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Mixed Feelings (Empathy in the PPNW Book 1), Page 1

Olivia R. Burton

  Mixed Feelings

  A Preternatural PNW Novel


  Olivia R. Burton

  © 2016 Olivia R. Burton. All Rights Reserved

  Contributing Editor: Marika Gerow Verheijen

  Cover Art by Michelle Preast

  ISBN-10: 0-9976333-0-1

  ISBN-13: 978-0-9976333-0-6

  Second Edition. Mixed Feelings was previously published by Candlemark & Gleam, November 2014, edited by Kate Sullivan.

  Table of Contents

  Chapter One

  Chapter Two

  Chapter Three

  Chapter Four

  Chapter Five

  Chapter Six

  Chapter Seven

  Chapter Eight

  Chapter Nine

  Chapter Ten

  Chapter Eleven

  Chapter Twelve

  Chapter Thirteen

  Chapter Fourteen

  Chapter Fifteen

  Chapter Sixteen

  Chapter Seventeen

  Chapter Eighteen

  Chapter Nineteen

  Chapter Twenty

  Chapter Twenty-One

  Chapter Twenty-Two

  Chapter One

  The best part of being an adult is being able to eat half a dozen cupcakes for dinner. The worst part of being an adult is the awareness of the fact that eating half a dozen cupcakes for dinner is bad for you. I decided to focus on the positives in life and go for it. You only turn twenty-nine once, and these birthday cupcakes weren't gonna eat themselves. Or, if they were, I was damn well going to beat them to it.

  It was one week past my birthday and, quite frankly, I was surprised I had any cupcakes left. Yes, even considering the fact that my baby brother, my best friend, and a werewolf I hated had each sent me enough baked goods to feed ten children’s birthday parties. After all, I’m aces at taking down pastry in ways that would shame a lesser woman. The only reason I’m not bigger than my house is that my best friend-slash-assistant Chloe forces me to work most of it off at the gym several times a week.

  My mother had begged me to come home to Montana for my birthday but, as I do nearly every year, I had given my reasons for why I couldn’t. This year, my reasons were entirely valid, which wasn’t always the case. I love my family, but it’s safer for my father and me if we stay a few states apart.

  At the moment, though, I was counseling a woman in the middle of a divorce, and taking time off to eat cake and blow out candles seemed unfair to Loraine. Any therapist worth her salt feels for her clients, but I’ve got an edge that allows me to literally experience what they’re going through when they sit in my office and pour out their hearts.

  Sensing Loraine’s sloshing, thick sadness fill the room twice a week was more than enough to make me feel guilty at the thought of missing even one appointment for birthday festivities. While all my clients matter to me, I felt a little something extra for her, considering her circumstances. So, rather than flying home to be squeezed and coddled by my mother, I was on the couch in frumpy pajamas watching reality TV. Family party or not, though, I was going to put my all into enjoying my birthday treats.

  I felt Chloe at the door just as I was taking my third and final bite of a chocolate cupcake and panic seized me. She didn’t know anyone else had sent me fattening food. If she caught wind that I was eating more than my fair share—hell, more than President Taft’s fair share—of cupcakes, she’d double or triple her efforts to keep me healthy. I’d be eating kale and broccoli and whatever else is green for weeks.

  “Coming,” I said around a mouthful of contraband as I scrambled to hide the evidence. Panic jumped in my throat again as I felt the smoky edge of suspicion puff through her contentment.

  I scooped up the box of cupcakes and made it to the kitchen before Chloe realized she didn’t have to wait for me and walked right in.

  “What are you eating?” she asked, a note of knowing accusation in her voice. The suspicion had grown, no longer a wispy leak but a full-blown torrent. I might have let out a terrified squeak.

  “Nothing!” I protested, tossing a dish towel over the box as if that would do any good.

  “Gwen,” she said as she leaned through the kitchen doorway. I winced as her suspicion solidified enough to be an ooze of disappointment. I whipped around to grin innocently at her, but found myself immediately distracted.

  “You have chocolate on your teeth,” she said. I ignored the fact that she had a valid point and looked her up and down.

  “Why are you dressed up?” I asked.

  “I’m not, really,” Chloe replied, looking down at her outfit. Chloe is small, sleekly muscled in a way that I'm always jealous of when we hit the gym. Her hair is a light blond, cut boy-short around the back and sides but left long in the front. Her bangs were swept across her forehead, pinned to the side with little clips that held shiny red baubles. They matched the four piercings in each of her ears and the skinny scarf-necklace draped around her neck. The red managed to bring out the blue in her eyes.

  She’d pulled leggings in the same deep red over her short legs and had somehow managed to walk gracefully across my living room despite the fact that she was wearing shoes with heels so long and sharp I was sure the TSA would have tackled her to the ground had she entered an airport. The cable-knit baby pink sweater she wore over it all draped heavily down to mid-thigh, but didn’t manage to hide the fact that she’s in great shape. I pointed.

  “You look… not fancy, but nice.”

  “I always look nice,” she said, slipping past me to lift the towel and peer into the box at my illicit sugar. She didn’t say anything, just twisted expertly on her heels to smile my way and wag her brows. “Come on, let’s go out.”

  “But… cupcakes.” I pointed at the box, then figured I might as well just reach a little bit further and grab a treat. She blocked me before I could get what I was aiming for, pulling my arm until I had no choice but to move as she wanted. The next thing I knew, my back was pressed against her chest, my forearm over my belly like we were dancing.

  “No more cupcakes, Gwen. We haven’t been out in awhile. Let’s get you dressed. Come on!”

  “I don’t—” I started to argue but realized it was fruitless. She was already shuffling me out of the kitchen, around the corner, and down the hall to my bedroom. I probably could have argued if I was really invested in the idea of staying home, but I couldn’t think of a reason not to let her have her way. While my empathy means I don’t do so well in crowds—all those emotions zinging around like Nerf darts shot at my face by caffeinated children—Chloe knows what I can handle. Sometimes I think she knows me better than I know myself, which is how she always picks out more flattering outfits than I can pull together. I let her fuss over me, putting on what she handed me and making small talk as she gussied me up.

  As Chloe stood in front of me next to the mirror and started working her makeup magic, I considered my reflection. I’m pretty cute, though not in the same way Chloe is. I’m a smidge below average height with dark hair I keep ruler-straight at my chin and across my brows. Chloe’s exercise regimen can only do so much, so while I’m not straining to get through any doorways, I am a bit pudgy. On the plus side, I’ve got a great rack.

  “I don’t even remember buying these jeans,” I mused. “They make my ass look pretty good, though.”

  “That’s why you bought them,” she sighed. “You don’t remember because you bought ice cream right after and froze your brain cells. Now look at me or you’ll end up with eyeliner on your ear.”

  I did as commanded and Chloe got back to doing
something that made my green eyes look big and innocent. It wasn’t long before I was all dolled up and Chloe was handing me a pair of heels and doing an excited little hip wiggle.

  “This is gonna be fun!”

  “Where are you taking me? You know I don’t do clubs or discothèques, or whatever places you crazy kids are hanging out at these days.”

  “Kids? I’m three years younger than you.”

  “Don’t change the subject.”

  “I promise you’ll enjoy it. I’ll buy you a cocktail, something with sugar on the rim.”

  “But I have sugar in the—”

  “No arguments. We’re leaving and you’re going to have fun. Have I ever steered you wrong?”

  I wracked my brain for some example that would allow me to finish my cupcakes, but nothing was coming to mind. Chloe doesn’t back down when she wants something and it might do me good to work on my shielding some. Maybe I’d be able to enjoy being around hordes of angry miscreants by my thirtieth birthday if I tried hard enough.


  Chloe and I were draped across a white couch in the corner of Mettle, a vegetarian lounge in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle. True to her word, she’d bought me a sweet, baby blue cocktail with matching sugar on the rim. I sipped it slowly because, as good as it tasted, alcohol and my empathy don’t mix. If I get more than a bit buzzed around others, every emotion is amplified to excruciating levels. Eternally smarter than I am, Chloe had a mocktail version of the same thing, though she’d opted for no sugar on the rim. Jerking her chin towards someone behind me, she winked.

  “Go say hi. He looks like your type.”

  I glanced over my shoulder and spotted a man in nice jeans and a slate grey vest leaning up against the bar. He was pretty cute, but it seemed like too much effort to get up and go over to him.

  “Eh,” I grunted, turning back to Chloe.

  “He’s cute!”

  “Then you date him.”

  “I need to leave someone for you,” she teased. “It’s been a few months since you’ve been on a date.”

  “I’ve got Sonny,” I said, taking a sip. “I’m fine.”

  “He’s a bird. He can’t fulfill every one of your needs.”

  “Yes, but he’s adorable and he doesn’t complain when I eat cupcakes for dinner.”

  “Speaking of rotting your insides, how many other sweets do you have hidden around your place?”

  I cleared my throat delicately, then took another long sip in an attempt to avoid answering. Chloe’s not an empath like me, but she is a body language polyglot. No matter what your body is saying, she can understand it. Fiddling with my drink was the only safe response.

  “I know you got a dozen from your family and I know I sent you a half-dozen. Those were neither of those batches.” She nudged me with her knee. “Did Madeline send them?”

  I wanted to lie, since it was totally plausible that I’d gotten the cupcakes from the café that takes up nearly the entire bottom floor of our office building. I’m at The Internets almost every day and Madeline, the owner, had indeed given me free birthday sweets, though it had just been a Chestburster—a spicy Mexican hot cocoa—and a slice of cake.

  Chloe’s smugness was rooting around in my brain and I could tell without looking that she already knew the answer to her own question.

  “Oh fine. Mel sent them,” I admitted.

  “I knew it!” She laughed, clapping her hands together around the stem of her martini glass. “So naturally you’re going to thank him with sex.”

  “Gross,” I whined, rolling my gaze down to look at the last of the liquid in my glass. Talk of sex with our attractive but insufferable work neighbor had made me lose my appetite. “Why do you hate me?”

  “Gwen, honey, I love you. That’s why I think you should give him a shot. Believe me, he’s worth it.”

  “I really don’t want to hear it.” I thought for a second before morbid curiosity got the better of me. “When did you sleep with him?”

  “Maybe a year ago? It was right after you hired me, before we opened. I ran into him at The Internets and he seduced me with his cheesy pick-up lines.”

  “That’s just disgusting.”

  She laughed, her whole body shaking with it. She was happy as a clam to tease me about Mel Somerset. Despite my desire to remain grouchy due to the subject, I felt her glee bubbling against me, fizzing into my brain pleasantly. Being an empath has its upsides. After a few seconds, she shook her head. “You’ll fall prey at least once. I don’t know why you’ve resisted this long. You’ve seen him shirtless; it’s awesome. Besides, after you sleep with him, he kind of lays off.”

  “Doesn’t look that way to me.”

  “Eh, he’s all talk now.” She lowered her voice, accounting for the fact that most of the population has no idea that the supernatural side of the world even exists. Hell, I’m technically part of that world and I barely know the extent of it, though that’s mostly by choice. “I think it’s a werewolf thing. Don’t get me wrong; if I showed up at his office with no panties on, he’d sweep everything off the desk and we’d go at it like bunnies, but that train has left the station, you know?”

  “I really don’t. He’s all over you all the time.”

  “Not as much as he’s all over you. Next time he comes by, watch how he acts with you and then with me. It’s a whole different ball game.”

  “I thought it was a train.”

  “Maybe there’s a ball game going on in the train.”

  I took the last swig of my drink and set it down on the end table next to me. “Let’s just get out of here. I’m getting a headache from being around all these people.”

  “No, you’re not, but we can leave.” Chloe pushed to her feet, took my hand, and yanked me up. “I need to stop by the office before I take you home, though.”

  “It can’t wait until morning? It’s late.”

  “It’s nine-thirty, Grandma. You can handle it. I’ll be quick. Come on.” Chloe slipped an arm around my shoulder and led me toward the door before pausing. “Oh! One second. I forgot to tip.”

  “You gave her five when she brought us the drinks.”

  Disapproval bumped out of Chloe and jabbed me like an elbow and she shook her head. I should have been used to her tipping habits, and it wasn’t like I resented them, but I know what I pay her and it probably isn’t enough to be as generous as she likes to be.

  Though, she does all the books for me so maybe I’ve given her a few raises I’m unaware of. Considering that, I watched as she hopped energetically—and somehow safely, despite the skyscraper heels—back to where we’d been sitting. She pulled a bill—probably a twenty—out of her bra, moved her glass over near mine, and tucked the cash under the bottom. Catching our waitress’s eye, she pointed at the glasses and then bounced back to escort me out of the club.


  We work in an office building in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle. I’m a therapist by trade; back in high school, I figured that my empathy made hearing about people’s problems and discussing their feelings a natural vocational choice, and I haven’t looked back. I’m pretty successful, thanks in large part to Chloe, the best assistant ever. When I’ve got a particularly hard case in the waiting room, she makes sure to let me know to put my mental shields up. Shielding, for me, is kind of like plugging your ears at a really loud concert. It doesn’t block everything out, but it’s a mental muscle flex that helps me concentrate without collapsing in a bloody-eyed heap.

  The best part of having Chloe for an assistant, though, is that she can organize absolutely anything and has no qualms about dealing with insurance companies. She’s nearly as good at double-speak as they are and it’s pretty impressive what she can get out of them when she uses her Serious Voice.

  It was late, but we still had to park down the street and walk up to the building. The Internets was jumping, despite the fact that it was nearly ten on a Sunday night. Even though the emotions inside were the me
ntal equivalent of static on an old TV turned up to full volume, I veered toward the café, my eyes on the pastry case clearly visible through the window.

  Still determined to deny me any chance at sweets, Chloe yanked me off to the left and held my wrist as she unlocked the door that led into the narrow lobby. I looked through the windows between the lobby and the café and spied three besuited gentlemen and a girl in a stiff dress with bronze-colored mounds in perfect rows down the skirt. She was holding what looked like a tiny plunger. I realized it was Doctor Who theme night.

  I really wanted a mug of TARDIS-blue hot cocoa but Chloe kept a firm grip on my arm all the way to the elevator, refusing to let me indulge my addiction. I let out a sad sigh as the doors shut, which Chloe chose to ignore.

  “I’ll be quick,” Chloe said once we were in the waiting room. She moved to her desk to grab whatever she’d come for and I went into my office, trying to make it look casual so she wouldn’t suspect anything. Chloe does her best to keep me healthy but I still manage to smuggle in the occasional king-sized candy bar. That very afternoon, in fact, I’d been forced to hide half of one in the desk lest she find me eating it and take it away. As much as I loved her and appreciated the effort she’d been putting into watching what I ate, there was a limit to my willpower, and passing up cupcakes and my café had exceeded it.

  I was two bites into nougaty chocolate and caramel when I felt the slap of Chloe’s shock against me. Worry wriggled about inside my gut and I stepped around my desk, realizing that we weren’t alone.

  A cold, desperate hunger crackled through the office, and only concern for Chloe sent me walking toward it. I wanted to turn and fling myself through my window, despite the fact that I was three stories up. My heart leapt into my throat and I pressed my hand over it, wanting to feel small and protected. I felt sweat break out over my torso as I started shivering. Something was there; I was terrified that I knew what it was and that this time it wouldn’t leave me in peace.