Nightshade Page 5

I tried to smile. “Thanks.”


WHEN I ENTERED THE KITCHEN FOR BREAKFAST, my family fell silent. I made a beeline for the coffee. My mother rushed over, grasped my hands, and turned me to face her.

“Oh, honey, you are a vision,” she said, kissing me on both cheeks.

“It’s a skirt, Mom.” I wrenched free. “Get over it.”

I grabbed a mug from the cupboard and poured coffee. At the last second I managed to push my long hair out of the way before blond tendrils dunked in the black liquid.

Ansel tossed me a Luna bar and tried to hide the smirk on his face.

Traitor, I mouthed as I sat down. Two bites into my breakfast, I realized my father was gaping at me.

“What?” I asked around a mouthful of soy protein.

He coughed, blinking several times. Then his eyes darted from my mom to me. “Sorry, Calla. I guess I didn’t expect you to take your mother’s suggestions to heart.”

She glared at him. My father shifted in his seat and unfolded the Denver Post.

“You’re quite fetching.”

“Fetching?” My voice jumped up a couple octaves. The coffee mug shook in my hand.

Ansel choked on his Pop-Tart and grabbed for a glass of orange juice.

My father lifted the newspaper to hide his face while my mother patted my hand. I allowed myself one glare at her before losing myself in the haze of caffeine.

We spent the rest of breakfast in awkward silence. Dad read and tried to avoid any eye contact with me or my mother. Mom kept throwing encouraging glances in my direction, which I deflected with cold stares. Ansel ignored us, happily munching on his Pop-Tart. I threw back the last dregs of coffee.

“Come on, An.”

Ansel bounced from his chair, grabbing a jacket on his way to the garage.

“Good luck, Cal,” my father called as I followed my little brother toward the door.

I didn’t respond. Most days I looked forward to school. Today I dreaded it.

“Stephen.” I heard Mom’s voice rise as I walked out the door and slammed it shut behind me.

“Can I drive?” Ansel’s eyes were hopeful.

“No,” I said, heading for the driver’s seat of our Jeep.

Ansel gripped the dashboard as I squealed out of the driveway. The scent of burnt rubber filled the cab. After I cut off the third car, he glared at me, struggling to buckle his seat belt.

“Just ’cause wearing panty hose gives you a death wish doesn’t mean I have one too.”

“I am not wearing panty hose,” I said through clenched teeth, swerving around yet another car.

Ansel’s eyebrows shot up. “You’re not? Isn’t that, like, unseemly or something?”

He grinned at me, but the dagger glare I threw at him made him cower against his seat. By the time we reached the Mountain School’s parking lot, his face was ghost white.

“I think I’ll get Mason to drive me home,” he said, slamming the door behind him.

When I noticed how white my knuckles had become as a result of my grip on the steering wheel, I took a deep breath.

They’re just clothes, Cal. It’s not like Mom made you go get a boob job.

I shuddered, hoping no such ideas ever entered Naomi’s mind.

Bryn intercepted me halfway across the parking lot. Her eyes widened as she looked me up and down.

“What happened?”

“Finesse,” I grumbled, and kept walking toward our school.

“Huh?” Her tight bronze ringlets bounced around her head as she trotted beside me.

“Apparently being an alpha female involves more than fighting off Searchers,” I said. “At least according to Lumine and my mother.”

“So Naomi’s trying to give you a makeover again?” she asked. “What’s different this time?”

“This time she’s serious.” I adjusted the waistband of my skirt, wishing I were in jeans. “And so is Lumine.”

“Well, I guess you’d better get with the program.” Bryn shrugged as we passed the chalet-like residences from which bleary-eyed human students stumbled.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence.” I couldn’t figure out how the skirt was supposed to lie, so I gave up trying to straighten it.

We walked in silence through the entrance and down the hall to the long row of senior lockers. The smell of the school that greeted me each day had changed. The sharp metallic of the lockers, acrid floor polish countering the freshness of the ceilings’ cedar beams were familiar, but the fear that usually seeped from the skin of the humans was missing.

Instead they smelled curious, surprised, a strange reaction from the boarders, whose lives were carefully segregated from the local Keepers and Guardians. The only activities we shared were our classes. Having their eyes on me as we moved through the crowd of students jostling through the narrow space proved more than a little unsettling.

“Is everyone staring?” I tried not to sound nervous.

“Yep. Pretty much all staring.”

“Oh God,” I moaned, tightening my grip on my bag.

“At least you look hot.” Her cheerful response made my stomach flip.

“Please don’t say stuff like that to me. Ever.” Why did my mother do this to me? I felt like a sideshow freak at a carnival.

“Sorry,” Bryn said, toying with the multi-hued metallic bangles that jangled along her arm.

I switched out my homework for the books I needed in first and second period. The din of the hallway dropped to a buzz of curious whispers, and Bryn abruptly straightened from her casual pose.

I knew what that meant. He was nearby. I slung my bag over my shoulder, slammed my locker door, and hated that my heart sped up as I looked for Renier Laroche.

The crowd of students parted for the Bane alpha and his pack. Ren, flanked by Sabine, Neville, Cosette, and Dax, seemed to float down the hallway. He moved as though he owned the school. His eyes darted from side to side—ever a wolf, always predatory.

I’ll bet he’s never had to suffer a makeover.

When Ren found me, a half-cocked smile played along his mouth. I stood perfectly still, matching his challenging gaze. Bryn stepped closer. I could feel her breath on my shoulder.

Activity in the hall stilled. Eyes fixed on our meeting, whispers traveling from mouth to ear.

A movement to my right caught my eye. Mason, Ansel, and Fey emerged from the throng of students and took flanking positions around Bryn. I stood a little taller.

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