Authors: Madeline Freeman
The Naturals: Book One
Copyright © 2011 Madeline Freeman
Cover Art © 2013 Once Upon a Time Covers: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Once-Upon-a-Time-Covers/114275092027703
All rights reserved.
Third eBook Edition: August 2013
This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance of characters to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The Author holds exclusive rights to this work. Unauthorized duplication is prohibited.
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Also by Madeline Freeman
To the Author of my life and the Creator of everything I will ever create.
And for Brian, who announced one day, quietly, as we drove in the car, “My wife is an author.”
Look at that. I am.
This book has gone through a number of drafts and rewrites, and it wouldn’t be here without the help of some amazing people.
Thanks to Mary and Rachel for your notes, edits, and cheerleading.
Thanks to Once Upon a Time Covers for the amazing cover art.
Thanks to Anne Victory at Victory Editing for finding my errors and making me even more grammatically correct.
The steady cadence of a bass beat reverberated through Morgan Abbey’s chest, feeling as if it originated within her very being instead of the house in front of her. House was actually an understatement. Morgan lived in a house—a three bedroom ranch with temperamental air conditioning and a roof past its prime. The sprawling brick building before her with its manicured lawn and expertly designed landscaping definitely fit into Morgan’s idea of a mansion.
To her left stood her best friend, Clarissa Perry—better known as Ris. Even in the darkness, Morgan could see a broad grin stretched across Ris’s face and she knew there would be no convincing her to turn around and go home.
As if feeling her friend’s gaze on her, Ris turned to Morgan. “Can you believe it? It only took almost four years of high school, but we’re finally at a party.”
“Don’t be so dramatic. We’ve been to parties before.”
Ris rolled her eyes. “Anything involving ice cream or board games doesn’t count.”
Not allowing Morgan to organize a retort, Ris grabbed her by the arm and pulled her toward the front door. Tripping slightly as they started moving, Morgan quickly managed to regain her balance. The strappy heels on her feet were on loan from Ris, who insisted Morgan couldn’t attend a party in flip-flops.
Ris and Morgan made their way up to the front door and stood there for a moment—should they knock?—before Ris pushed the door open and entered the house.
The music was oppressively loud, and Morgan felt almost as though she had to physically fight past it to enter the house. But then she was in and the music was no longer smothering; instead, it seemed to at once become a part of her, to course through her veins, to welcome her. And it was a good thing it did, because no one else seemed interested in doing so.
The foyer was brightly lit, yet the people who stood in it seemed somehow wrapped in shadow. Most stood in tight-knit groups; all held large red plastic cups in their hands. Ris pushed her way through the foyer and Morgan did her best to keep up. Already she was doubting the wisdom of their having come here.
They walked into what might be considered the house’s living room and Morgan saw a DJ set up in the corner. He was a tall, lanky white boy Morgan thought she recognized from school. He was wearing a skull cap and a pair of oversized headphones—though only one headphone was covering an ear. He was bopping rather spasmodically and out of synch with the beat of the music.
“Do you see Corbin anywhere?” Ris called over the music.
Morgan made a face. “Why would I be looking for Corbin?”
Ris’s eyes scanned the room. “It’s his party. He invited us. It’d be rude not to thank him.”
Morgan sighed. She generally avoided conversations with Corbin Starling. He resided at the top of Arthur B. Casey High’s social ladder, due in part to his wealth; in part to the legacy of his older brother, who had been valedictorian, a basketball star, and Homecoming and Prom king in his day; in part, Morgan didn’t doubt, to his wealth; and in part to his looks, which Morgan grudgingly conceded were at least slightly above average. His social standing was usually enough to keep them from interacting; though well-known, Morgan was hardly the height of popularity. People in Corbin’s circle generally interacted with Morgan only when they wanted her to tell their fortune—something she’d been doing since middle school.
“We used to date, you know,” Ris said as they wove around the bodies of their schoolmates.
Morgan couldn’t help smiling. “I know. I still don’t understand why.”
“Have you seen that boy? He asks you out, the only answer is yes. Besides, Corbin’s actually an okay guy—you know, besides not liking Star Wars.”
“I love that you dumped him over Han Solo.”
“Sad, but true,” Ris agreed. “The things you do in fifth grade seem so logical at the time…”
Morgan laughed, resuming her scan of the room. If Ris wanted to thank Corbin, they might as well get it over with quickly. That’s when she noticed him: Not Corbin Starling—this was a guy she’d never seen before. He leaned casually against the far wall, arms crossed over his chest, looking almost too cool for his surroundings in his close-fitting black T-shirt and dark washed jeans. But the thing that stood out most to Morgan was that he was staring at her.
At first, Morgan thought perhaps they’d made eye contact accidently, but when he didn’t look away, she began to feel self-conscious.
A knot of girls stood in front of the guy and one seemed to notice she no longer had his attention. So focused had Morgan been on the guy that she failed to notice who was talking to him until she turned around to see what he was staring at.
Jocelyn Rochester—who had eschewed her given name in favor of Lynna back in sixth grade—narrowed her eyes at Morgan. The undisputed Queen Bee of ABC High, Lynna was unaccustomed to attention being diverted from her, especially by someone like Morgan. Like some kind of mob boss, Lynna raised her chin in Morgan’s direction and the two girls standing closest to her started in Morgan’s direction.
Marya McKinney, Lynna’s second-in-command, was the first to approach. Her eyes flicked over Morgan deliberately in a way designed to leave no doubt she was being judged. “What on earth are you doing here?”
“Casing the place,” Morgan replied easily. “Now, if you don’t mind, I’m in search of a big safe—or maybe some burlap bags with dollar signs stenciled on them.”
The look on Marya’s face told Morgan she didn’t understand sarcasm. Marya looked to Shayna Malcolm, Lynna’s third-in-command, for assistance.
Before Shayna had a chance to speak, Ris was talking. “We’re here for the same reason you are: we were invited.”
Marya and Shayna tittered with laughter. “Let me guess,” Marya said, “you ran into Corbin at a store or something and asked him how his summer was going, and he mentioned this party. Then he invited you.”
Ris glanced at Morgan briefly before responding. “Yeah.”
Shayna tipped her head back as she laughed. “It was a pity invite. Most people are smart enough to recognize it for what it is and not come.”
Ris’s eyes flicked downward and Morgan could detect the beginnings of a blush even in the dim party light. Anger flared in Morgan. How dare Lynna Rochester’s minions make Ris feel inferior to them.
“You two are so transparent,” Morgan said, her words distracting Marya and Shayna from the glee of watching Ris squirm. “You’re both so obviously threatened by Ris. I mean, she was able to accomplish the one thing neither of you—nor Lynna, for that matter—have been able to. Land Corbin Starling. Don’t tell me that’s not what you’re trying to do right now. Lynna’s over there chatting up that stranger, hoping Corbin’ll see and get jealous. And the two of you are even more sad—hoping that Corbin notices one of you instead.”
The look on Marya’s face told Morgan she’d called it right. It was her turn to shift uncomfortably and blush.
But Shayna wouldn’t be put off so easily. “You think you’re something special, don’t you? Using your freaky mind powers to read us or whatever you do.”
“That’s right,” Ris said, emboldened by Marya’s discomfort. “Morgan is special. Way more special than you. You’re nothing but a follower, hoping for some scraps of attention from the people who fawn all over Lynna.”
Shayna spared a scathing look in Ris’s direction before returning her gaze to Morgan. “You try so hard to make people forget, don’t you? But they never do. Even the people who fawn all over you to get their fortunes read? Don’t think it’s not in the back of their minds.”
As though a fist had tightened around Morgan’s lungs, she felt the oxygen leave her body. She opened her mouth to respond, but words wouldn’t come.
A smile played at the corners of Shayna’s mouth as she realized she’d hit the right button. A crowd began to gather, the air charged with the promise of a girl fight.
“You think we don’t remember,” Shayna continued, her voice louder than it had been, playing to her audience. “We all know your history—we know what kind of family you come from. We all know what your dad did.”
When Morgan didn’t respond, Ris broke in. “Her dad didn’t do anything. And clearly the cops don’t think so, either, since he’s not in prison—”
Marya, who had been standing off to the side during this exchange, pounced t her chance to be in the center of the drama. “Just because he got away with it doesn’t mean anything. My dad was the detective on the case and he’s still convinced Dylan Abbey killed his wife, he just can’t prove it.”
Morgan felt physically ill and clenched her fists, digging her nails into her palms in an attempt to distract herself from the urge to vomit. Ten years’ worth of torment washed over her like a wave. At the moment she felt she could no longer hang on, salvation came from an unlikely source. Corbin Starling appeared, inserting himself between Morgan and her tormentors.
“Ladies, is there a problem here?” Though Corbin’s voice sounded genial, there was an underlying edge to it. His green eyes lingered on Marya and Shayna as he spoke.
“Nothing out of the ordinary,” Ris said, taking a step closer to Corbin. “Marya and Shayna are just being bitches.”
Movement surrounded Morgan as the crowd began to disperse. But one body moved toward the group rather than away. She looked up to see Lynna approaching. The two locked eyes for a moment before Lynna averted her gaze. Was Morgan imagining things, or did Lynna look paler than usual?
Lynna sidled up beside Corbin, displacing Ris. She offered a coy smile. “Such language,” she said, casting a glance over her shoulder at Ris. “I know you’ve got a good heart, Corbin, but you might want give a little more thought to the kind of people you invite to your house…”
Morgan managed to move away from the scene, her attention fully focused on the nearest wall. If she didn’t reach some support soon, she was afraid she might fall over.
Ris appeared at her side, helping her to the wall. “I’m so sorry,” she said, her voice barely above a whisper. “We shouldn’t’ve come—”
Morgan waved her hand. She took in a deep breath, the fog that had enveloped her mind abating. “It’s okay.”