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Authors: Mindee Arnett

The Nightmare Charade

BOOK: The Nightmare Charade
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Table of Contents

About the Author

Copyright Page

 

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To Philip Garybush, for always being there

 

Acknowledgments

This is it. The end. Of ALL THE THINGS. Just kidding. But it is the end of Dusty and Eli's story and my very first series. It's bittersweet. A part of me wishes this story would go on forever, but another part of me appreciates the closure. I hope you do, too, dear readers.

Firstly, and as always, thanks to God and his Son.

My biggest thanks goes to my editor, Whitney Ross, who saw the potential in Dusty's story and gave her three whole books to have it played out. Thank you also for your infinite patience, your insight, and your ongoing support. Also, thanks to the marvelous team at Tor Teen, the best place a writer could call home—Amy Stapp, assistant editor; Lisa Davis, my production editor; Seth Lerner, the art director; Jane Liddle, the copy editor; Alexis Saarela, my publicist; John Morrone, the proofreader; and, of course, Tom Doherty and Kathleen Doherty.

As always, thanks to my fierce, wonderful agent, Suzie Townsend, and the rest of the crew at New Leaf Literary and Media: Joanna Volpe, Kathleen Ortiz, Pouya Shahbazian, David Caccavo, Mackenzie Brady, Danielle Barthel, and Jaida Temperly.

No book exists without outside help, and I'm fortunate to have awesome friends to call upon. Thanks to my critique partners and beta readers: Lori M. Lee, Amanda Sharritt, and Jason Sharritt. And a special shout-out to my language guru, Junius Johnson. Also, thanks to my family, Adam, Inara, and Tanner—you're my dreams come true.

And, finally, thanks to all the readers who've stuck with me this long. Librarians, teachers, bloggers, teens—you're all special to me; you're all magical beings. I wish I could give you each a hug. Please keep on reading and spreading that magic.

 

1

Last Kiss

I had no idea that the first kiss would be the last.

The last free one that was, the only one Eli and I didn't have to steal or keep hidden like some terrible secret.

No, I had no idea what was coming as I stood in front of the bathroom mirror and reapplied my cherry lip gloss for the fourth time.

“You know, Dusty,” Selene said from outside the door where she was hanging posters on the wall of our new dorm room, two floors up from our old one. “Despite what the packaging might claim, I don't think it's actually possible to increase the size of your lips by putting on layers.”

Suppressing a nervous laugh, I turned and stepped out into the living room portion of the suite. We were juniors this year, and that meant a larger dorm, complete with a private bathroom. Selene and I had plans to burn our old shower shoes in a celebratory ritual this weekend.

I fixed her with the most serious stare I could manage. “Are you sure? This is magic lip gloss, you know.”

Selene snorted. “I don't believe you.” She held out her hand, and I set the lipstick canister on her palm. She turned it over in her fingers, and then raised it to eye level to read the label.

“This is in French.”

“That's because I bought it in Paris.” The memory brought a fleeting grin to my face. Despite the emotional challenges I'd faced during my summer vacation spent touring Europe—being cut off from my friends; stuck with only my mother for company; and most especially, going weeks on end without a single word from the literal boy of my dreams, Eli Booker—the physical experience had been fun. The lip balm was an impromptu purchase at a little shop called the Incantorium Emporium. It was the kind of place that only served magickind. Probably a good thing, given its location inside a secret alcove in the Paris catacombs. Nothing said magical and charming like a bunch of skeletons.

“So I gathered,” Selene said with a hint of envy in her voice. Her summer hadn't been quite as exotic, although I would've traded places with her in a hot second. She'd spent the last eleven weeks hanging out with her boyfriend—late-night strolls by the lake, trips to the movies, not to mention hours of kissing, or so I guessed. Even if Selene were the kind of girl to make out and tell, she wouldn't have chosen me as her confidant. Partially because I wasn't thrilled about her reconciliation with my sometimes tormenter and regular jackass Lance Rathbone, but mostly because she knew all too well how little kissing I'd been doing lately.

A situation that was about to change.

A flock of butterflies took flight inside my stomach. I fought to keep the tremor out of my voice, my words coming rapidly. “Yeah, the shop owner told me it has an
amore
charm on it. At least, that's what I thought he said. His accent was pretty thick, and I don't think he liked me at all. He was a Mors demon and you know how they feel about Nightmares. I mean, then again, pretty much everybody hates Night—”

“Dusty.” Selene grabbed my shoulders and gave me a shake. “You're babbling.”

I gulped, trying to settle the butterflies, but they only increased their frenzy, becoming hummingbirds instead, wings on turbo speed. “Sorry. I can't help it. I'm nervous.”

Selene smiled. The gesture was so radiant it made my head spin, and for a second the hummingbirds froze, stunned by an unexpected onslaught of bliss. That was the trouble with having a siren for a best friend—random moments of dazedness. Not that it was her fault. She couldn't help being beautiful and mesmerizing. No more than I could help the way my eyes glow in the dark, an aspect of my Nightmare heritage. At the moment, however, I had a feeling Selene wasn't aware of just how much more dazzling she was being than normal. I suspected it might have something to do with Lance.

“You've no reason to be nervous,” Selene said, her smile easing enough to make the radiance tolerable. “You look beautiful.”

I shook my head and stepped back. “It's not that. It's…” I broke off, searching for the right words. Looks weren't the problem. I didn't feel beautiful, exactly, but I knew I was looking nice, slightly above my average state. My makeup was even and natural, and I'd managed to convince my frizzy red hair to lie flat for once with some help from Magick Madam's Hair Pomade, another purchase from the Incantorium Emporium. Outfit wise, I'd opted for a pair of low-rise designer jeans and a pale pink knit top, the kind that hangs loose around the shoulders, that my mom bought me from a boutique in Italy.

No, looks weren't the problem.

Time was.

Nearly three months had gone by since I'd last seen Eli in person. And though I had no reason to believe his feelings for me had changed, I had no proof they were the same either. We hadn't spoken on the phone at all, and the e-mails had been too few and too brief. I hadn't had access to my cell phone all summer—the moment our plane touched down in London, my mom confiscated it. She claimed it was because of the high international cellular charges.
Yeah right
.

That was the worst of it. None of the adults in our lives wanted us to be together. Everybody from my mother to magickind government officials were trying to keep us apart. It was the primary reason for my impromptu summer vacation abroad. But their rationale for doing so was just a stupid superstition. Eli and I were dream-seers; together we could predict the future and uncover secrets through signs and symbols in Eli's dreams, a gift that made us invaluable to the magickind government. So far we'd stopped a murderous, power-mad warlock who styled himself as the next Hitler, and we'd prevented the magickind island capital of Lyonshold from sinking into the waters of Lake Erie.

The only catch to our ability, the only
price,
came in the form of a curse—if Eli and I were to fall in love we would be doomed to destroy each other.

I don't believe it. I refuse to believe it
.

Drawing a deep breath, I let it out slowly. “What if he's changed his mind?”

“About what?” Selene said half-laughing, half-exasperated. “About you? Not a chance.”

Relief swept over me at her words and even more at the attitude behind them. She was so certain, so happy and optimistic. Not at all like the best friend that I'd left behind at the beginning of the summer. That Selene would've been careful in her reassurance, logical about the argument. Not so carefree. It was a nice change. A smile broke across my face. “Who are you and what have you done with my best friend?”

Selene blinked. In the low dorm room light, her eyes looked indigo in color. Her glossy black hair hung in a thick braid over her shoulder. “What do you mean?”

“Never mind. I just think we need to have a long talk about your summer vacation. Later.” I pulled my cell out of my front pocket and pressed the home button, lighting up the screen: 10:46
P.M.
My heart rate quickened, the hummingbirds taking flight again. Eli said to meet him at 11:00. If I left now I would make it right on time, maybe even one or two minutes early. The walk would be easy since I'd opted for flats instead of heels.

But did I want to arrive right on time? Would I appear too eager? Desperate?

With my anticipation wavering toward frustration, I opened the phone to the text screen and reread Eli's message.

I'm finally on campus. Think you can sneak out? Meet me at my dorm at 11:00?

I'd immediately typed back a yes. I didn't have to ask him for his new room number. Selene already knew it. Lance was Eli's roommate again this year, and he'd moved in yesterday.

“Okay,” Selene said, still puzzled. One slender dark eyebrow sat higher than the other. “Later then. Shouldn't you be going?”

I bit my lip. “I don't know. Should I?”

Selene cleared her throat. “So who are
you
and what have you done with
my
best friend?”

“What?”

“You're usually not this indecisive. Normally it's all act first, think it over later.” Opening my mouth to argue, she cut me off with a raised hand. “Go on. Eli is waiting for you. Don't waste time pretending you feel anything less than what you actually do.”

BOOK: The Nightmare Charade
12.53Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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