Hidden Shadows


Tablo reader up chevron

Chapter One

I gasped at the huge building known as Western High School. This place is huge! Bigger than my other schools, that's for sure. The light brown brick with the storm gray roof top, was quite beautiful. I made my way out of Uncle Kale's Ford truck and started walking towards the front doors. 

The view behind the school was breathtaking. Snow-capped mountains towered in the distance. The sweet sound of Oregon's ocean crashed into the rocky bed in the background, giving me a sense of peace. 

Once again I was the new girl. Me and Uncle Kale have been moving since I was ten. Hiding from monsters in the shadows. I know that its stupid to believe, but its true. Something is lurking there, waiting to get me. 

A shiver ran down my back, making me get goose bumps. Today is going to be a great day, I told myself.

"Have a great day, Pixie." Uncle Kale shouted out the window. I turned and waved, watching him drive away.

I turned back towards the door, when I slammed into something. 

Huh, I must have been closer to the door than I realized, I thought. 

Stumbling back I realized I ran into a chest instead of a door. I murmured an apology, while looking up. 

His silver eyes where all I can see. Beautiful electric silver eyes connected with my green ones. His warm smile made my knees weak. 

"Hi." He said. 

Snapping me out of my thoughts I squeaked out a hello. 

He laughed. "You new here?"

As if he couldn't tell. "No," I said, sarcastically. "Just wanted to run into you because it was fun." I seriously need to watch my sarcasm. 

He just gave me a beep chuckle. "You're feisty. Good, you're gonna need that here." 

I blushed. "Thanks for the heads up." 

"You're welcome. Names Nix Lane." He said, sticking out his huge hand for me to shake. 

"Pixie Winter." I said and put my small hand in his. His hand consuming mine. 

I took my hand out of his and headed towards the school with him following. 

"Do you know where your classes are yet?" He asked. 

"No but I have my schedule." I said, getting it out of my back pocket and handing it to him. 

He looked at it and smiled. "We have a few classes together." 

I smiled back at him. "Cool." 

Once we were inside, Nix explained the layout of the school so I don't get lost. "That over there is the freshman lockers. Sophomores and juniors are in the next hallway, and us seniors are over here." He gestured around us to the stormy gray lockers with brown paw prints. While he was talking I snuk peaks at him. He was gorgeous. Long brown hair hung wildly in his beautiful silver eyes. He had a perfect tan, full lips, and cute freckles across his nose and cheeks. He was tall, like a few inches taller than six feet, dwarfing my five feet and one inch frame. His shirt stretched across his chest and muscled arms. And he wore a faded light blue jeans. 

When Nix was done, I heard his name being called out. 

"Nix!" Running towards us was a beautiful girl. She had light tan skin, straight as a bone brown hair that set her aqua green eye, and she was tall, eight to nine inches taller than me. She wore a bright pink camy that hung to all of her curves, cutoff shorts that showed her tan legs well, with black wedges. 

When she finally reached us she said," I've had just the best vision ever!" And lanchered herself into Nix's arms. 

As he hugged her back she continued, "Its a girl. She's about our age, beautiful. Green eyes, curly brown hair, pale skin, and she's the one we've been looking for, Nix. Her name is..." She cut off when she saw me. 

"Oh, hi!" She said. "You new around here?" 

"Um, yeah. I am. I'm Pixie. Pixie Winter." I said and stuck out my hand. 

She looked at me blankly, than looked at Nix. They shared a look before she turned back to me and took my hand. "Oliveira Lane. Nix's lovely sister." 

"Yeah right." But he was laughing. "Where's Ash?" 

"He was right behind me, but I don't see him." Oliveira said. 

As soon as the words were out of her mouth, I was picked up in a backwards hug. 

I squeaked when Ash found my tickle spot. From the corner of my eye, I saw Nix stiffen. 

Ash laughed in my ear. "Pixie, right?" When I nodded he continued, "Well it fits, Fairy." 

I groaned. "Nobody called me that since I was ten." 

"Well if you don't mind I'm going to keep calling you that." 

"Sure. Now put me down." I said.

When he put me down I turned and looked up at him. He was as gorgeous as his brother. Gold eyes locked into mine, holding me captive with his heated gaze. He was a bit taller than Nix, with darker brown hair, and well built. He wore a dark blue Polo T-shirt and nice black jeans. 

He suck out his giant hand. "Ash Lane, Fairy." 

I took his hand. "Nice to meet you Ash." 

Letting my hand go he said to Nix, "Where we going for lunch?" 

"I don't know. Pixie, where do you want to go for lunch?" Nix asked me. 

"Is there a Taco-Bell around here?" I asked, looking at Nix. 

"Yes. We can go there." Nix said, locking eyes with me. When I looked at him I felt a strange connection with him. 

The bell rung. Oliveira looped her arm through mine and started walking me towards my homeroom. 

"Thank you." I said. 

She smiled brightly at me. "You're welcome." 

I walked in and found a seat in the back. With every pair of eyes on me I made my way to the seat. When I sat down, a pretty blonde girl turned to me. She had sun kissed skin, freckles everywhere, and yellow eyes that where brought out by the black glasses she had on. Her hair was straight, but slightly wavy. She wore a nice white summer dress with butterflies on it. When she smiled, I saw braces. 

"Hi." She said with a dimpled grin. 

I smiled back. "Hi." 

"I'm Kitty." 

"I'm Pixie." 

"Like the fairy?" 

I groaned inwardly. "Like the fairy." 

"That's really pretty." She said. 

I smiled even bigger. "Thank you." I liked her already. 

"You're welcome. Oh, by the way that's Ren's seat." 

"Who's Ren?" 

"Oh you know riches boy in school. Quarterback of the football team. Most popular boy. Every girl wants him. Blah, blah, blah." She made a face. 

I laughed. "Ah, I see."

Right when the second bell rung, a boy walked into class, like he owns it. You could hear the dreamy sighs from around the classroom. His tan skin was dusted in freckles. His eyes, clearer than the clearest pond, was scanning the room and when they landed on me, I saw a glint in his eye. 

His black hair was a mess on top of his head, as of he just woke up, but doesn't care. His white shirt was tight around him, he wasn't as well built as Nix, but he was still muscular. When he walked towards me, you can see a bit of swagger in his step. His dark blue jeans hung low, but fitted him nicely. 

He's like a dark prince, I thought. 

I saw his smirk on his face when he stopped in front of me. 

Kitty gave me a look that said,"I told you so." I gave her a sour look right back. I noticed that the intire class was looking at me. The girls gave me death glare, while the boys looked like they wanted to save me. 

The boy cleared his throat. "Hi, I'm Ren." He stuck out his hand. 

"Pixie." I said, shaking his hand. 

"Pixie. Well, Fairy, I know that you're new and everything, but let me make one thing clear: that's my seat." He said with that same cocky grin on his face and its starting to irritate me. 

"Oh, really?" I asked sarcastically. "Well, I hate to brake it to you, but I don't see no name tag on the desk." 

He finally lost his smirk. "What?" 

"I'm sorry, I thought I made myself clear. What I said was get lost. Its not my fault you were late to class. Go get a new seat." I said, pissed now. 

"Sorry, sugar. But I've been in that seat for four years, I claimed it. So, you go get a new seat." He said through gritted teeth. 

"Yeah? Well I've been here for fifteen minutes with a guy holding up class because he wants to cry over a seat. Grow up and go get a new one." I said, my anger picking through.

Finally he looked at me then walked towards the seat next to me. Everyone still looked at me with their mouths hanging open. 

Kitty winked at me before turning towards the front of the class. The teacher walked in and immediately called roll, than launched into the assignment. After a few minutes, I desicided to stop ignoring Ren and looked at him. 

He was already looking at me. After school, he mouthed.

I shook my head, can't plans. 

He just ignored that and said, meet me by the front doors. 

Finally I gave in, fine. 

He looked pleased. 

I turned back to the assignment, thinking if this day was going to end badly.  

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter Two

I was waiting for Nix, Ash, and Oliveira to meet me for lunch when Ren walked up to me. 

Uhg, I thought. Not  now. 

He stopped in front of me, caging me in with his huge body. 

"So, Pixie, you are going to meet me after school right?" He asked, a sly grin playing on his beautiful lips. 

I sighed. "Yes Ren. Even though I have plans with my Uncle." 

He looked at me. "Uncle?" 

I sighed again. "Yes. Uncle." 

He was about to ask me a question but thought better of it. "What are you doing for lunch?" 

"Going to Taco-Bell with some friends." I said. 

"Oh, is that so?" He whispered, leaning in closer to me. 

"Uh-huh." I mumbled. 

He put a hand on either side of my head and leaned in even closer. He was so close to me, I can feel his warm, mint breath on my face. He stared into my eyes, making my knees weak. 

"See you after school." He said before walking away. 

I watched him round the corner before breathing deeply. I closed my eyes and leaned my head against the locker, mentally shaking myself. My racing heart finally calmed down. 

"Fairy?" Nix's warm voice reached my ringing ears. "Are you okay?"

I opened my eyes and saw him standing in front of me. "Yeah, I'm good. Where's Ash and Oliveira?" I asked. 

"They had to put their things away. They should be here any minute now." He grinned at me. 

I ginned back. "Good. I'm starving." 

He laughed. "Yeah me too." 

We stood there in silence for a minute. It felt good. It wasn't uncomfortable, it was sweet. 

"So what did Ren want?" Nix asked, breaking the silence. 

"Oh, he wants me to hang out with him after school. I don't know why, but I did kinda pissed him off during homeroom." I said. 

"How?" He leaned against the locker next to me. 

"Oh, I told him to stop crying over a seat, to grow up and get a new one." I laughed. "You should've seen his face!" 

He laughed with me. "I told you, you're gonna need your feistiness here."

"Yeah, you did. Thank you, again." I smiled shyly at him. 

"You're welcome." 

"Hey, Fairy!" I turned at the sound of my nickname. I saw Ren running down the hallway towards me and Nix. "You forgot something."

He handed me my light green notebook when he reached us. "I figured you'll want this." He smirked at me. 

"Oh, yeah. Thanks." I said taking it from him. 

"Welcome." He said. "See you after school." 

"See you." I said. 

Before he walked off again, he leaned over and kissed my cheek. I looked at him shocked to my very core. Before I could say anything he was gone. 

I looked at Nix, confused and shocked. He looked like he could put Ren through a locker. I touched his arm. His skin was warm and smooth. 

"Nix you okay?" I asked, knowing full well that he wasn't.

"He kissed you." He said in a dangerously low voice. 

"Not really, he just kissed my cheek. Next time he does it though, I'll kick him were it matters." I said, a hundred percent serious. 

He laughed. "If you do, can I watch?" 

I laughed as well. "Front row seats." 

"Pixie!" Kitty called out to me. "I just heard that Ren full blown kissed you!" 

"Ugh," I groaned. "News travels around quick. No he didn't. He kissed my cheek, and I think it was to piss off Nix." 

Kitty smiled. "I thought so. I mean from the way you trash talked Ren in homeroom..." She whistled. 

I laughed, along with Nix. "Yeah, well he diserved it." 

"Yeah he did!" She laughed with us. 

"Nix, where are they?" I asked right when Oliveira rounded the corner looking pissed. 

"Whoa Liv, you okay?" Nix asked.

"Who does he think he is. Kissing my friend than bragging about it to his friends." She shreaked. 

No need to ask who he was. "He didn't kiss me. He kissed my cheek, and I think he only did it to piss of Nix." I sighed. 

"I don't care why he did it! If he touches you again, I'll kick him to freaken Mars." She was boiling. 

"Oliveira, calm down. If he touches me again I'll be kicking him were it matters most." I said. "Now can we go get Taco-Bell? I'm starving." 

Nix granbed my hand. "Let's go." 

"Wait. Kitty you wanna come with us?" I asked, not wanting to leave her behind. 

"Yes. Thank you, Pixie." She smiled at me before trotting off to Ash. 

Nix silently chuckled. "You have no idea what you just did." 

"What?" I asked innocently. Of course, I knew what I did. Through the entire conversion with Oliveira, Kitty couldn't take her eyes off Ash. So yeah of course, I knew what I did. So did Nix. 

He shook his head at me. "You're an evil little fairy." He whispered in my ear. 

I was about to say something back, when someone slammed into me. 

I turned and saw a girl with long black curly hair, pale gray eyes and light pale skin, glaring at me. She was slinder and tall, holding five inches to me. She wore a white and blue blouse with skinny jeans and black stillitio heels. 

She flipped her hair over her shoulder. "Watch where you're going." She hissed at me. 

"I did, but it seems as if you purposely slam into me." I said with some of my oun vinoum. 

She was about to say something, but she caught sight of Nix. "Nix, baby, how are you?" She asked with fake sweetness. 

"Wonderful Mia." Nix said, his tone saying he was bored. "I don't know if you meet Pixie." He said holding our intertwined fingers up, gesturing between us. 

She stared at our hands before saying, "No. I haven't." 

She turned to me with an icy glare. "I'm Mia." 

I shared the same icy glare right back to her. "I'm Pixie." 

She glared one last time before leaving in a huff. I turned back around and headed towards Oliveira and Ash, feeling slightly jealous. 

Kitty was silently talking to Oliveira and Ash was openly glaring at Nix. 

I freed my hand from Nix and walked up to Ash. "Let's go. I'm hungry." 

Ash looked at me and said, "Okay. You can sit in the fornt if you want." 

"Thank you. So, who's Mia?" I asked, curious. 

"A girl who broke my heart." He replied. 

"Wanna talk about it?" I asked hesitantly. 

"Later." He smiled at me, than opened the passenger door for me. 

"Thank you." I said. The Jeep was a bit tall and I was having a hard time getting in. Finally, Ash lifted me up and placed me in the seat. I smiled at him. 

He smiled back before he walked to the driver side. "Tacco-Bell here we come." He said when everyone was in the car. 

A few minutes later we were in line at Taco-Bell and ordering. After we got our food Ash lead us to a back table and slid over to make room for me. I smiled at him and plopped down next to him. 

He smiled back. "So, Pixie. How was your first few classes?" 

"Um, they were good. Yea, English has to be my favorite so far." I said. 

He laughed. "That's good. But I have to say history is mine." He said sweetly. 

"Good. I love history to, but English all day for me." I laughed as well. 

"So, how'd you piss off Ren?" Oliveira asked me. 

"Oh, you know, I called him a crybaby, told him to grow up and go find a new seat." I said with fake sweetness. 

Everyone started laughing. "No way!" Oliveira shrieked. 

"Oh yeah she did." Kitty said. 

The bell rung and Ren and his huge group of minions walked in. Everyone around my table stopped laughing. Ren caught sight of me and made his way over. Ash grabbed my hand and gave it a squeeze letting me know that he's there to support me. 

Ren stopped in front of me. "Hey, Fairy, I didn't peg you as the type of girl who kissed me, but held another guy's hand." Loud enough for his friends to hear.  

His group laughed. I looked at him. "I didn't peg you as the type of guy who's an asshole in public." I smiled.

He lost his smile. "What did you just call me?" He asked dangerously. 

"She called you an asshloe, Ren. So get lost." Oliveira said. 

He gave a dark chuckle. "Who asked you, Livy?" 

"Nobody. I just wanted to throw my good since in." Oliveira saod back with a sneer.

"Go away Ren. We're having a friendly get to know you better thing right now." I hissed at him.

He steped back with arms raised in front of him as in surrender. "Okay, okay. No need to go all evil fairy on me." 

"That's it!" I said standing up and forcing him to back a step. "Go somewhere else. This is between me and them. So leave. I dont want to takl to you. I'll see you after school tomorrow, Ren." Somewhere in my little speech, my water start to shake. I looked around thinking Ash was doing it to get my attention. But his hands were in his lap, and everyone at my table was looking at me. 

"Nice to see you as always Ren, but we need to go. Don't want Pixie late for class." Ash said while standing up. "Call my sister Livy again, I'll let Pixie kick your worthless ass." 

Ren stepped back again. "Good luck with that." He smirked at me. 

No one saw it coming, much less me. My hand shot out like a cobra and smashed into his jaw. His head flung to the side, he lost his smile. 

I looked at him, a sweet innocent smile on my face. "What were you saying?" 

He growled at me. "You'll regret that later." 

I faked shock and hurt. "Oh, Ren. I think you just broke my heart." 

I walked past him, not letting him say another thing to me. Everyone elst was behind me. Oliveira and Kitty caught up to me. 

"What was that?" Oliveira asked when we reached the car. 

"I don't know. He just pissed me off." I shrugged. 

"Well that was freaken amazing!" Kitty laughed. 

"Yeah, it was." Ash said unlocking the door for us. 

"I can't believe he said that!" Kitty said. "What a jerk!" 

We all laughed. When we got to school, Kitty thanked us and headed towards the school. Ash shared a look with Nix and Oliveira nodded her head. 

"Pixie, do you have a place where we can talk in private?" Nix asked me. 

"Yeah, we can go to my house." I said confused. 

"Good. Ash let's go." Nix said. 

We left school again, but the drive this time was longer. The dark storm clouds made me itchy. During storms was when the shadows like it most. They feed of darkness and fear, but I can't seem to get over my fear of them. 

"Why do we need to talk?" I asked, confused. "Did I do something wrong?" 

Ash looked at me. "No, no of course not. Pixie we just need to explain what happened at Taco-Bell." He said shooting me a weak in the knees smile.

I smiled back. "Okay. So, did that happen? I mean no one was touching the table. So how did the water move?" 

"Wow, you don't hold back do you?" Ash asked. After I gave him a look he started to answer my questions. "Um, you won't believe us, but um, yeah, you did that." 

He sounded serious. "No, no,  I can't. I mean I know it wasn't me. How can I do that?" I was talking really fast.

"Yes, you did. Right here?" He asked gesturing to a turn point. When I nodded he turned up my driveway. When he parked we were in front of my house. I opened my door, before I got out I told Ash, "Answer all my questions." And hopped out. 

They followed me and waited as I opened the door. Inside was as dark as a stormy night. I walked in very slowly told the others to wait while I turned on the porch light. They walked in behind me. I went around and turned on all the lights, feeling better. 

"Sorry about that. Just its was dark." I apologized. 

"No need to apologized." Nix said. "But can you tell us why?" 

"After you tell me what's going on." I countered. 

"Okay." Oliveira said sitting next to me. "So, this is going to sound crazy, but its the truth." 

"What? Just say it." I said inpatient. 

"Okay. Um, well we're angels." Ash said. 

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter Three

I leaped to my feet. "Your joking right?" 

Nix shook his head. Ash looked at the ground. Oliveira looked at me with a look in her eyes. She stood up and put her back to me. Only then did I see it. Dark gray wings spread out in a fifteen foot span untucked from some unseen plack between she shoulder blades. They slowly rised above her head. She looked like a dark angel, but with light in her veins. 

She turned back to me. "So, what did you think?" She asked with a smile playing at her lips. 

I took a deep breath, then nodded slowly. "They're beautiful. I guess you're not joking." 

She laughed quietly. "Yea, its a big shock at first. I'm what you'd call a 'Gardain Angel,' but I prefer the name 'Gia' short for 'Giardino Angelo.'"

"Oh." I breathed a sigh of relief. "A Gia?" 

She nodded. "Ash and Nix are known as 'Warrior Angels,' but go by 'Guerriero.'" 

I looked back and forth between Oliveira and her brothers. "And me?" I asked. 

"You. You're known as a 'Elemnale' also known as an Elemental Angel." She took a deep breath. "You're the only one of your kind. And very powerful at that. A girl with your ranks shouldn't be very powerful." 

I looked at her. "Geesh. Thanks." 

"Sorry. But from what I was told, was that you have a quarter mother and a human father. Its just a shock, I guess." She shrugged. 

I nodded slowly. "Wait." Something she said came into my head. "An Elemental Angel. Like I control the elements?" 

"Yeah. Pretty cool too." Ash spoke up for the first time since reviling that they -and me- are not human. "But right now, your power is doormat. But I can still feel it. And its strong." 

I stared at him. He just basically called me powerful. "Um, well, how do I use it?" I asked stupidly. 

"We'll work on it with you." Ash said. "You've got to remember that we have different powers than you." 

I nodded, letting them know that I understand. I looked at Nix,who was fixated on his phone. I looked at the ground. 

After a long silence, Ash said, "Does your family know." 

I whispered quietly, "No, they don't. Cause their dead." 

They all looked at me. I stared back. An uncomfortable silence fell between the four of us. 

Ash was the first to speak, "Sorry. We... Um, we didn't know." 

"Its fine. I didn't expect you to know." I gave a small smile. 

"That's just the thing. We were supposed to know. And we didn't. I'm your guardian." Oliveira said in a shaky voice. 

I looked at her. "How long have you been my guardian? Because this happened seven years ago." 

"Can you tell us what happened?" Nix asked, interrupting something Oliveira was about to say. 

I took a deep breath. "It was my tenth birthday. My mom was making me a cake in the kitchen, Dad was in his office wrapping up late presents. I was sitting on a stool, watching Mom bake." I smiled at the memory, but the next part swiped the smile off my face. "There was a knock at the door, notifying my parents that there were guests already here. Except it wasn't a guest, it was these shadows. I don't know how to explain it, but that's what they were. They got to my dad before Mom could close the door. Her scream shattered all the glass in the house, the lights started to flicker out, Mom was standing there watching these things cripple in pain." 

Silent tears started falling on my face. "One of them said, 'We will have her. You'll not be able to stop us.' Then he vanished. When he reappeared, he was behind Mom with a knife to her throat. He looked at me right before he sliced her throat. He said, 'Be prepared, little angel. We will find you.'" 

It got quiet for another minute before I said, "So now I move around, hoping to lose the shadows, but everywhere I go, they fallow." 

I looked around, trying to see if I can find a shadow lurking in a corner. I turned my head to the sound of a truck engine.  "I think my uncle is here." 

The slow, loud rumble of the truck paused while Uncle Kale parked and turned off the engine. I walked over to the front door and held it open for him. To say Kale looked surprised to see me standing there, was an understatement.

"Pixie? What are you doing here?" Kale asked while walking into the house. I shut the door behind him. 

"We have a lot to talk about, Kale." I said walking past him. 

I never really got mad at him, but when I did he knew something was up. Like now for instance. When we reached the living room, Kale stared at me than at my new friends that weren't even human. 

"Did you skip school, Pixie?" Kale narrowed his flashing gray eyes at me. To say the Uncle Kale was young is an understatement. He looked to be about twenty five at the most. His black hair was always cut short, close to his scalp. His dark skin was dusted in limited freckles. His gray eyes always seem to flash with secrets, love, and power. He wore the dark green sweater I had gotten him last year for Fathers Day and faded out blue jeans. 

I swallowed. "Yes. This is important." 

His eyes narrowed further. "What's more important than school, Pixie?" 

"Um, how about that I'm a freaken angel? Or that I can control the Earth's elements? Or how about that I have a guardian angel and two warrior angels? Or why was my parents killed? What am I, Uncle Kale?" I crossed my arms. 

His face paled, giving him away. "How... How did you find out?" 

"A little accident at Taco-Bell. These three filled me in a little bit, but I want to know from you." I paused, looking at the triplets. "All of you." 

My friends nodded while Kale paled even more. I walked past all of them and sat down on the recliner. Oliveira sat next to me on arm of the recliner. Ash and Nix sat on the Love seat. Uncle Kale stood and watched us as we got comfortable. Still pale he sat on the floor. 

He sighed before beginning. "You're right Pixie. You are an angel. A powerful one at that. Your mom was one of the most powerful Angel there was. And your dad. Well your dad was a warrior angel." 

He stopped, looking at me. I heard the sharp intake of breath. The triplets looked at me like I grew three heads. It was written all over their faces that they didn't know. Or where lied to.  Uncle Kale took a deep breath, got up, and headed towards the kitchen.  We all sat in silence while Kale slammed cupboard doors. The refrigerator light came on and I heard Kale digging around the fridge looking for the beer.  

Uncle Kale came back with the foaming beer in a glass cup and sat back down. I leaned back in the recliner. Ash let out a pent up breath, Nix stared at the ground, a look of range on his beautiful face, Oliveira reached out any grabbed my hand. 

"That night, all I know, us that the King of Demons wanted you all dead." Kale said slowly, waiting for me to freak out. I was close,  squeasing Oliveira's hand tightly.

"Who's the King of Demons?" I ask, my voice shaking. 

Uncle Kale stretched his long legs out and said, "He's what you'll call Lucifer." 



Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter Four

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter Five

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter Six

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

Chapter Seven

Comment Log in or Join Tablo to comment on this chapter...

You might like Chloe Rae's other books...