Authors: Cynthia Eden
I knew I shouldn’t, but I still had to ask, “FM doesn’t stand for freshman, does it?” Because that would have been too easy.
Troy glanced at me, his brown eyes shining with laughter. “Fresh meat.”
“That’s what we always call the first crop that gets bussed in.” His gaze slid over me. “And you must be—”
But I was already hurrying away from him. I freaking can’t
bullying. I grabbed the freshman’s shoulder and yanked him around. Sometimes, I can be a lot stronger than I look.
The guy yelped a bit, but calmed down when he saw me.
“Mrs. Parker’s room…” The location immediately clicked in my mind, and I pointed back behind us.
East yard, my ass.
“Go back, turn left at the stairs, and it’s the first room you’ll see.”
His eyes widened.
“And you really might want to stop by the office and grab a school map.”
So you don’t get punked every class change.
His Adam’s apple bobbed, and he nodded quickly. “Th-thank you—”
I offered my hand. “I’m Anna.”
His fingers—cool and stronger than I’d anticipated—closed around mine. “James. James Colter.”
Great. Did this count as making friends? Helping a lost freshman?
James scampered away. I turned back and found Troy glaring at me. Ah…making friends, making enemies…only four minutes of the day down.
I brushed by Troy.
“I was only havin’ some fun,” he muttered.
“So was I.” I didn’t glance back at him. Sometimes, you could just smell a jerk. I hurried forward. My homeroom was just ahead and—
Bright blue eyes met mine. I stumbled a little. There was no mistaking that gaze.
My “hero” strolled down the hall, a few guys surrounding him. He had a shirt on today, because, well, he’d have to wear one at school…a black shirt and faded jeans. His hair was pushed back, his voice rumbled and—
And yes, he totally walked right past me without saying a word. But one of the guys with him—a guy with truly bleached blond hair, like almost white hair—let out a long, wolf whistle.
Perfect. My day was off to a kick-ass start.
The bell rang just as I slipped inside the classroom.
I survived the morning. Figured that I’d have two classes with Troy, and since teachers love to assign seats to students based on alphabetical order, Troy (who is Troy Long, tight end for the Haven Hornets football team, yeah, go Hornets—or something) sat behind me in both classes.
I also had a class with my not-so-heroic hero. Turned out that my catcher’s name was Rafe Channing. No, we didn’t sit close to each other, and, yes, he continued his lovely trend of acting like he’d never seen me before in his life.
Some boys were just born charmers.
When lunchtime finally arrived, my stomach had knotted with hunger. I hadn't eaten breakfast—I usually never do—so I was ready to eat.
But I also knew the lunch time drill, and since I hadn’t exactly made a bosom buddy during the day, I had no idea where I was supposed to sit.
The juniors and seniors had the “privilege” of eating behind the school on non-rainy days. There were plenty of picnic-type tables out there, and by the time I came out with my tray of ambiguous goodness, the tables had already started to fill.
So where was I supposed to go?
“Hi,” a soft voice said from behind me.
I glanced back, being sure to put my fake, I’m-happy-to-be-here smile on my face.
Another girl smiled tentatively back at me. That girl—she’d been in my chemistry class. Blonde, with big, light blue eyes, she’d blushed every time Mr. Kennedy called her name.
“You can sit with me, if you want,” she said. “I’m Jenny, Jenny Hollow.”
“Thanks.” My smile felt genuine then. “I’m Anna.”
“I know.” She inclined her head to the right, to the closest, empty table. “You’re the only new girl in the junior class. Most folks here know who you are.”
We sat down at the table. I wanted to scarf my food—disgusting as it looked—but I could pretend to be a lady. So I just took a deep gulp of my soda.
“You’re really from Chicago?” Jenny asked as she scooped up a fry. I thought it was a fry anyway. “That is so cool.”
Parts of it were cool. The killers and the blood-not so much.
I scooped up some food.
“Bet coming here was a major disappointment for you.” Her wide eyes watched me. “I mean, everyone I know wants to get out of Haven.” She shook her head. “Folks don’t want to stay here forever.”
That’s because those folks didn’t know what waited outside the town. And it was a pretty town. Nestled right inside the mountains. Surrounded by all those green—and wolf-filled—woods.
I shrugged. “I didn’t mind the move.”
Troy came out then, but he wasn’t alone. Another guy strolled at his side, one with a rich, golden tan. Mr. Tan glanced my way. His hair was wavy, light blond, and he smiled, flashing dimples.
Jenny’s voice was a high-pitched whisper. How weird was that? I hadn’t even known whispers could get that high note. “Brent Peters just smiled at you.”
She said that the way a preacher might say, “The Lord is with us today.” All excited.
I took another sip of soda. “Uh, okay.”
Her hands slapped on the table, and she leaned toward me. “Don’t you know who he is?”
I shook my head.
“He’s quarterback! Hottest guy ever!”
Well, he was pretty cute and all but—
“And he smiled at
She bit into another fry. How come her meal actually looked like a meal and mine looked like slop? “Valerie is going to freak if she catches him flirting with you.”
I glanced back toward Brent’s way. The chick I’d seen in the hallway that morning, the one with the blond hair and the not-smile, not-glare had just come up and wrapped her arms around Brent. “I’m guessing that’s Valerie?”
“Um…Valerie Tyler’s a senior, but he’s so totally date worthy that she went lower classman.”
My head started to ache. I wasn’t so much into the whole gossip and dating scene. But a girl had to make friends when the sheriff ordered her to do it.
I put down my drink. “Let me take a stab in the dark here. I’m betting Valerie’s a cheerleader, right?” I knew this game. Cheerleaders always dated the quarterbacks. I figured that was some kind of rule.
Jenny nodded eagerly. “I think she’s captain.”
I laughed. I couldn’t help it. The smile was still on my face when I glanced up and saw Rafe. His eyes locked with mine, and my heart did a fast gallop in my chest.
He had his buddies around him again. What was with the guys in this school? Did they all move in packs or what? Whistling, bleached blondie was on his left and another boy with jet-black hair and what looked like nearly black eyes stood on his right.
I expected Rafe to turn away again. Because I expected it, I looked away first and said something I can’t even remember to Jenny. But whatever I said, it made her laugh and her laugh—kind of like a jingle of sound—distracted me.
That was why I didn’t realize Rafe was headed toward me. No, I didn’t make that big realization until he actually reached my table and asked, “Climb any trees lately, Chicago?”
And, wow, was it my imagination or did everyone seem to stop talking as they glanced at my table?
I finished chewing because, of course, he’d caught me mid-chew. Then I looked up at him. The sun was behind him, and his shadow fell over me. Since I blurt, I fired back, “Catch any girls lately?”
He smiled. A half-smile that lifted that perfect mouth of his.
I turned a bit more toward him. “So you do remember me,” I said, not about to let him off the hook. “I’d started to wonder.”
He shrugged. Blondie snickered. I didn’t look away from Rafe. The view was too good.
But then, the guy on his right said, “I heard the new sheriff found a body last night.”
everyone was listening then. Jenny made a weird strangling sound. I looked over to make sure she wasn’t choking. She was flushed dark red, but she seemed to be breathing okay. Good for her.
“Is it true?” He pressed.
“Jake…” Rafe began, and I heard the edge of warning in his voice.
I turned my attention to Jake and nodded. My dad had scheduled a press conference for 8 a.m., so I knew it was okay to talk about the body now. Sometimes, I had to keep secrets for dad. This wasn’t one of those times. “He found Sheriff Brantley.” What was left of him.
“Animals got him?” Jake pressed, and his eyes narrowed on me.
Behind me, I was sure I heard someone mutter, “That’s gross. We’re eating!”
I cleared my throat and tried not to think about Brantley’s body. “I don’t know for certain. My dad’s still investigating.”
“Bet he told you to stay out of the woods, huh?” Rafe asked in that rumbling voice that I was sure all of the girls loved.
My dad had, but I shrugged. “He knows that I can take care of myself.” He’d taught me to be able to defend myself against an attack, but the defensive moves I knew would only work against another actual person. He hadn’t prepared me for
Rafe tossed me another smile, but then he nodded to his buddies. “Come on.”
And just like that, he left.
“Well, it was nice to see you, too!” I called to his back. Whoops. Blurting problem again. Or maybe my “attitude”-sometimes, it was hard to tell for sure what was the deal with me.
But my words made Rafe glance back. He stared at me with a kind of confused look on his face. Like he wasn’t sure what to make of me.
Join the club, buddy.
I’d seen that look on my dad’s face plenty of times.
Then Rafe was gone. Folks started talking again, and I ate my now-cold food.
Came Jenny’s high-pitched whisper once more. Seriously, that was just weird. I wondered if she practiced that particular sound at home. “You know Rafe Channing?”
“Not well.” I stopped being lady-like and dug into my food. I was freaking hungry today, and my arm was throbbing again. Great.
“He is so…
He was. But the guy knew it—I’d seen that much in his cocky half-grin.
“He’s…he’s kind of…
, though,” Jenny continued, her voice soft but no longer that strange whisper-shriek.
I glanced up at her.
She leaned across the table like she was about to tell me a very big secret. Maybe she was. “Rafe has been in juvie a few times.”
Bad boys. I happened to have one big weakness.
Maybe it was because my dad was the sheriff. I’m sure a shrink would say I was acting out, trying to rebel, but, the truth was, I just liked boys with an edge.
liked them that way. I was turning over a new leaf now.
“I’m not interested in him,” I said and knew I was lying. It was the first day—I shouldn’t be interested in anyone this soon.
But when the bell rang, and I headed for my next class—history,
someone save me
—I found myself looking for Rafe.
And I found him, huddled in the corner and talking real close with Valerie.
At least, that’s what I was determined to keep telling myself.
The strange, little shop caught my eye. I’d done my bit at school, made it through the day by only pissing off one jock—
score for me!—
and I was doing my good girl routine and heading to the sheriff’s station for my after school care.
Then I saw the shop.
Small, tiny really, with glass windows and a tilted sign near the entrance that just said, “Charmed.”
I squinted, but I couldn’t see inside the shop. All I saw was my reflection. Pale skin. Red hair.
I walked closer, feeling almost like I was being pulled into the shop. A little bell jingled overhead when I slowly opened the door.
The scent hit me first. Incense. Not a bad smell, but rather one that tickled my nose. My gaze scanned the shop. Shelves of books. Small glass jars, all carefully labeled. Gargoyles watched me from the corners of the room. Candles lined one wall, all shapes and colors.
My breath eased out. A spell shop. Did Dad know this place was here?
“Can I help you?”
I jumped because I hadn’t even heard the lady approach. She was tiny, with stooped shoulders and weathered, brown skin. Her dark eyes were coal black, and her smile was big and warm. “Is there something you need, child?”
Child? Not quite. “I was just looking.” I offered her a tentative smile back. “What kind of shop is this?” I asked even though I already knew. I actually knew far too much about places like this.
“Why ask when you know.” She was still smiling but her gaze had taken on an assessing quality. Then she came closer, definitely invaded my personal space, and she caught my arm.
Her touch was cold. Like, ice cold, and a shiver worked over me as her fingers clamped around my wrist. “Dark,” she whispered.
Coming into the shop had been such a bad move. Now I had to deal with this weird lady.
“You feel it, don’t you?” She asked me as she closed her eyes.
“Um, no.” I only felt her increasingly claw-like grip.
“The dark is all around you, always has been, and it’s closing in.”
Was this her sales pitch? Seriously? Scare tactics to make folks do what? Buy some candles for protection? I tried to yank my arm back, but she wasn’t budging.
I inhaled a deep breath and pulled more incense into my lungs. “I’m not afraid of the dark.” Even though I knew just what could wait in the shadows. Monsters.
Not vampires or demons like you saw in horror movies.
Humans were the real monsters. My dad had taught me that. My mom had learned that lesson, too.
It had been the last lesson she’d ever learned.
Her eyes opened and they seemed, if possible, even blacker than before. “Soon enough, you will be afraid of the darkness, child. You will fear what waits for you.”
Okay. She was more than a little creepy.