I have to a sister, I’m duty-bound.
So here I sit on the same old wooden crate, playing the same old game of Avoid the Splinters while I wait for the night to end. As usual, the crate is winning.
On the bright side, tonight marks the end of a long, painful era. No more football games for pep band or having to explain homework in plain English. Few things are worse for an introvert than being constantly surrounded by others.
To say I’m relieved high school is finally over is a major understatement.
A cool breeze drifts from the window, lifting strands of my hair to tickle my neck. The earthy sweetness of long grasses and weeds weave with the fruity scents of the fir and cedar trees bordering the overgrown fields surrounding the barn. The familiar combination is as soothing as the night sky. Sometimes, if I plug my ears and focus on just those things, it’s like I’m the only one here.
Something dark sails across my peripheral, glinting as it spins before smashing into a wall stud. The beer bottle explodes across the hayloft, sending a barrage of brown glass into the stacks of clutter around me. The edge of the crate digs into my leg as I drop to my knees and cover my head. My messenger bag upends on the floor, spilling its insides everywhere as cheers drown out the last plink, plink, plink of raining glass.
With my face inches from the warped floorboards, the scent and taste of stale hay and dust is overpowering. A string of words not fit to use in front of my father comes out of my mouth, and through the cracks between the slats, the party rages on without a care in the world.
My knees start throbbing as I glare at my graduating class, and I’m forced to sit back on my heels. It helps to close my eyes and take deep breaths. The mixture of the loft’s musty air and the breeze from outside settles my nerves.
One last night. Tomorrow’s a new start.
The start of what, I have no idea. It could be college or a music internship at one of a dozen places I’ve applied to. In the end it doesn’t matter. It just needs to be...not this.
I turn my back on the party to retrieve the stuff that dumped out of my olive drab bag. Somehow my keys and phone managed to save themselves, but the rest scattered across the dusty floor. It’s a good thing I don’t carry around a makeup store.
My gaze catches on something beneath the window as I stand and shove my lip balm back in my bag. Round, purple, and the size of a softball, my graduation gift from Leila is unmistakable from the white and purple patch on its side.
“For life’s tough choices,” she said when she handed it to me, and with a devious grin added, “like which guy to hook up with first at college.” She smacked my arm when I asked if she wanted to keep it for herself.
Puffs of dust rise as I walk over and grab the toy, a Sahasrara Orb. A knockoff of another fortune-telling ball, it’s aimed at people who believe in metaphysical stuff, like chakras and reiki. Instead of a blockish eight, there’s a white and purple lotus flower design on the top. Even the liquid inside is purple instead of blue. Lei picked it because it’s prettier than the other one. No surprise there. I’m partial to the color anyway, so I don’t mind.
I blow away the dirt and cobwebs covering it. Its trip across the floor left it with a few small scuffs, but nothing worth crying over.
When Lei and I were younger, we would mess around with the ones at the store, seeing if we’d get the same answers to dumb questions, usually about boys or stuff at school. We’d pretend the answers were true, then say the toy lied whenever it gave ones we didn’t like. Lei insisted there had to be a real one somewhere. We just had to keep checking.
Can’t say I would mind having a real crystal ball right now.
Leila’s singsong call from below makes my jaw clench—I hate when she calls me that. I plant myself on the narrow window ledge and wait. It’s time for the obligatory mid-party check-in.
A minute passes before someone rounds the stack of junk blocking my view of the ladder. Instead of the tipsy blonde I’m expecting, Max Williams steps into my little zone of solitude, his mouth curving in a smile when he spots me.
“Evan, there you are.”
“Hey.” At least he used the right name. “What’s up?”
“I’ve been looking for you. Leila said you like to hide up here.” He gives the small space a once-over, his brows pulled up and in. “Not sure why—it’s nasty, probably full of spiders.”
“Chester’s the one you have to watch out for. He’s a crank.”
I point to the cluttered stack next to him.
He jumps back when he spots the giant house spider chilling on a box flap a few feet away. “Holy— warn me next time there’s a killer bug next to me.”
“Just give him space. You’ll be fine.”
Max casts a leery look at Chester before he comes toward me, the hayloft shaking under the weight of his steps. My fingers wrap around the window ledge as he leans against the other side of the frame.
“So how come you’re up here? I mean, high school’s over. You should be down there celebrating, having fun—”
Cheers erupt from below, followed by a collective groan. My guess? Someone missed a shot in beer pong. Bummer.
“That kind of fun?”
Max smiles. “Or we can go for a walk somewhere. Find a quiet spot to talk.”
A cold twinge pinches my stomach. “Thanks, but I should stay and keep an eye on Lei.”
“Oh, come on. She’ll be fine for a few minutes.
How much trouble can she get into, anyway?” His eyes widen after a moment, seeming to read my mind. “Hey, that was her idea. I wasn’t even there.”
Lucky him. At least he wasn’t scarred for life after finding half of the graduating class skinny-dipping in the school’s pool. Leila owes me big for not leaving her naked butt behind to deal with the cops, though I’d considered it. Paying a little hell would do her some good, but she knows I would never do that to her. We’ve known each other since we were in diapers, been through everything together. The one thing we’re both sure of is we have each other’s backs no matter what.
“Toddlers armed with peanut butter and crayons wreak less havoc than Lei when she gets her ‘brilliant’ ideas—which is usually when I’m not around to talk her out of them.” Max smiles and I shake my head. “I don’t have the energy for it tonight.”
His shoulders slump, but he chuckles. “Fair enough.”
My grip on the ledge relaxes.
Max isn’t a bad guy or anything. He’s smart, good- looking, and plays on the soccer team. But he’s also the type who lives for a challenge. Probably why he’s had his eye on me for most of our senior year. I’d bet money my sparkling personality isn’t what he’s interested in, though Leila swears that’s not true. Either way, I don’t plan to find out.
His gaze drops to the Sahasrara Orb sitting in my lap. “That thing have all the answers?”
“Sure.” The toy’s surface reflects the lights of the party, but the faint glow of the night sky envelopes it as I lift it in my fingertips. “The trick is figuring out if it gives the right ones.”
His brows lift. “Does it?”
The petals of the lotus flower on top stretch to fill the white circle containing them, their flowing lines smooth under my thumb. “I’ll let you know.”
Max starts to reply, but he’s cut off by shouts from below. The hayloft shakes as he crosses and looks down, and his friends plead with him to rescue their team in a game they’re losing. A few drunken insults are thrown around before he turns back to me, his smile apologetic.
“Gotta go. Duty calls.” He heads toward the ladder, pausing before he disappears around a stack of junk. “I’ll bring you a drink after. We’ll test out that ball.” With a smirk and a wink, he’s gone.
“Great.” I sag against the window, the tension in my shoulders loosening a little. A song I hate fills the barn, the singer’s grating voice assaulting my ears.
One last night.
Pale moonlight reflects off the Sahasrara Orb, somehow brighter than before. “So how about it?” My hands are ghostly in tracing the lotus flower. “Do you have all the answers?”
The music dies. My ears ring in the sudden silence.
Did the stereo system blow out? It’s happened before...but then why aren’t people yelling for someone to fix it?
A muffled roar rises and surrounds me, and it’s like my head has been plunged under water. It’s bellied by a strange hum, low and almost indiscernible. The tiny hairs on my arms and the back of my neck stand on end.
The breeze at my back vanishes. The air turns heavy, bearing down with enough pressure to make my ears pop. Every inch of me starts to tingle as the hum grows louder, the air closing tighter and tighter, like it’s trying to crush me down to nothing. The tingling turns to burning, and my pulse spikes as every single muscle constricts at once. My jaw clenches against the sudden, intense pain of it, making my teeth grate in my ears.
A static charge builds in the air with blue sparks crackling inches from my face. I try raising my arms like a shield, but they’re frozen, locked in strain. My heart slams against my ribs so hard, it feels like it’s about to break through my chest. The charge swells before shooting into me with a bright flash, blinding me before I can snap my eyes shut.
A painful zing surges down my arms and hits my hands. The Sahasrara Orb turns hot in my stiff grip, and I suck a sharp breath through gritted teeth before dropping it to the floor.
Every sensation vanishes and music blares in my ears again. The paralyzing contraction releases, and I have to catch myself so I don’t fall backward out the window. Dark spots clog my vision, like I’ve looked right at the sun. A sharp sting in my hands has me scouring them for damage. But there’s nothing. I squeeze them into fists and open them again. Empty and whole.
My head snaps up. Leila stands in front of me wearing a scowl, her eyes unfocused.
“Lei?” When did she come up here? “Dude, what happened?” she slurs, her arms taking on a life of their own. “Don’t tell me you threw away a perfect opportunity.”
Half-listening to her rambling, I run my hands over myself, the sting in them fading fast. Aside from the strange tingling in my arms and a prickling along my scalp, everything’s normal.
So why can’t I shake the feeling something not normal just happened?
A familiar tightness creeps into my chest and climbs up my throat. “Lei, I—”
“I mean, come on.” She bends down and grabs the Sahasrara Orb at my feet. “The guy’s been trying to get with you all year, and you won’t even give him a chance. I mean—” Swaying a little, she straightens. Her eyes narrow at me. “Did you throw my present on the floor? Way to be a—”
“Leila!” The shout bursts out with such force it surprises me.
She freezes, her mouth hanging with its next word.
A forced, deep breath does nothing to calm the jitteriness slithering up my back. “I think I need to go home.”
“Oh, no.” Leila’s expression turns obstinate. “You’re not backing out like that.”
She shoves the Sahasrara Orb into my hands before I can react, and I almost drop it in a spike of panic. But the smooth plastic is cool, relieving the lingering sting in my palms. My thoughts race in all directions, and I run a tentative fingertip over the toy’s curves, not registering Leila’s slurred words.
Emboldened in my examination, I turn the ball until its message window comes to the top. The internal die floats through the purple liquid to the surface.
It is time.
My thoughts grind to a halt. I blink, frown, and stare at the toy.
That isn’t an optional answer for the ball. But there it is, clear as day.
The music cuts out. My heart lurches into my throat right before a fevered shout fills the barn.
“Cops! The cops are coming!”
Chaos breaks out as everyone scatters. Leila curses and stumbles to the window, glaring at the woods as I keep her from leaning out too far. Flashing red and blue lights illuminate the night as they weave toward the barn through the trees, the wail of sirens reaching us.
“Ass-hats.” Leila shoves away from the window, and I grab her arm to steady her. “Why’d they have to ruin tonight?”
“Come on.” I cram the toy into my bag without a second thought and throw the strap over my head. “We gotta book.”
Lei stumbles behind me as I head for the ladder and climb down. She follows, taking twice as long in her hideous platforms, but makes it to the ground without slipping.
The police are emerging from the trees when we skid to a stop at the main door, everyone running for the cars parked in the field. With the dirt road being the only clear path through the woods, all the police need to do is block it. Every person here gets screwed.
Lucky for me and Leila, our ride isn’t anywhere near the field. It sucks hoofing it a quarter mile through the woods at night, especially with Lei tripping every five feet. Still, I’ll take that over getting busted.
A deafening crack of thunder splits the air. Ominous clouds fill the sky, lightning firing high in the atmosphere. Lei and I jump back from the door as a sudden downpour erupts over the field, stunning everyone with its ambush. The deluge cuts down visibility across the field to almost nothing, shielding us from view.
“What the hell?” Leila wobbles next to me. “Where did this come from?”
“This way.” I grab her arm, and we run to a small door at the back of the barn. The cops haven’t made it across the field yet. We might be able to slip through the rain and into the woods without being spotted.
The hinges grate as I open the door a few inches and peek out. Lightning flashes every few seconds, the heavy sheets of rain blocking out the tree line. From the looks of it, the field is empty. If the cops stay on the other side long enough, we’ll have a chance.
“Come on, we gotta run.” I glance at Lei’s feet. “Might want to lose the shoes.”
She groans and leans on me to slip off the gaudy things. With them tied to her belt, she takes the hand I offer and lets me lead her out into the storm.
The unexpected iciness of the downpour almost stops us in our tracks, soaking us to the skin within seconds. Leila squeaks and pulls back, but I tighten my grip on her hand and force us forward, fighting against the wet jeans clinging to my legs.
Tall grasses and weeds slow our escape, tangling around our ankles as we half-run, half-stumble toward the woods. It’s almost impossible to tell if we’re heading the right way. I’m running blind through the never-ending wall of the storm, squinting against the wind and icy spears of rain. At least Leila is still on her feet.
That changes about ten feet later when her hand slips from mine. I stumble forward and almost face- plant in the weeds. When I turn back, I find Lei on the ground, struggling to free herself from an old rope tangled around her feet.
“Are you okay?” It’s hard to hear my shout over the wail of the storm.
“What idiot leaves rope laying out in the middle of a field?” Her voice is strained, her words rounded like her mouth is too cold to work right.
It takes every ounce of patience I have not to yell at her to shut up and hurry. I drop to the ground next to her and shove her fumbling hands out of the way.
A bright light shines nearby. At first, I brush it off as lightning. But instead of vanishing, it lands on us and doesn’t leave. My stomach drops.
“Hey!” A booming voice carries across the field, the beam of the flashlight steady. “Stay right where you are! Don’t move!”
I curse under my breath as I fight with the rope trapping Leila, who’s given up on helping. She wobbles as she twists to look over her shoulder, planting a hand in the mud.
“Well shit,” she slurs, the flashlight bouncing as the cop heads toward us. “There goes the rest of my night.”
A sharp tug on the rope makes her turn back around. “Focus, Lei. I need your help here.”
She lets out a groan and shoves her wet hair out of her face in defeat. “I just want to go to sleep. Can I go to bed now?”
The cop is closing in fast. My fingers hurt from the cold, the rope’s rough fibers scraping them raw. I can’t see the tangles with the rain running in my eyes.
A few more yards and we’re done for. My heart surges, my throat choked in panic.
The sky lights to the brightness of day as lightning strikes out in all directions, followed by ear-splitting cracks of thunder. The air around us becomes charged, every part of me tingling with the current as the lightning intensifies. Adrenaline spikes through me in a shivering rush, making the hair all over me stand on end.
Lightning suddenly hits on all sides of us. Leila screams and grabs my arm as a deafening reverberation sounds, turning the world silent except for a ringing in my ears. My insides crush under a crippling pressure, stalling my breath in my chest. Everything moves in slow motion as the next strike engulfs us in blinding light, and my eyes wrench shut as I grab for Leila.
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Rae Miles started creating characters at the ripe age of nine, dreaming that one day they’d have a place to call home. Many years and a creative writing degree later, that dream became a reality with her debut novel, Successor. When not writing, Rae’s absorbed in reading, movies, music, and napping. She loves animals of all kinds, and currently lives in Wisconsin with her three quirky cats.