CHAPTER ONE

I shall allow no man to belittle my soul by making me hate him.
- Booker T. Washington.

Juliette's POV;

My family think I'm boy-crazy.

He's cute.

I turn away from the boy when he looks over and hide my smile behind a bag of frozen peas. When he looks away, I sneak another peek, liking his brown hair and how it curls at the ends. He leans against the fridge, staring at all the frozen pizzas while I give him another once over. His over-sized hoodie looks soft and warm and the skate-board on the floor beside him explains his freshly raw knees.

He looks over at me again and this time I'm not fast enough in looking away. His blue eyes catch mine and he gives me a once over before grinning. His face is even nicer than his sleek body, which is saying something as, even though the hoodie is huge, it's obvious this guy works out.

"Psst, Runt." Comes a hushed voice from beside me, and seeing the cause of it, Hoodie Boy looks away.

Turning to face the culprit, I glare at him with annoyance.

"What?" I hiss, and Cas puts a hand to his throat in fake shock.

"Calm down, I only wanted your attention."

I roll my eyes at my brother before stealing another glance at Hoodie Boy. He leans forward into the grocery store fridge and retrieves a pizza three times as big as his head. Tucking it under his arm, he rifles through the fridge to retrieve a box of chicken nuggets and a bag of frozen french-fries. Pleased with his shopping choices, he smiles to himself and nudges the skate-board with his foot to my direction, giving me a slight and shy smile.

If all Californians look like this, then I'm never leaving.

Right before I can open my mouth to say something either flirtatious or embarrassing, someone bumps into me and I stumble forward.

Before I can gracefully (okay... Maybe not "gracefully" but I can dream) land in Hoodie Boy's arms and he can kiss me with unbridled passion, a familiar hand catches my elbow and steadies me.

"Runt!" And the nick-name has never been so embarrassing. "I got the tampons you needed, for a "heavy-flow", right?"

I've never seen a boy skate out of an aisle so fast.

Spinning around, I narrow my eyes into slits, scowling at my brother.

Cas grins at me and tosses the box of tampons from hand to hand, light blue eyes sparkling as he gives me a teasing smile.

"What the hell?" It's all I can sputter out before grabbing the box in his hands and shoving it into the nearest grocery store fridge.

He shrugs. "You weren't paying attention to me." He spins around on his heel and bounces away while I stomp behind him.

Cassius Soren is the third eldest Soren child, my older brother. He spends his spare time taunting me, hanging out with our other brother, Sebastian, or studying Law and Government at some fancy college here, in California. He's got the skyscraper height most of my brothers share and the same shade of blonde hair as me. He's got broad shoulders and a wall of a chest, this helped when he played ice hockey for a year before quitting. You'll usually find him flirting with some random, pretty chick or eating. Mostly the latter, though the jerk never gains a pound.

"I can't believe you did that." I grumble, as he leads me down aisle after aisle. "We were just looking at each other."

"You, Runt, were looking," He plucks a candy bar off of a shelf and flips it in the air. "That guy was checking you out and picturing you naked."

"That's gross."

"That's a guy." He pats my head and turns around a corner to find our other brothers, staring at the contents in our grocery cart.

Law looks up as we round the corner. "Get the peas?"

I hold them up like they're the Olympic Torch and he gives me a smile, patting me on the head just like Cas did as I put them in the cart. At least when Law does it, it isn't that bad, he is the eldest after all.

"Why is there so much bread in here?" Lifting a French stick up, I also pick out a lump of red. "And meat?"

"We're men," Sebastian says, as if that explains everything. "We only eat bread and meat."

A mound of colour falls into the cart, almost landing on my hand until I jerk it back. Looking up I see my other brother, Perry, red-faced as he tosses the last thing in. The cart is no longer full of meat and bread, it now has some fruit and vegetables.

"Well, we're men." Sebastian looks Perry up and down. "I have no idea what he is."

"Har har." Perry walks around the cart and starts pushing it to the check-outs. We all fall in line after him, Law thumping Sebastian over the head for his sarcastic comment.

"Cas, is there any reason I saw you sprinting through the store with a box of tampons?" Perry asks and I frown.

"Runt had an incident." Is Cas' brilliant explanation.

Perry wrinkles his nose, muttering "gross", while I punch Cas in the arm, hard enough to bruise.

"Actually, he was just screwing up my love-life." I clarify and Sebastian nods.

"Ah, the good ol' cock-block." I scrunch up my nose at his terminology but nod as Perry rolls his eyes.

"You just had a boyfriend, Runt. You don't need another one so fast."

That's true. My relationship with Tom Wells had been smooth and easy sailing for four months until two months ago when my dad had announced we were moving. I'd like to think we were in love, my brothers always say that I fall head over heels for every guy I date, but Tom was different. He was long-term. We had tried to keep it together over the last couple of weeks, but a few nights ago I had to ring him up and tell him it was over. The next day we left for California.

I had my few days of crying and moping as we drove across the country. My brothers almost threw themselves into on-coming traffic on more then one occasion because of my constant sniffling, but this morning I woke up with a lot more strength than yesterday. A new burst of energy. The thirst for new blood.

Basically, I'm moving on from Tom Wells and his amazing eight-pack.

Like, seriously, this guy had the abdominal muscles of a Greek God. Tanned just enough not to be orange, and ripped enough not to be bulky, his chest was made for poems to be written about.

And now some other girl will have those abs all to herself.

I mentally slap myself, trying to remember all the so-called "strength" I woke up with earlier this morning.

Once through the check-outs, I skip into the parking lot, smirking at Cas as he struggles with his arms full of bread and meat while all I have are a box of grapes. Law opens Perry's car, hops in the driver's seat and soon we're all bundled in and ready for the final few minutes of driving until we get to our new house.

I say "our" when really the only people in it will be Perry, Dad and I. Law has his own place an hour's drive from here, Cas lives on his college campus about a half hour from here and Sebastian rents out an apartment with a few of his friends a few towns over, close to his own college. I have another brother, Zak, but he's in Afghanistan right now, the duties of an American soldier.

Perry and I are so close in age that we're in the same grade, both seniors in high school. Of course, to make the matters of being a student worse, we've now moved to a new town with a new school and new people. Perry doesn't seem fazed, but he's a naturally social person. I'm not shy either, but I can't help but feel sick at the thought of starting somewhere new. Unlike most, I don't need a clean slate or a break. I liked my old school (regardless of it being an all-girl school and seriously Catholic), and I liked my old house and my old bedroom and my old friends. And, I don't want them to be "my old" anything. I want them to be current, to be here with me now.

But I've already come to terms with the fact that we'll probably never see each other again. Even though it's only been a few days since I saw any of my friends, our texts and Facebook messages are already becoming few and far between.

Life. Sucks.

I haven't seen Dad in days, either. He left a day before us to get the house set up for when we got here, and I miss him a lot. Maybe it's my recent break-up, but all I want to do is curl up beside him with a tub full of chocolate ice-cream and The Breakfast Club on replay. They're the only things that can get me back to my usual self right now.

Sebastian and Cas start wrestling beside me in the car, pushing me up against the window as we pull up to a red light and I press my face against the glass, trying not to lose my cool and claw at them with my nails.

"Knock it off!" Law glares at them through the rear-view mirror, and they pause... Before resuming again.

"Guys, you're going to make Runt have a stroke." Perry chimes in and they both stop to look over at me, clawing at the window.

I've had the nick-name "Runt", for as long as I can remember, it's just what my brothers call me. Being the youngest and the only girl in my family, it was expected for me to be the runt of our litter. Nobody counted on Perry to stop growing in seventh grade and to stay 5'7, effectively leaving him as the runt as I'm 5'8. But nobody bothered to change it, too caught up in the habit, I guess.

I zone into my brother's conversation as we enter Leaf Valley, my home for the next school year, at the least.

"... Hot chicks?" Are the only words I pick up out of Perry's mouth while Law chuckles.

"From what I've seen? A few, too young for me, but your age."

Perry grins a satisfied grin while Sebastian and Cas roll their eyes.

"High school girls?" Sebastian asks.

"Lame." Cas finishes, but at least they're no longer wrestling.

"College girls are lame too, guys." Law adds from the front as he takes a sharp turn. His college days are over now, he works in a garage as a mechanical engineer. He thinks he's all grown up, even though he's only twenty-five. "All those wet T-shirt contests and Sororities? The epitome of lame." He says sarcastically and I go back to ignoring them. I thought my days of hearing them talk about girls were over when nearly all of them moved out.

I was wrong.

Leaf Valley looks like your normal, suburban town from what I can see. We pass pretty, neat houses and a small mall with a fountain full of naked, baby statues. I catch a glimpse of a few playgrounds and parks, and quickly realise that there's a huge forest outlining this town, surrounding it. It seems mind numbing-ly boring with teenagers loitering outside stores and being full of angst. The highlight of their day is probably scrawling some copy of a "meaningful" poem on a public restroom wall.

I want to go home.

To my city where there are people everywhere and walking is hard, not to this place where there's a forest. To my city where the air was cold and full of fumes, not clear and heavy and humid. To where the car windows were up all the time because you might get mugged, not here where the windows are down and the doors would be open if they could be because the heat is unbearable.

How could Hoodie Guy wear a hoodie in this weather?

Californians, man, they're a mystery.

I never thought I'd feel home sick for that bustling, over-flowing and dirty city, but all I want is to go back to that place where everyone I know is.

But wishing won't get me anywhere.


oo00oo00oo00oo00oo0o0o0o0o0

When we pull into an empty driveway, I stare at the house that's now my home.

"Well, that's different." Sebastian is the first to speak as Perry and I stare at it, both of us sharing a look of dread.

"It looks nothing like our old one." Cas adds, and Law nods as he turns the ignition off.

"I know our old home was secluded, but the only houses up for sale were like this one." Law nods to the house as he steps out, and Sebastian wrinkles his nose in disdain.

"But it's so... Normal." The word is said as if it's a bad thing which, to other people, normal isn't bad.

But to members of a Clann that has traditions older than time, it's the worst thing.

I follow in Law's footsteps and exit the car, shutting the door with a resounding bang and pushing the stray hairs from my pony-tail off my face to get a better look at the place. Two bay windows jut out from the building, the only nice thing about the structure. The porch is old and wooden with the white paint flaking, along with the wooden steps. The beams holding the porch and over-head up look like they'll blow away with a strong wind, but other than that, the house looks like every other house on this street. Two-storeys with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, it's white-washed bricks and square windows are utterly and painfully normal.

Just like my life will be from now on.


oo00oo00oo00oo00oo0o0o

I pad into my new bedroom and throw the wet towel on my bed, pulling on some underwear and pyjamas. Surveying it, I'm pleased that Perry gave up the room with the en-suite so easily, but I'm pretty sure he gave it to me because he knows I miss home. Right now, Sebastian, Cas and Law are bumping around in the spare room, all three of them trying to out-do the other with their manliness as they build two sets of bunk-beds for the times when they stay over in the future.

Walking over to my mirror, I sit down and pull out my hairbrush from a box of toiletries. Half-full boxes still litter my new room, but I'm nearly finished unpacking. The room is dark thanks to the fully set sun and the broken bulb in my light, but my bedside lamp offers enough light for me to see myself in the mirror.

As I start to brush my hair, I pick out the similarities between my brothers and I in our physical appearances. You'd have to be blind not to notice them. All of us have the blonde hair and blue eyes combo that all Sorens share, along with the golden skin. It's not a natural trait, I'm told my mom was pale and brunette, so surely some of her genetics should've diluted my dad's, but that's not how Sorens work.

The only way to explain it, is to say I'm not human. But that's not strictly true, as nobody has any idea what we are. There are a couple thousand of us out there, and yet not one of us know for sure what we are. Sure, centuries ago some people were convinced we were gods, demi-gods, witches, monsters, anything to explain us, but in reality, we have no idea.

Somewhere between natural and supernatural, there lies us.

We like to call ourselves Bloods, due to the fact that our blood looks different to a human's, and to separate families. Each Blood (person like me) is in a Blood Clann, and you're born into a Blood Clann. A Clann is a family. There's four Clanns, four huge families filled with Bloods that span across the globe.

There's no easier way to put it, but like that. We're not entirely human, but we're not entirely not human. We call ourselves "Bloods" and there's four families of us.

Simple.

Except, it so isn't.

There are thousands of us, all across the globe. Most of us come together for weddings and funerals, usually the heads of every Clann. Their is always a "head" of a Clann, the leader. It's not necessarily the oldest or the smartest person in the Clann, the title is handed down. There are four leaders of the Clanns, one for each Clan, and their families are called the "main families". They used to be treated like royalty, the main families. They were the richest, the prettiest, they had the best of their Clann's genes.

They're not worshipped as much anymore, though there are still many Bloods who look up to them, and all Bloods have to listen to what they say.

But, the main families aren't really in charge. They're the figure-heads for the Clanns. The ones who set the example. What they do is what everyone else must do. How they act is how you should act. But behind them, the ones really pulling the strings and creating the rules and upholding the traditions, are the Old Bloods.

I don't know how you become an Old Blood, or why you'd want to be one, but all I know is that they're old and they know everything. Every word they say is riddled with mysteries, and they're as vague as a Warren, but what they say is law. And we obey the law.

Four huge Clanns. Everyone in a Clann - a single Clann - is related to each other, but the Clanns are not related to each other. Each Clann has a main family – royalty, of sorts – and they're the leaders of that Clann. But, every Blood listens to the Old Bloods. The oldest and wisest of everyone.

Simple?

No.

It's confusing and unnecessary and, to be perfectly honest, I've never had to explain it to anyone before in my life. It's the kind of thing that you pick up as you go along.

Each family has their own traits, characteristics, attributes. The main ones of the Soren Clann – my Clann – is that we all have blonde hair, blue eyes, tanned skin, we're all "good and kind" (or at least, we're supposed to be) and we're all supposed to be guys.

Until I came along.

Not only am I the odd one out in my all-male family, but everyone born a Soren has been male since... Well, since forever. The only females marry into the Soren Clann, they aren't born into it. It's why the Sorens used to be called the "Brotherhood". Let's just say, nearly all of my cousins and uncles were not impressed when they realised that title was being taken away from them.

The next family is the Warren Clann. They have five main points about them; all tall, all pale, all have black hair, all have grey eyes and all of them have a screw or two loose, if you know what I mean.

Then there's the Cross'. They have freakish height, whether it's freakishly tall or small, you can bet you'll look at them twice. They all have red hair, they all have green eyes and, just like the Warrens, they're all pale. They're not a little crazy like the Warrens, or nice like the Sorens, they're just... Cross'. Like their height, their personalities are extremes as well. Ranging from completely cocky to unbearably shy with each person.

And last, the Hayes'. To make it easy, try to imagine the prettiest, most perfect flower you've ever seen in your life. Filled with a billion different colours and completely priceless. Unique. Try to imagine everyone around this flower and how far they've travelled to see how amazing and completely awesome it is.

Then imagine the dickhead who goes over and stands on it.

That dickhead - more than likely - belongs to the Hayes Clann.

We try not to, but basically - in the Soren Clann – we blame everything that goes wrong on the Hayes'. You lose your car keys? Hayes'. You bump your head? Hayes'. Global Warming? Hayes'.

Okay, so maybe not that far, but you get the picture.

Nobody hates anyone as much as the Sorens hate the Hayes', and vice-versa.

They're all dark skinned with brown hair, brown eyes, the most horrible attitude and personality you've ever experienced... And the largest suicide rate of any other Clann.

Not only are they trouble, but they're also troubled.

Looking for a hot guy who's tortured within? Find a Hayes and you're gold.

There aren't enough negative words in the English language to describe that Clann, but I can find one word that sums them up pretty well.

Evil.

A knock sounds on my door before I can think too much about them. I put my hairbrush down, realising I was gripping it too tightly. But I can't help it, it's been hammered into my head from a young age that the Hayes' are not people you take lightly.

My dad walks in, dressed in his usual outfit of jeans and a black T-shirt. He's 6'6, which is why the petite-ness (because calling him "short" or "small" or "itsy-bitsy" offends him) of my brother Perry still confuses the whole family.

Dad gives me a grin before I stand up and he pulls me into a hug. He smells of cigarettes and coffee, a comforting scent that lingered around our old house. All this house smells of is dust and air-freshener.

He pulls away, looking around my room. "You didn't beat Peregrine up too hard for this room, right, Cupcake?"

Even I wince at how painful Perry's full name is, but Dad doesn't see it.

"Nah, he gave it to me, he knows how much I miss home."

Dad sighs as he clears a path between the boxes to get to my bed. He sits down, pushing a strand of his blonde hair out of his eyes and licks his lips.

"You know how sorry I am, don't you?" His big, pleading blue eyes guilt me into nodding. He's told me everyday for two months how sorry he is, and the most frustrating part of it all is that I can't blame him or hold any of this against him because he's doing it for all of us. He got a better job offer here, with more money and better working hours and holidays. And, all in all, even though the house is much smaller than our old one, it's all we need now that only three of us will live here full-time. My other brothers will be off in a few days, back to work or college now that summer's ending. And, now that most of us live in the same state, we'll be close again, like how we used to be, minus Zak.

"Yeah, I do." I plonk down beside him and he pats my head, just like my brothers do. It makes me feel like I'm seven, not seventeen.

"I looked around, and there are no classes locally, I'm sorry, Cupcake."

I know what he's talking about immediately, and my heart plummets, even though I already knew this. I've been searching things about this town over the Internet for weeks now, I know that there are no classes around here, but that doesn't mean I'm any less upset. I've been doing taekwondo for a little under four years now, it's the only form of exercise I really participate in, as I have no motivation to join any sports or anything. It's the only thing I'm good at, seeing as I can't dance, sing or draw a straight line.

Dad forced me to join when I was around thirteen, a few months after I had a fight with a Hayes boy and he had pushed me down a flight of stairs. Successfully breaking my leg in three places, dislocating my shoulder and breaking a couple of my ribs. Violent, I know. Dad knew being able to fend for myself would help me in life, knowing that being around people like the Hayes', trouble would follow.

"And, you'll make new friends an-and," He searches for something else to throw in, to get my hopes up. "You'll get a new boyfriend." He frowns at that. "You always seem to have a new one every week."

"Dad!"

"What? I'm just saying."

I frown at him, but decide to let it slide. In reality, I was like that until Tom came along. However sad it is, he was the first long-term relationship I've ever really had. The longest before Tom was a month, but we broke-up via text message when I was fifteen so I don't really count him. Even though I considered myself "in love" with every boy I've kind of gone out with before Tom, Tom was an actual boyfriend.

I blow out a breath. "I know I'll be fine, it's just... Scary, that's all."

"You're going to have to do all this next year for college anyway," He nudges me and gives me a smile. "It's good practice."

I give him an unimpressed look, trying to hide the fact that I don't know if college is for me, or if I'm even smart enough to get into anything he'll deem appropriate.

But I squash those fears down, leaving them for months and months from now when he compares me to Sebastian, the brother that chose art over Ivy League.

Eventually, Dad leaves and I crawl into bed. Trying not to think about college or high school or anything about the future. Instead, I think about the past, which always bring up one family.

The Hayes'.