Wednesday, April 4, 2012



Sixteen-year-old Evie Greene's horrific hallucinations predicted the apocalypse, and the end of the world brought Evie all sorts of new powers. With the earth scorched and few survivors, Evie is racing to find answers. She's teamed up with handsome and dangerous Jack Deveaux. They discover that Evie is not the only one with And it’s not always clear who is using their talents for good or evil . 


Chapter 7 —
Sterling, Louisiana
The night before the Flash . . .
“This is creepy,” Mel said as we waded through dried-out brush near the abandoned mill on my farm. Again I wondered why my boyfriend Brandon had chosen this remote place for a late-night kick-back with a few couples.
Mel and I had driven as close as we dared in her Beamer, then started walking into the withered woods. The fog was so thick I could barely see where I was stepping. Another of my grandmother’s sayings surfaced: Be wary of droughts—snakes slither about. “This was not my idea, Mel.”
“I should seriously hope not. Two cheerleaders going out into the woods, at night, to a supposedly haunted sugar mill?”
“I can’t decide if it sounds like the beginning of a joke or a horror flick.”
She raised her brows. “Hey, you’ve still got your endangered V-card. Which means you’ll make it to closing credits—I’m s.o.l.” Wild-child Mel, never sugarcoating.
“Do you think the others are already here? Maybe they parked on the opposite side? I should try to call.” Then I remembered I’d left my overnight stuff and phone locked in her car, along with my precious sketchbook, full of drawings of the terrifying visions I’d been having. I turned, but couldn’t see the Beamer through the fog.
“Call?” Mel hastily said. “Don’t be silly. We’re almost there, right?”
As we neared what was left of the mill, I murmured, “Did you hear something?” I rubbed my nape, again feeling like I was being watched—
Lights blinded me. Bodies lunged at me, faces rushing closer.
I shrieked at the top of my lungs.
Shouts of “Surprise!” faded, dozens of students startled into silence by my reaction. Grace Anne, Katherine, Brandon. All of them looked stunned.
Oh. My. God. This is a surprise birthday party. Someone had strung up lights all over the walls. Speakers perched atop rusted cane crushers. Kegs sat in aged iron kettles.
I’d just humiliated myself in front of all of these people.
Mel’s jaw had dropped at my scream. Just when I was about to burst into tears, she recovered, saying loudly, “Evie! You totally knew about this, didn’t you, bitches? Freak out the surprisers?” Then she imitated my shriek, punctuating it with a yodeled Lay-hee-hoo.”
When people started laughing, I forced a smile. “Yep. I knew. Been waiting all day to do that!” Keep smiling, Evie!
Now everyone relaxed, some giving me play punches on my shoulder like I’d just done something cool, a funny prank. Good save, Mel.
Out of the corner of her mouth, she muttered, “You had no idea, did you?”
Brand swooped me up then and swung me around until I was truly laughing. “I hope you don’t mind.”
I bit my bottom lip. Maybe if the party didn’t get any bigger or the music too loud—
A horn honked. And another. Mel, Brand, and I gazed out the front entrance. Down an old tractor trail, headlight after headlight shone through the fog. It looked like a mass evacuation was pointed directly at the mill.
The last thing I needed was for my mom to call the cops, not realizing it was her daughter throwing the rager. “Look, guys, maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
Mel and Brandon blinked at me in confusion. Evie Greene didn’t often utter those words.
“It’s not like we’re going to trash your house,” Brand said. “It’s outside.”
I was already on thin ice at home. “My mom—”
“Will never know. We’ve got, like, five miles between us and your house. Plus the walls keep the sound down.”
Wouldn’t it be abnormal for me to not have a sixteenth-birthday kegger? Hell, if Mom found out, she might take it as a good sign. She’d been rebellious with Gran and usually wasn’t too strict with me.
On the other hand, she might reconsider Brandon being “such a good boy” or hit her limit with Mel’s hijinks.
Earlier tonight, Mel had called her “Woman Who Spawned Evie” to her face. Mom had been unamused.
I didn’t know what I’d do if she outlawed either of them. They meant everything to me.
“I promise you, it’ll be okay,” Brand said. “Scout’s honor.” Instead of the three-finger Scout salute, he held up a peace sign.
I was wavering when Brand dug into his pocket. “Oh, I almost forgot! Your birthday present. Was saving this for Monday, but I thought you might want to wear it tonight.” He handed me a wrapped box with a crushed ribbon.
I ripped it open to find a huge solitaire on a white-gold chain. Stunning.
Mel clasped her hands over her chest, saying in a cajoling tone, “And all he wants is to throw a rager in your sugar mill?” Then she frowned. “Wow. That sounded raunchy.”
“Do you like it?” he asked, seeming nervous. Which was so adorable.
Game. Set. Match. “I love it. And I love my surprise party.” I stood on my toes to give him a quick kiss. “Thank you.”
He grinned, handing me a sweating Solo cup of beer. “Cheers, Eves!”
I raised my cup, hesitating. Would alcohol act wonky with my psych-pills?
But hey, how much worse could my head get? “Cheers, guys!”
For the next hour everybody partook heartily of keg juice, until we were—in Brand’s estimation—“fitshaced!” More and more people showed up, turning my party into a wild and woolly kegger. I saw faces I didn’t recognize, spied letterman jackets from other schools.
Over the course of the night, I’d watched several of Mel’s ill-fated attempts to flirt with Spencer. Yet now, as she danced with me up on a ledge, he was actually checking her out.
She and I sang so loudly I was losing my voice, danced so madly to the thumping music that the world was spiraling. For once, I didn’t fight it. We were laughing at something when I saw Jackson Deveaux leaning his shoulder against the crumbling brick wall in the back.
Then I noticed the other Cajun transfer students beginning to mingle with the crowd. Clotile’s racy outfit made mine—a shimmery Versace halter, black micromini, and knee-high Italian boots—look Amish.
But I couldn’t muster any outrage that they were all here. With a shrug, I thought,This ought to end well.
As I danced, Brand’s eyes were glued to me, not on Clotile. I cast a triumphant look in Jackson’s direction.
His darkened gaze was locked on me as well.
Flustered, I reached out two arms for Brand, prompting him to come help me down. But he swung me up instead, twirling me around in his arms. I laughed, throwing my head back. Spinning . . . spinning . . .
Tingling nose? No, no, not another hallucination! But I knew the symptom, knew there was nothing I could do to stop this.
Suddenly I saw the cryptic boy from my earlier vision. He gave me a defiant kind of shrug—like he’d done something I might get mad at?
On my next rotation, he’d disappeared, but I saw that blurry-faced girl. The archer from before?
I gasped, then caught a glimpse of movement in the tree limbs above. There was another boy! He was dressed in old-timey clothing, with long black hair and jet-blackwings.
A last character joined the rotation, a boy with electricity sparking all around his body.
The girl and those two boys looked like they lay in wait for me, ready to pounce.
I twisted in Brandon’s grip until he let me down. With a hearty laugh, he said, “Evie, you about to yuke, or what?”
Or what! Or what!
I put my hand to my forehead—because now as my gaze darted around, I saw nothing out of the ordinary. Those kids had disappeared like mist.

— Chapter 8 —

Someone was climbing the stairs to my hidden spot.
After I’d disentangled myself from Brandon, assuring him I’d be fine with a short breather—again he took my word for it, though I was wide-eyed with panic—I’d climbed to a ledge near the old smokestack, needing to be alone, needing to keep watch.
I’d taken a seat, hanging my legs over the edge, careful not to crush the clover growing between the bricks. From here, I’d been able to look down on the party, like gazing at a living dollhouse.
Why couldn’t I be down there having fun like a normal teenage girl? Why did I always have to feel threatened? Under fire?
And why was my raucous birthday party still going strong—without me?
As if to illustrate, a football player mooned the crowd, with full-on junk shot. I sighed. I couldn’t unsee that. Ever.
Then I’d sensed someone on the stairs. Who would even know how to get up here?
Jackson. With two plastic cups in hand.
I exhaled a disappointed breath. He’d been hateful to me all week. Now he was going to ruin my weekend as well? “How did you find me?”
“Not many miniskirts escape my notice, cher.” The Cajunland player. He sat beside me, handing me a cup. “Here.”
I reluctantly accepted it, peering at the contents. “Is this roofied?”
“It can be.” Was he slurring? He definitely seemed buzzed tonight, his accent more pronounced, his black hair tousled.
“Lovely.” Was I slurring?
Apparently. Because Jackson said, “Goody Two-shoes Evie Greene got herself pickled, for true. If I’d known you were such a juvenile delinquent, I might’ve asked for a new history partner.”
“Juvenile delinquent? Hmm. Aren’t your initials J.D.? If the shoe fits . . .”
He took a drink from his beer, but I could tell his lips were thinned with irritation. “So here we are, the Cajun JD and a Sterling High cheerleader who draws weird Goth shit. I figured out all these other fools easy enough, but you . . .” He shook his head. “Something ain’t right with you, no. I doan like unsolved puzzles. Evangeline,” he added significantly. “You got a Cajun name—you part Cajun? That’s why you can speak my tongue?”
“How’d you find out my full name?”
He gave a shrug with one palm up, the most maddening of Cajun retorts, then took another drink.
I noticed his knuckles were taped again. From another fight? “What are you doing here, Jackson?”
“Are Sterling parties off-limits to Cajuns?”
“I just didn’t expect you and your friends at my birthday party.”
“This is yours? We heard about a blowout in a different parish, followed the free drinks.”
“A regular rager.” I pulled my hair over my shoulder, fanning myself.
When he fell silent, I turned to him, found him staring at my neck, his gray eyes hooded. “Damn, Evie, you smell good.”
Why did everybody keep talking about my scent? Even Mel had asked to borrow my perfume earlier. One problem: I didn’t wear any.
Jackson was still staring at me. Flashing him a wary look, I scooted farther away.
He blinked, then coughed into his fist. “Why aren’t you down at your own party?”
“I needed a quick tee-oh.”
“Uh-huh.” He drained his cup, chasing it with a shot from his ever-present flask.
I smelled the bite of whiskey on his breath, but didn’t find it unpleasant. “You’re at that thing constantly. And yet I never see you really drunk.”
“You want to get me drunk, you? Take advantage of ole Jack?”
“I’ll start referring to myself in third person before I take advantage of you, Jackson.”
“Heh. So, cher, now that you’ve set up this rendezvous with me, what are your intentions?”
I sipped from my cup. “You are firmly on the pipe.”
“I see the way you look at me, undressing me with your eyes.”
“Riiight. I have a boyfriend.”
“Then how come Radcliffe’s not here with you? How come he doan carry your books at school?”
Why had Jackson noticed that? “Should Brandon? Just because I’m a girl? I’m his equal, would just as soon carry his as he’d carry mine.”
“Where I come from, a man carries a woman’s things ’cause it’s polite—and to let other beaux know she’s taken. How’s anyone to know you belong to him?”
“I don’t belong to anyone. Did you come from a swamp—or a time capsule?”
He leaned forward until our faces were mere inches apart, then purred, “Now, dat’s not nice, Evangeline. Doan you want to be doux à moi?” Sweet to me. He dipped his finger down my halter top between my breasts—
“Jackson!” Then I realized he’d lifted up my new necklace.
“Pretty penny for this, no?” His gaze was shuttered.
“It’s an early birthday present from Brandon.”
“And I know just what you’re goan to give him.” He dropped the chain.
“You don’t know anything about me. Do you understand me? Nothing.” One of the clovers curled over my knuckles, which was strangely soothing.
“I’m starting to get an idea. Does Radcliffe know you?”
“Of course,” I said, though I had doubts. Why couldn’t Brandon sense how much stress I was under? Why add to it, pressuring me to play my V-card this weekend?
“Une menterie,” Jackson said. A lie.
“None of what you say matters. I know my boyfriend and I are solid.”
He gave a scornful laugh. “As long as you doan mind sharing him with brunettes of the Cajun persuasion. He’s been sniffing around Clotile, for true. And you know it, too. That’s why you’re dressing like . . . this.” He waved unsteadily at me.
“Like what?”
Another shuttered gaze. Another drink from his flask. “Different.”
“Brandon’s not doing any . . . sniffing. He loves me. He told me he thinks about me constantly.” As much as football! “And aren’t you concerned about your girlfriend?”
“Girlfriend? Hell, Clotile’s probably my sister.”
My lips parted. Probably? Jackson and I weren’t just from different worlds, but from different universes.
“Look at Radcliffe down there. You think you’re on his mind right now?”
Brand was surrounded by a bevy of slores as he drank from the keg like it was a water fountain. The life of the party, worshipped and adored.
Where was Mel? Normally, she’d be throwing elbows at those other girls. I hadn’t seen her—or Spencer—for a while. I rose at once, stepping over Jackson to go look for her.
“Where you goan, Evie?”
Though I ignored him, he followed me down the stairs. Back on the ground, I saw a shadowy figure skulking among the parked cars. I squinted, but couldn’t see through the fog. Another hallucination?
I cautiously eased closer to get a better look, but Jackson stepped in front of me. I shimmied to the left; he blocked me.
“I don’t have time for this.”
He began edging me toward the mill.
“Stop it, Jackson,” I snapped when my back met a brick wall. The bass pumped so hard that I could feel the vibrations through the stone.
He leaned in, his brows drawing together. “You got on some kind of expensive perfume? Never smelled anything like you.”
“I don’t wear perfume.”
He looked at me like I might be lying. “You smell almost like . . . honeysuckle.”
“I’m not wearing anything.”
“My fondest wish.” The corners of his lips curled—the first time I’d seen his expression even come close to a genuine smile.
Despite myself, that half grin affected me, made my heart speed up. Was Jacksonflirting with me? Like a normal boy might? And not just to make me uncomfortable?
Too bad. Between Brandon, Death, and the cryptic boy, my dance card was full.
And this flirtatious side of Jackson made me wary. Even though the Cajun was attractive in a too-tall, too-rugged kind of way, I probably trusted Death in armor more. “Just leave me alone.”
“I will as soon as you do two things. Admit you speak French, and show me the rest of your drawings.”
I was already gazing past him, done with this conversation. “Why are you acting so interested? Why are we even talking? You hate me, remember?”
Mais yeah.” For sure. Pressing his palm against the wall beside my head, he leaned in, murmuring, “But maybe I want you a little, too.”
I’d just learned something I’d never known. A boy could desire to have sex with me and not like me at all. In fact, he could even hate me.
“Maybe I’ve decided to forgive you for making me le misère.” Causing me trouble.
I exhaled, tired of these games. “Jackson, listen—”
“Call me Jack.”
“No. Because we’re not friends.” Imitating his accent, I said, “And only your friends call you Jack, no.”
He grinned down at me again, his teeth even and white. “We may not be friends, but I’m about to get real friendly with you.” I could feel the heat coming off his body. He smelled delicious, like the woods, a little wild.
He had some unknowable look in those watchful gray eyes of his. He seemed to be silently promising me something, but I didn’t know what.
“Friendly with me?”
“I’m goan to kiss you, cher.”
My thoughts scattered. Though the moment had begun to feel like a dream, I didn’t want to be a cheater. “I need to get . . . back to Brandon.” I laid my palms on Jackson’s chest to push him away, but his muscles flexed under my hands, his heat drawing my touch.
“I woan let you go back to that boy—not until you give me one bec doux.” A sweet kiss. Then he reached forward, unlacing the ribbon from my hair.
“What are you doing?” I murmured.
“Souvenir.” He put it in his pocket, and for some reason that struck me as the sexiest thing I’d ever seen.
I felt excited and alive for the first time in months. Where was the meh I’d been feeling about kissing and boys and sex?
At that moment, I was dying for this Cajun boy to kiss me. I didn’t care about my reputation, the friends I’d disappoint, the popularity I’d lose, or the bragging rights he’d win.
I had to know what the look in his eyes promised.
He was staring at my lips, and before I could think better of it, I’d wetted them.
“That’s it, bébé,” he said in a coaxing rasp. “Ma bonne fille.” My good girl.
He wrapped one of his arms behind my back, cupping my chin with his free hand. “Evangeline, I’m goan to kiss you until your toes curl, until we’re breathing for each other.”
That was the promise. . . .
As if from a great distance, I heard someone yell, “Jack!”
He ignored the voice, inching even closer to me.
Our lips were about to meet—
“JACK!” I realized his friend Lionel was yanking on his arm.
As Jackson turned, he flashed Lionel the most frightening look I’d ever seen on a man. “What you want?” he thundered.
“Time to go, podna.”
Jackson shook his head hard, his arm snaking tighter around my lower back.
“We’re done here. Time—to—go,” Lionel repeated.
Whatever that meant. Yet Jackson was listening to him.
Lionel said to me, “They’re looking for you inside, Evie.”
“Oh. Oh!” I shimmied out of Jackson’s grasp, but I couldn’t stop from glancing over my shoulder.
When I bit my bottom lip, I thought he might come after me, but again Lionel hauled back on his arm. Jackson growled at his friend, “Want a taste of dat girl, me.” The look in his blazing eyes…
Lionel said something I didn’t hear.
Something that made Jackson scowl. “Go on, Evie,” he snapped. “Now! Go back to your friends.”
His curt dismissal stung, bewildering me even more. I hurried back inside, pressing my fingertips to my lips. Oh, God, I’d almost kissed another boy. I’d nearly cheated on Brandon, who didn’t deserve that—
I stopped in my tracks.
Clotile was slinking up to Brand, and he looked thrilled, holding out his hand for her. My jaw dropped as he helped her do a keg-stand, with all the wardrobe malfunctions that entailed. Football players cheered.
The humiliation. And in the midst of this embarrassing crisis, one mental plea stood out from all the rest: Please don’t let Jackson see this.
I shoved through the crowd toward the keg. When Brandon caught sight of me, he flushed red, helping a giggling Clotile down.
I was mortified that everyone had just witnessed this scene—and pissed off. Feeling reckless, I gazed up at Brandon. “Hey, big guy. Why don’t you give your girlfriend a kiss?”
“Here? In front of everybody?” he asked.
Hesitating? “Yes. Here.
Finally, Brandon leaned down to slant his mouth over mine, once and again. With a stifled groan, he deepened the kiss, and I let him for a second, let him cover half of my ass with his palm. Then I smiled against his lips, nipping his bottom one with my teeth.
But instead of chuckling, he drew back, his lids heavy. “Ah, Evie, you don’t know—”
“Walk me to the river?” I interrupted.
With a dazed look on his face, he murmured, “Girl, I’d follow you into hell itself.”
Outside the mill, my satisfaction over my little victory dwindled—because now I had a drunken, hard-up boy to deal with.
As soon as the water was in sight, Brandon pulled me close. “You smell so good, Eves.”
When he began to kiss my neck—urgently—I peered up through the fog. I’d found mymeh.
No, Evie, be smart about this. I reminded myself how easy it was to read Brandon, how open he was, how carefree. He was the type of boy I needed in my life.
I couldn’t lose him. “Hey, hold up.”
“Uh-huh.” He didn’t hold up.
I grabbed his face with two hands and made him meet my eyes. “I’ve made my decision about next weekend.”
His body shot tight with tension. “Yeah?”
“I’ve given the matter a lot of consideration, and I—”
Sirens blared.
A chorus of screams rang out: “Cops!”
My eyes went wide. The sheriff was here? “Oh, shit! Brandon!” As the music went dead, I swayed on my feet.
He caught my elbow. “Eves, I’ve got this! I’ll tell the sheriff that it was just me and some other football players, and the party got out of hand.”
“They’ll arrest you!”
“Doubt it. My dad plays golf with the sheriff. Everything’s gonna be fine! You werenever here.” He cast me a drunken grin.
In that instant, he looked utterly heroic to me.
“Just wait right here. I’ll find Mel and tell her to meet you.” He turned, jogging away.
“Brandon?” I called. When he glanced over his shoulder, I started to say I love you,but all that came out was: “You’re the best.”
He gave me a wobbly salute, then set off for battle.
Alone, I nibbled my lip. Could Brandon keep this under wraps? I kept expecting more sirens to wail, or maybe a convoy of big vans to show up for arrests.
My first impulse was to call Mel, but my phone—along with all my stuff—was locked in her car!
A cool breeze swept over me, clearing the fog and sending leaves cartwheeling across the surface of the river. I rubbed my arms, freezing in this outfit.
On the heels of that wind, angry clouds moved in. An approaching thunder boomer? In Louisiana we got microbursts all the time. I wasn’t too concerned, would love to have the rain.
No, not too concerned—until chills skittered over the back of my neck.
Every rustle or animal call around me seemed amplified. I turned in a circle, but saw no one. Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being watched. Just paranoia? Just another symptom?
Then came that tingling sensation once more. Oh, no, no! Ignore it. Resist it—
A lightning bolt forked down not twenty yards from me.
I screamed, temporarily blinded, waiting for the deafening crack of thunder. None came.
When another silent bolt landed even closer, it zapped the ground with so much force that soil and sparks erupted into the sky.
I stared, dumbfounded. Smoking specks of dirt wafted on the breeze, the sight rousing me into action. I took off running, sprinting down to the river’s edge.
A third bolt drove me closer to the water, into the moccasin-infested reeds. “Shit, shit!” My footfalls landed in the muck, the shallow mud sucking at my boots. I shifted my steps, running on my toes.
As more lightning landed, I realized it seemed to be following me.
This couldn’t be real. Because instead of bolts, I now saw spears—like javelins. They were sparkling silver, engraved with symbols, but they exploded like lightning upon impact.
Not real, not real, I repeated hysterically, pumping my arms for speed.
One sizzled just inches from my last footfall. Someone was trying to kill me! I lurched around, heading back toward the mill.
“Oh, God, oh, God!” I blundered around trees, dodging branches that seemed to be going out of their freaking way to reach me, to hold me still. “Ugh!”
I risked a glance over my shoulder. Someone, or something, was definitely after me—
I ran right into a man’s solid chest.

— Chapter 9 —

I nearly bounced back onto my ass, but a taped hand caught my arm. I craned my head up.
Jackson. “What’s wrong with you, girl?”
I gazed up at his face, catching my breath. “There’s l-lightning!”
“You got spooked by a little lightning?” He looked at me peculiarly, like he was disappointed in me. “I knew you were soft, but damn, Evie.”
That look stung. I backed away from him, fearing that I was about to cry in front of this boy. “This was different! It was . . .” Like lightning, but not. Electric and sizzling but cool. Yet when I looked above me, the sky was clear, the night still. Just another delusion.
“You out here alone?”
I gave a shaky nod. “I’m supposed to meet Melissa.”
“Everybody’s scattered.”
“Then what are you doing back here?” I actually felt safer in his presence. Jacksonwas a hardened criminal with lots of experience fighting. Judging by the tape on his fingers, I knew he’d landed at least some of his hits. “I thought you left.”
Gazing down at me, he said, “Maybe I came back to claim my taste of you.”
Between gritted teeth, I said, “Again, I have a boyfriend.”
“Again, I couldn’t tell. Seems Radcliffe ditched you in the woods. If you belonged to me, I’d never let you out of my sight—much less leave you alone out here.”
What was his fixation on girls belonging to boys? “Brandon went back to smooth things with the sheriff!”
In a voice dripping with scorn, Jackson grated, “Of course he did.”
“I’m going to find my friends.”
“Now, wait a minute. You can’t go back there, no. You’ll get pinched.” At my blank look, he added, “Arrested, on roll call, gaffled.”
“Wow, you expect me to speak Cajun and Juvie.”
He raked his taped fingers through his hair. “I doan s’pose I can leave you here.” He started squiring me away from the mill. I thought. I was so turned around I couldn’t get my bearings.
“Why are you being decent to me?”
“I’m not. I just want to get you on my bike, with you in that skirt. Where am I driving you to?”
I blinked at him. “I live here.”
“You live on this farm? In that eerie mansion up the way? No wonder you’re touched in the head.”
I didn’t deny the eerie description—or the touched-in-the-head comment. Fair’s fair.“You’ve seen my house?”
He gazed past me as he said, “I saw it from the road once, after harvest. When I was little.” He scrubbed his hand over his mouth, clearly wanting to be somewhere else. “I’ll take you home.” I realized we’d stopped near his bike, parked in the woods.
Where were his friends? Where was Clotile? “Wait, I can’t go home! I’ve been drinking. I’m supposed to spend the night with Mel.”
He raised his brows with an I should care about this why? look. “Two choices,peekôn.”
I frowned. Peekôn meant “thorn.”
“I can drive you home. Or I can leave your ass here. Alone.”
What if there was more lightning? I didn’t want to be out here by myself, at least not until I reached the cane fields. But I couldn’t ride a roaring motorcycle home. “Neither of those choices will work for me.”
He took a pull from his flask. “Nothing else will work for me.”
“Then leave.” Surely he wouldn’t abandon me.
“Bon chance, peekôn.” He turned and strode toward his bike.
“Wait, Jackson! I can’t ride with you! My mom hates motorcycles, and she’ll hear me trying to sneak in.” I studied my muddy boots as I mumbled, “Will you walk with me? Just as far as the cane fields?”
He exhaled with undisguised irritation. “I’ll stay with you that far.” He disengaged the kickstand, pushing his bike.
As tendrils of fog drifted in, we walked in silence. I peered up at him from under my lashes, struggling to understand the excitement I’d felt when he’d been about to kiss me—versus the meh I’d felt when Brandon had actually been kissing me.
I pictured Brandon’s clean-cut good looks, his wavy brown locks, his letterman jacket and bright future.
Jack’s prospects? The state penitentiary in Angola. Just a matter of when he got sent there.
If Brandon was a good boy but not yet a great guy, Jackson was a bad boy—and already a bad guy.
And yet with the Cajun, I’d gotten a taste of what it was like to desire a boy, reallydesire. . . .
He offered me his flask.
I declined, asking, “Why do you drink so much?”
“You’re a fine one to talk, you.” When he saw I was waiting for an answer, he said, “Give me one reason not to.”
“It’s bad for your health.”
“You think I’m goan to live long enough to die of the effects of alcohol? Cheers to that.”
I tilted my head at him, musing on all the rumors that swirled around him—the knifings, the correctional center, the thefts in Sterling. “Jackson, are you as bad as everyone says?”
At the rim of his flask, he said, “A thousand times worse, fille.”
Thunder rumbled in the distance, as if to punctuate his statement.
Once we’d reached the dirt track that ran between two large cane fields, I said, “Thank you for seeing me this far. I’m good from here.”
“I’m not goan to leave you in the middle of a field,” he grumbled, yet with every step deeper into the towering cane, he seemed to grow more uneasy. “In the bayou, folks think this place is haunted.” He again cast me that studying glance. “Is it?”
Define haunted. “Maybe a little.” When the cane whispered in the windless night, I edged closer to the rows, running my splayed fingers over the stalks, taking comfort after my hallucination. Here I was safe.
A calm descended over me. I soaked up the sultry air, savoring the insect chatter, the sweet smell of dew, the animals at play all around us.
Everything was so alive, teeming with life. I sighed, my lids going half-masted.
“Drôle fille,” Jackson muttered. In proper French, drôle meant funny. In Cajun?Weird.
“What did you say?”
“It’s a foggy night and we’re walking by these rustling canes. A p’tee fille like you strolling along without a care in the world? Shouldn’t you be hanging on to my arm?”
When something stirred nearby, Jackson said, “This cane doan . . . unsettle you?”
“I love it. You’re probably just hearing raccoons.” Or snakes.
I noticed that he hadn’t hit that flask once since we’d been surrounded by cane. Maybe he sensed that something wasn’t right with me, with this place. Maybe he believed the tales of hauntings and wanted to be on his guard.
When I could make out Haven’s lights in the distance, I asked, “Are you superstitious, Jackson?”
Mais yeah. I’m Cajun, me,” he said, exhaling with relief once we’d emerged from the cane. Then he immediately whistled low at the sight of Haven House. “Even bigger than I remember.”
I tried to see it from his eyes. The gaslights flickered over the twelve proud columns. Night-blooming jasmine ascended the many trellises, forever reaching for the grand old house as if with lust. Those majestic oaks had already caught it; they encircled the structure protectively.
Jackson’s gaze darted over the place with such keenness that I figured we were due for a break-in directly.
“You know what I think?” he finally said. “I think you are just like this house, Evangeline. Rich and fine on the outside—but no one’s got a clue what’s going on inside.”
He really could be surprisingly perceptive at times. “You think I’m fine, Cajun?”
He rolled his eyes, as if we were retreading established ground. “And both you and this place are a lot weirder than you have any business being.”
You’ve got no idea, Cajun. No. Idea. I turned toward the barn.
He eventually followed, catching up. “A big ole mansion like this, and just you and your folks live here?”
Though only Mom’s Mercedes was parked out front, I let him think I had a father on-site.
“You really are the richest family in the parish, then?”
“No. Everybody knows Brandon’s family is.”
A muscle ticked in his cheek. “Are you goan to stay out here?”
In answer, I opened the barn, standing in the doorway with a pointed look. But Jackson merely parked his bike, leaning against it. “Woan you get scared?”
With the cane fields nearby? Hardly.
“If you asked me nice, I might stay and be your bodyguard.”
When I gave a scoffing laugh at that, he scowled. “You love to laugh at me, doan you,peekôn? Enjoy it now, ’cause it woan always be that way.”
“What does that mean?” I thought back but didn’t remember laughing at him.
He just narrowed his eyes at me, looking dangerous in the gaslights.
“Feel free to leave at any time, Jackson. Because I don’t need a bodyguard, and I won’t be scared. I don’t have a choice anyway, since you refused to take me to find Melissa or Brandon.”
“Radcliffe again?” With a grated curse, Jackson pushed up from his bike, striding to the doorway. “Even though he helped Clotile with that keg-stand? After that, I thought for true you’d be reevaluating your definition of solid.”
“You ... you saw that?”
Everyone saw that. And at your own birthday party, too. They also saw you trying to win his attention back. Looked desperate, if you ask me.”
Bile rose in my throat. Jackson had said that I needed to be taken down a peg. Mission accomplished.
“I just doan know what he thinks Clotile has over you. You’re pretty to look at in that skirt of yours, you’re good at dancing, and you smell like a flower. What’s not to like?”
When he smirked at me, I hit my limit.Enough! “You’re enjoying this!”
“A bon cœur.” Wholeheartedly.
“You would. Because you’re a cruel boy who gets off on other people’s unhappiness.” I held his gaze. “Brandon is twice the man you are. He always will be.”
Jackson’s expression turned more menacing than I’d ever seen it.
Done with him, I slammed the door in his face, then marched into the office at the back of the barn. Fuming, I paced. Reevaluate your definition of solid? I wanted to strangle him!
No, no, I didn’t need to be thinking about Jackson Deveaux; I needed to focus on who—or what—had attacked me.
Or at least to determine if I’d actually been attacked. When I reviewed every detail I could recall—and damn, I’d been buzzed—I concluded one thing: I was screwed.
I could accept some of the bizarre changes within me, could disguise them from my friends and my mom. But the lightning javelins? Death on a pale horse? Seeing the cryptic boy in class? Two years and out would never work.
Change of plans. Yes, I’d promised my mom that I would never contact Gran—but I was institution-bound anyway.
In my dream, Death had said, “No one told you to expect me?” Maybe Gran had?
I would sneak a call to my grandmother tomorrow.
As I wondered how I’d begin my first conversation with her in eight years, my head and face started tingling. Then hurting. The barn soon faded away. “No, no!”
Too much! I can’t take any more of this! I squeezed my eyes shut, as if that would do anything.
When I opened them again, I was standing in a windowless room, with beanbags on a tiled floor and Star Wars posters on the walls. A basement playroom?
Then I spied the cryptic boy, standing just before me! “You must prepare, Evie,” he said.
The bubbly sensation I usually experienced now felt more like a migraine, as if this vision were being shot into my skull with a nail gun. “J-just leave me alone!” Then to myself, I muttered, “How many visions can I have in one night?”
“Many,” he answered. “It’s the eve of the Beginning. Much work to do!”
Great. He was going to make as little sense as he had the first time I’d seen him. “Whoare you?”
“Matthew Mat Zero Matto. Easier to think of me as the Fool.”
As in the Fool card? Ah, God, I had internalized my gran’s Tarot teachings. A character from the deck she’d always played with was now talking to me. “And I suppose the reaper who visited—the one who wants to kill me—was the Death card.”
He nodded. “Major Arcana.”
Hadn’t Gran explained the Major Arcana to me when I was young? They were special cards, maybe the trump cards of the Tarot?
Wasn’t there a time when I’d shuffled through her deck, the cards feeling so big in my little hands . . . ? I couldn’t remember!
The pain in my head grew excruciating. My eyes watered. “Matthew, this hurts!” I tasted blood running down the back of my throat, increasing my nausea.
The pressure eased a little, but not all the way. “I don’t want you to hurt,” he said gravely.
“Why do you keep appearing?”
“Field of battle. Arsenal. Obstacles. Foes. I’ve taught you each; you listen poorly.”
When blood trickled from my nose, I pressed the back of my hand against it. “I’m about to go under, kid. I mean screaming, hair-pulling, whackadoodle cracked. I can’t keep having these visions.”
He gazed at me with solemn brown eyes. “I won’t fail you. Evie, you are my only friend.”
His heartfelt words took me aback. He did seem so familiar. Just when I was wondering why I felt a measure of trust in him—he’d done everything imaginable not to deserve it—I reminded myself that he didn’t exist.
I shook my head hard, clearing just enough of the vision to escape. I headed for the door, snagging a horse blanket, then out toward the cane. Rainclouds had gathered above the field; thunder rumbled.
“No, Evie,” he called. “You aren’t ready! Your eyes will go bright if you look at the lights!”
“Just leave me alone, Matthew!”
“Turn away from the lights. Turn away! Want you safe!”
Right before I reached the edge of the cane, he warned once more, “It begins directly at the End. And the Beginning is night....”

1 comment:

  1. Wow. I have to admit, I didn't read the whole except you posted (especially since it was from the middle of the book), but I think I'm going to check this one out. It's about time I tried a Kresley Cole novel (since my given name is Kelsey Cole, I spent years joking that I was her).

    And I kind of adore that cover. YA meets romance novel... though speaking of, any idea who's pubbing this? Is it being marketed as YA or Adult Romance?

    Thanks for the post!