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Authors: Joss Stirling

Tags: #Juvenile Fiction, #General, #Love & Romance

Storm and Stone

BOOK: Storm and Stone
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Also by Joss Stirling

 

 

A black eye. Great.

Raven Stone studied it in the mirror, lightly probing the developing bruise. Ouch. The strip light flickered over the wash basin, making her reflection blink like the end of an old newsreel. The tap squeaked a protest as she dampened a cold compress.

‘You look about seven years old,’ she told her mirror-double. Ten years on from the schoolyard of scraped knees and minor bumps, Raven considered the injury more a humiliation than a pain. She tugged a curl of her spiralling black hair over her face but it sprang back, refusing to hide the cloud gathering around her left eye. She wondered whether she could hide in her room until it faded … ?

Not possible. All the students were expected to attend the welcome-back supper and her absence would be noticed. Anyway—she threw the flannel in the sink—why give her enemies the satisfaction of knowing they had driven her out so easily? Cowardice was not part of her character résumé. She had far too much pride to allow it.

Raven stripped off her tennis kit and pulled on a towelling robe. She tossed the dirty clothes in the laundry basket by the door with a snap of the lid. It was tough keeping her promise to herself that she would be strong; easier when she had someone at her back. But the second bed in the room was empty—no heap of untidy belongings or suitcase as she had expected. What was keeping Gina? She was the only one Raven wanted to talk to about what had just happened. Raven flopped on her bed. How had it come to this in a few hours? Until the black eye, life had been skating along fine, a smooth place after years of rough. Westron, as run by the head teacher, Mrs Bain, had been weird sometimes, putting too much emphasis on wealth and parents, celebrity pupils and privacy, but teaming up with Gina, Raven had been able to laugh off most of those absurdities. She would have said no one in the school wished her ill. In spite of owing her place to her grandfather’s presence on the staff, the other students had not appeared to mind her numbering among their privileged ranks. Now she knew better.

The realization had come out of nowhere, like the tornado spiralling Dorothy’s house off to Oz. When Raven opened the door to the changing rooms, everything went skipping down the yellow brick road to Bizarre City.

Hedda’s question had seemed so, well,
normal
. ‘Hey, where’s my Chloé tote?’

The other girls in the locker room getting ready for the tennis competition had made a brief search among their belongings. Raven had not even bothered: her little sports bag, a much mocked airline freebie, was too small to hide the bulky taupe leather shoulder bag. Hedda had been flaunting it all morning like a fisherman displaying a prize catch. The flexing, polished surface had gleamed like a sea trout in her manicured fingers:
so many pockets and you won’t believe how much it cost!
Hedda had thought it a bargain but it had come with a price tag more than Raven’s grandfather earned in a month as the school’s caretaker. Something so pointlessly expensive had to be a rip-off.

‘Hey, I’m talking to you, Stone.’

Raven felt a sharp tug on her elbow. Standing on one foot to lace her tennis shoe, she toppled to one side. Why had Hedda suddenly taken to using her surname?

‘Whoa, Hedda, careful!’ Raven balanced herself against the wire mesh dividing the changing areas and tied off the bow. ‘You almost knocked me over.’

Stick thin and with an abundance of wine-red hair, Hedda reminded Raven of a red setter, sharp nose pointing to the next shopping bargain, a determined little notch in her chin that gave her face character. Hedda put her hands on her hips. ‘Where have you hidden it?’

‘What?’ Raven was too surprised to realize what it was that Hedda was accusing her of doing. ‘Me?’

‘Yes, you. I’m not stupid. I saw you looking at it. It had my phone—my make-up—my money—everything is in that bag.’

Raven tried to keep a hold on her temper and ignore the hurt of being accused with no proof. She had had enough of that in the last school she had attended before coming to the UK. She tried for reasonable. ‘I haven’t done anything with it. Where did you last see it?’

‘At the lunch table—don’t pretend you don’t know.’

The changing room fell silent as the other girls listened in on the exchange. A flush of shame crept over Raven’s cheeks even though she knew she was innocent. Memories of standing before the principal in her old school rushed back. She felt queasy with the sense of déjà vu.

‘I’m sorry: are you saying I stole it?’

Hedda tipped her head back and looked down her long nose at Raven. ‘I’m not saying—I know you took it.’

Raven dragged her thoughts away from her past and focused on the accuser. What on earth had happened to Hedda? She had missed most of last term and had come back with what seemed like a personality transplant—from clingy, whingeing minor irritant to strident, major-league bitch. Raven told herself not to back down; she’d faced false accusations before and this time she wasn’t a traumatized little girl. What was the worst Hedda could do? Wave a mascara wand at her?

‘So you think I took it? Based on what? On that fact that I just
looked
at it? Looking doesn’t mean stealing.’ Raven appealed to the other girls, hoping to find someone who would join her in shrugging off the accusation as absurd, but their expressions were watchful or carefully neutral.
Gee, thanks, guys.

Then Hedda’s friend, Toni, joined in the finger pointing. ‘There’s no point claiming you’re innocent. Things were going missing all last term.’

‘I had nothing to do with that. Some of my stuff was stolen too.’

Toni ignored her. ‘We all noticed small things disappearing but didn’t like to … I mean we
guessed
it was you but we felt sorry for you, so … ’ Toni waved her hand as if to say
that was last term, this is now
.

‘Sorry for me?’ Raven gave a choked laugh. One thing she never wanted was anyone’s pity. Even at her lowest moment after losing her parents, she hadn’t asked for that.

Hedda got right up in her face. ‘But taking my brand new Chloé? Now you’ve gone way too far. Give it back, Stone.’

Ridiculous
. Raven turned her back on Hedda. ‘And what am I supposed to be doing with these things I’m stealing?’

‘Your grandfather has a new car—if you can call a Skoda a car.’

Toni snorted. Raven felt a surge of anger: taking a crack at her was one thing but Hedda had better keep her granddad out of it or there really would be trouble!

‘So I, what? Steal from the rich to give to the poor? Now why didn’t I think of that?’ Raven’s irony was lost on the literal-minded Hedda.

‘Stop denying it. I want my bag and I want it now.’

Hoping that if she ignored the infantile rant Hedda would back down, Raven shook her head and dipped her fingers inside her jeans pocket for a band to tie up her hair.

‘Don’t you ignore me!’ With a grunt of fury, Hedda shoved Raven hard into the mesh, right onto a peg that caught the corner of her eye. Even though the hook was padded by clothes, Raven saw stars. Clapping a hand to her face, she swung round, temper threatening to gallop away riderless.

‘Look, Hedda, I don’t have your stupid tote!’ She gathered herself in the defensive stance she had been taught. Raven had to be careful, knowing she could do a lot of harm with the self-defence training her father had insisted she take. It had come in useful for fending off the predators who roamed the corridors in her American public school, but she guessed it would be frowned on at refined Westron and would earn her a reputation as a thug.

‘Yes. You. Do!’ Hedda shoved Raven in the chest with each word so her back collided with the mesh. Someone giggled nervously while two students hurried out to fetch the PE teacher.

That was outside of enough. It was time Hedda learnt there was one girl in the school she couldn’t bully.

‘I’ve had enough of your idiotic—’ (push) ‘—accusations!’ Raven thrust Hedda back a second time, measuring out exactly the same force as Hedda had used on her.

Then Hedda went for a handful of hair. Big mistake.

‘Just leave me alone!’ Raven seized the girl’s wrist, executing a sharp twist-and-bend defensive movement. But this was no fair fight: Toni snatched a hank of Raven’s hair at the back and pulled sharply, nails raking the side of her neck. Raven shoved Hedda away and broke Toni’s hold by a sharp chop to her elbow, making her arm go dead. She grabbed her tennis racket and swept it in front of her like a kendo sword, fending off both her attackers.

‘Touch me again and you’ll be sorry.’

Toni backed away, shaking her hand. ‘Leave her, Hedda: she means it.’

But Hedda had not given up on her misplaced revenge. Deterred from a direct attack, Hedda went for Raven’s belongings. ‘Think you can steal from me, do you?’ She upended Raven’s bag, scattering all her things over her head. Raven’s phone fell onto the floor and shattered, bits flying across the tiles. ‘There! Suck on that, skank.’

‘What? No!’ Throwing the racket aside, Raven dropped her knees to collect the pieces before someone trod on them. It had to be salvageable—had to.

Hedda ended the gesture by throwing the empty bag at her, cord whipping her across the cheek. ‘That’ll teach you to steal. And I still want my tote back.’

BOOK: Storm and Stone
10.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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