She sat with her hand propped on her chin, staring blankly into space. Not that Tierney had much to look at, anyway. Just rows upon rows of dully colored books, stacked neatly into compact wooden shelves. Other than that, only bland walls and an equally depressing carpet offered any semblance of color, although the administration had tried to liven it up slightly. Tierney's favorite part was the motivational poster hanging on the wall.
/Remember, the problems ahead of you are never as great as the power behind you./
Now, why did that somehow seem appropriate?
Maybe because the problems that lay ahead of her seemed endless and insurmountable. First, Dare couldn't be happy. Second, she didn't even know what had gone wrong. Third...
Third, she *liked* the attention she'd been getting since she'd done the spell. Okay, so maybe she hadn't wanted to go to the prom with that kid (whose name she still wasn't sure of), but at least she'd been asked. It was funny, but even though she'd been ostracized because of her looks for so long, she was still picky about guys.
She wanted her soulmate. The one she was meant to be with, not some random boy who'd only asked her out because she was suddenly beautiful. The hell with *that*. She wanted more. In fact, she wanted all of it, right down to the splintering sparks each time they touched and that awe-inducing feeling of being thrown into his mind, of sharing yourself completely with someone else.
But still, it was nice to be wanted in the meantime.
With a sigh, she sat up, picking up her pencil and telling herself she was really going to start on her physics now. Really. The numbers swam crazily in front of her eyes. Of all the things interesting her right now, the velocity of an airplane in a windstorm was not one of them. It still needed to be done.
It's only two more problems, she told herself determinedly. Leaning over so she could see the word problem in the book, she quickly scanned the paragraph, jotting the numbers down on her paper. At least they shouldn't take that long to do, and then she could move on to her French assignment.
Or maybe not. Glancing up, she saw Raquel hovering at the end of the table. "Hey, Raquel. Shouldn't you be in lunch?"
Raquel shrugged, pulling out one of the chairs on the opposite side of the table and sitting down. "I already ate. You'll never guess who made an appearance."
The tone of her friend's voice said the answer should be pretty obvious, but Tierney was clueless. Unless... Suspicion dawned in her hazel eyes. "Dare?" she speculated, even though she knew the answer.
Nodding, Raquel made herself comfortable on the other side of the table. "Exactly. He wanted to know where you were."
"What did you tell him?"
The sharpness in her voice must have alerted Raquel, because she stared at her oddly for a moment before replying. "I told him you moved to Japan so you could wear a kimono." Then she paused again. "Or maybe I told him you went to Germany for a Bavarian pretzel. You know, I'm not really sure."
Her voice somewhat softer, Tierney asked, "You didn't tell him I was here?" She nearly sighed in relief.
"I didn't know," Raquel admitted.
That gave Tierney pause. If she hadn't known Tierney was there, why would she come? Her world suddenly skewed, Tierney hoped she had a good answer. "You came to the library on your own? Is this some kind of sadistic punishment for that stunt with Henderson the other day?"
Blindly, she racked her brain for other possible reasons Raquel might be here, but she came up blank. Punishment just about covered all possibilities, unless maybe she was getting paid... But by who?
Raquel quickly put that thought to rest. "Julien told me."
Nodding, Tierney accepted that answer silently, her eyes trailing back to her physics homework. Julien told her. Wonderful. While she knew that even if anything *had* happened -- which it wouldn't, because he didn't like her like that -- Julien would keep it to himself, she could only imagine what conclusions Raquel had drawn. Actually, she probably couldn't. Raquel's imagination bordered on drug-induced hallucinations at times.
Her friend conveniently interrupted those thoughts, very loudly and very angrily, and changed the subject. "Remember that essay on multifariousness?"
Tierney nodded, guessing that Raquel had been kept after class just as she suspected and that she wasn't happy about it. She was wrong.
"Well, this time she wants us to be creative."
Her mouth fell open. Goddess, was the woman insane? Tierney knew most of the people who were in her English class, and "be creative" were not the words to use with that specific group of people. She was inviting all sorts of disaster, and worse, hours of boredom while she had to grade the "creative" papers. At least Tierney assumed it was a creative paper, from what Raquel said.
"Creative how?" she asked aloud.
"We have to write a short story," Raquel sighed, slumping back in her chair and frowning. "I don't know what to write about!"
Biting her lip to keep from laughing, Tierney glanced over her physics. Absently correcting a mistake, she suggested, "Why don't you write about something historical?"
Laughter bubbled from Raquel's lips. Her slim arms curled around her sides as if they ached and her face flushed with amusement. "Yeah, right," she finally managed, her vivid eyes sparkling. "What do I know about history?"
"Nothing you couldn't look up," Tierney answered dryly. She punched some numbers into her calculator, then scribbled them on the paper. Last problem. "That's the beauty of history: it doesn't change."
"Unless you're Mr. Timmons," Raquel agreed. Her mouth pursed, she leveled her gaze on the bookshelf directly across from her. She scowled at the books, evidently opposed to using them instead of simply staring at them. Then she sighed. "In his world, it's completely subjective. So really, you can't blame me for not knowing when the Georgian empire fell."
Tierney looked up from her physics. "The Georgian empire?"
Rolling her eyes, Tierney transferred her attention back to the last problem. "As far as I know, Georgia never had an empire. If anything--"
"Spare me the details," her friend interrupted. She traced her fingers idly over the wooden grain swirling over the oak table, her fingers dipping into the line of Tierney's vision. "I just want to graduate and forget everything. It's not like we're going to need it anyway."
Satisfied, Tierney capped her pen, blinking away the numbers swimming drunkenly in front of her face, and slapped her thick notebook shut. "I don't think you need to graduate to forget everything, Raquel. You seem to do a pretty good job of that on a second to second basis. Have you ever thought about getting your short-term memory checked?"
"Oh, it's not my short-term memory," Raquel assured her. "It's my nonexistent attention span."
Not to mention her complete lack of concern for anything scholastic. Tierney rubbed her hand over her face, feeling features that no longer matched her outer appearance. Where vision lied, touch did not. It reminded her that she was merely a lie. The realization sent a frisson of premonition shooting through her.
Ignore that, she told herself, and firmly pushed it to the back of her mind.
"Anyway, you said you had those papers, right? I have something to do after school, so I think you should show me now, if you've got them with you." Raquel stared at her expectantly, her pretty features intent. Shifting in her seat, she flipped her long, pale blond hair over her shoulder and tucked it behind her ear, a gesture Tierney knew meant she was listening.
Now if only some of that interest were applied to her classes...
"I have them with me," she said. Sliding her stack of books to the side, she unburied her shiny magenta folder from beneath the pile. It took her only a moment to open it and remove a thin stack of papers from its crowded inside.
Leaning forward, Raquel snatched them out of her friend's hand. She ignored the gasp of protest accompanying that action. After a moment of careful consideration, she handed them back. "Why are all the things that interest me never in an easy-to-follow format?"
"Luck," Tierney retorted, mildly irritated at Raquel's audacity. Her friend smiled sweetly at her, completely unfazed, and Tierney felt her irritation dissipate.
Raquel seemed to realize this. "So show me how you know I'm a witch."
"At first I thought it was coincidence," Tierney admitted as she laid the papers on the table. "Some humans do have our surname, after all, and it doesn't mean anything. But then..." she leaned forward, excitement drifting over her features, "Adrien did something weird."
"Oh, I'm shocked," Raquel said, rolling her eyes. "This was what, five seconds after you'd met him?"
"We were thirteen. Adrien was fourteen. So that would have been... two or three years ago."
Now Raquel leaned forward, too, looking somewhat offended. Her mouth twisted wryly and her violet eyes were dark like amethysts in shadows. Not with real offense, but more with something like hurt. As if she couldn't believe Tierney would keep this from her. "You've known I'm a witch for two years and you didn't tell me?"
Tierney met her eyes. "No, I haven't known you were a witch for two years; I've known for about a year. I told you I wasn't sure, remember? I didn't think to look it up until later."
Mollified, Raquel slumped back in her seat, tucking her hair, which had swept forward when she moved, back behind her ear. "You still should have told me."
"I didn't know how you'd react," she defended, then she brushed that topic aside. She spread the papers haphazardly between them and pointed to one of the sheets, her slender fingers tapping against the table. "If you look at this paper, the line of descent," her fingers traced down the old, crinkled paper, "ends here, with Kiele Harman." She looked expectantly at her friend, hoping for some reaction at the name.
Okay, so maybe she had been too optimistic. The match wasn't exact. "Your mom's real name is Kiele. Anyone from the Nightworld usually has a nature name; Kiele is the name for a type of flower in Hawaii."
Shifting through the papers, she pulled out Mrs. Harman's birth certificate, along with another legal document showing where she'd had her name changed. She handed them to Raquel, watching as surprise and confusion warred over her delicate features. After a moment, Raquel set them down.
"I don't understand," Raquel said. "You know my mom's..."
Even though her voice trailed off, Tierney knew what she'd been about to say. You know my mom's an alcoholic. You know my mom never comes out of her room, and wouldn't if it were a choice between life and death. You know I've never seen my mom sober, except maybe that once... Maybe.
Yes, Tierney knew what Raquel hadn't said. And she also knew Raquel didn't want her pity. She hadn't from the first day they'd met. But where Tierney had been an outcast because of her looks, Raquel had been an outcast by choice.
I'm not like them.
Those words had been a younger Raquel's mantra, her answer to everything. Although her friend's appearance had always bordered on angelic, her personality had been anything but. It had only been after she'd gotten to know Tierney that she'd started to open up, but she still scorned the "popular" crowd, with the exception of Adrien's friends.
Adrien, in contrast, associated with anyone and everyone. It didn't matter which crowd they ran with or what their status was. From the pretty, pretty princesses to the gutter sluts, he knew them all. But despite his popularity, he was only close to a handful of people.
Still, few people knew about their family life.
Gently, Tierney replied, "I know, Raquel, but this was before she was like that. Your mother is a Harman."
"But--" Raquel couldn't seem to grasp such a radically different view of her mother. She bit her lower lip, confusion sliding like putty in her eyes, and took a deep breath. "Shouldn't her last name be different if she got married?"
Tierney shook her head, her long hair slipping in a myriad of hues over her smooth green sweater. "Not in the Nightworld. The witches' last names descend from mother to daughter. It's a matriarchal society."
Raquel raised an eyebrow at this new bit of information. "I think I'm going to like this."
A brief smile curved Tierney's mouth. "I figured you'd say something like that. Anyway, your dad took the last name of the Harmans," she pushed forward a different document, "when they got married." Lining the three documents neatly next to each other, she reached to stack the rest of the papers into a neat pile. "And then when they moved here, your mom changed her name."
"I don't get that," Raquel muttered. "Of all the names my mother could have picked, she changed her name to Kelly?"
Tracing her fingers over the sprawling names on the papers -- she didn't have to be too careful, since they weren't the originals -- her eyes hovered on the intertwined letters. "Well, it kind of sounds like Kiele, don't you think?"
The bell cut off any response Raquel could have made. The two girls looked at each other, then Tierney hastily gathered up the papers. Raquel really couldn't afford to be late again.
"Sorry. I know that wasn't horribly enlightening," she apologized, stuffing them into a folder. "What are you doing after school again?"
A short moment of hesitation fell between them, her friend seemingly loathe to answer. Raising an eyebrow at her friend's silence, she picked up the rest of her stuff, then started out of the library. Raquel fell into step beside her. They began walking toward their respective classes.
Grimacing, Raquel finally replied, "Meeting with Harington."
Tierney made a small sound of disgust. "Lucky you. Do you want me to wait for you or is Adrien taking you home?"
Something flickered over her friend's face. Tierney watched curiously as a blush crept over her face as quickly as a creeping vine, its tendrils weaving their way into her skin. "I have a ride," Raquel answered evasively.
"I'll find one."
"So you don't actually have one yet?" They'd reached Raquel's classroom, so Tierney paused by the door, waiting for her friend's answer. Raquel didn't seem concerned that she had neither paper nor a writing utensil, but she did appear slightly nervous about supplying an answer.
The whole situation struck Tierney as odd, especially since she'd offered to wait for her friend. After another second of silence, she asked, "Does this have anything to do with your prom date?"
"No," Raquel answered, a little too quickly to be believable.
Suppressing a frustrated sigh, Tierney demanded, "Then why won't you tell me?"
The bell rang.
"Class." Raquel shrugged apologetically and ducked through the door.
Tierney wanted to smack her. She was so *frustrating* sometimes! Really, the girl could give government special forces some tips on evasive tactics, and probably implement a completely original program in the military. Her tactical skills were amazing. Her timing left much to be desired.
And because of Raquel, she was late again, albeit indirectly.
Oh, well. At least it was Mr. Timmons instead of a different teacher who wouldn't be quite as understanding. She wasn't *that* late. Wandering down the hall in the direction of her classroom, she wondered what was going on with Raquel lately.
Ah, last period Calculus. His favorite.
Dare's mouth twisting wryly at that sarcastic thought, he thanked Fate for making Tierney sick and sending her home, because he didn't think he would be able to control his temper once he saw her. Better for that to happen outside of class, and not in the midst of forty humans.
Oh, no. He had much more interesting plans for Tierney Anderson.
The corners of his mouth tilting in anticipation, his eyes shone with a curious sort of retribution promised in their depths. His eyes were the same blazing gold despite the change in this features and, while their shape had altered, their color was pure. When they touched you, you burned.
He slammed his locker shut, turning to grace Byron with smug smile. "Ready?"
The word was crushed out of his lungs as he felt himself flung against the locker. One of the members of the football team fixed him with a menacing stare. "Stay out of my way next time."
Never mind the plans. He was going to kill her.
His mouth drawn tight, he watched silently as the football player -- who weighed at least three hundred pounds and was definitely human -- glared for a second longer, his lip curled angrily, and then continued walking down the crowded hall. The guy didn't look back from his slow swagger, which Dare attributed to over-confidence.
Surprised, Byron whistled softly at his side. "Don't know what *that* was about. Craig's usually not so--" Then he shrugged, letting the thought slip back into his mind's murky swamps of consciousness. "C'mon."
Throwing one last glance at Tierney's silent locker, Dare followed behind him, dodging people who stepped out of Byron's way in deference. Irritated by this small display of imposed inferiority, he suddenly realized he didn't know where Tierney lived, which might make it difficult to find her tonight. Maybe Byron would know.
"Do you know where Tierney Anderson lives?"
Byron stopped dead in front of him, so quickly that Dare stumbled into his back. The slightly shorter vampire swiveled to face him. "What d'you want with her?"
"It's just business." He shrugged, brushing the subject off as unimportant. He elbowed a human out of his way and continued down the hall, leaving Byron to hurry after him or be left behind.
The lamia caught up quickly. Disbelief flaring brown eyes into a stunning and somehow murky green, he demanded, "Business? What kind of business?"
"None of yours," Dare answered. His voice was calm, a rough purr that scraped over nerves like the subtle wave of water over rocks, drowning them in the sound. He stepped around a group of people who crowded around a different classroom's door.
Shaking his head sadly, Byron said, "Thought I told you to stay away from her. I don't care how pretty she is. She's dangerous, you know?"
Dare bit his lip, catching the sentence before it could escape fully from his mouth. He was tempted to write Byron off as certifiable, except... something told him Byron was telling the truth. Anger brimmed dangerously close to the surface.
Byron's statement could mean one of two things: either Byron was blind, or Tierney had switched their looks to teach him a lesson. Since Byron was minus the Seeing Eye dog and the cane, he discarded the first option.
Reining his temper under control, he agreed, "You told me."
But apparently I didn't listen well enough. If he'd paid attention to Byron's warning and left her alone, she might have kept her end of the bargain. Then again, maybe he should have accepted her proposal to put the promise in blood. At least that was biding.
He entered the classroom, ignoring the funny look Byron was giving him. Whispers erupted when he entered. He walked to his desk in silence, his jaw tightening with every passing second, and his head tilted arrogantly, meeting each person's eyes in turn. One by one they looked away.
His eyes had always been his greatest weapon. The predatory edge was there, hovering as sharp as a glass shard slipping through skin, while the slinking movements of his body only hinted at what was trapped inside. But his eyes...
They say your eyes are the windows to your soul, but Dare's showed only hunger. Thick, ravenous hunger rolling through their systems like a choking fog and stilling their breath. Dare's eyes screamed of danger and death.
When they looked at him, they felt like prey.
He could see it on their faces, that split second before they averted their gazes away from his, that miniscule slice of time before they looked down and prayed they were misreading the message in his eyes. When he smiled, showing his teeth, one of the girls shuddered, but now he didn't know if it was because of his warning stare or because of his horrid looks.
His confidence restored, he dropped into his seat, stretching his long legs into the aisle. Mr. O glared as he stepped over them, handing back homework assignments they'd turned in during the last class period. Dare smiled nastily back at him, the grin widening as the man scuttled away.
Byron sat in the desk next to his and leaned across the Formica top so he could whisper. "Should have paid attention to me. Stay away if you can help it. She might turn you into something nasty."
She already did, Dare thought, his displeasure dripping from those golden orbs. "If she wants to play games, we can play them." Silence stretched between the two boys and even though Byron wasn't aware of what had happened, so did understanding. "But if she plays, she'll lose."
"Might want to tell *her* that," Byron muttered, his eyes fixed on the doorway.
Of all the days she'd wanted to skip class, today *had* to be the one where the guidance counselors were in a meeting. Mrs. Shumaker hadn't been happy about writing her a pass, but Tierney didn't care. She was too focused on having to see Dare.
She'd really, really tried to get out of class. When that hadn't worked, she'd tried to get out of school. But, ironically, the school nurse had called in sick, so Mrs. Shumaker had forced Tierney to finish out the day.
It's only one class.
Of course, Mrs. Shumaker didn't know why she didn't want to go to that class, and probably wouldn't care if she did. She looked like she'd just swallowed a lemon when Tierney walked in, her eyes bulging and her cheeks puffing a like a blowfish's. The yelling had followed only a few seconds later, while Tierney tried desperately to look ill.
Her expression was just about equivalent to the one washing over Dare's features right now. First the surprise -- quickly becoming more akin to shock -- then irritation, and finally anger. For very different reasons, of course. While Mrs. Shumaker just didn't like to do what she was paid for -- and sometimes Tierney didn't think she liked the students at all -- things seemed to be clicking in Dare's mind, much to Tierney's dismay.
"Tierney, did you bring me a slip?" Mr. O demanded fanatically, probably hoping that she didn't so he could give her detention or make her go back to get one.
She nodded and carefully avoided looking in Dare's direction. Without a word, she handed it to him. He signed it, handing it back to her, then she walked quietly to her desk, where she sat. She kept her eyes trained in front of her. Flipping open her book, she settled as inconspicuously as she could into her seat.
Dare's eyes bored into her back. Even though she wasn't looking at him, she could feel them like twin spires driving deeply into her soul. Slumping further down, she tried to ignore him.
It wasn't easy.
Glancing at the clock, she wished fervently for the hands to magically reflect thirty-five minutes into the future, when she could leave. She'd seen Jihn in the hallway before class and begged her to make some excuse calling her to the office or the music room or the art room -- anywhere -- before the dismissal bell rang. She just wanted to avoid a confrontation with Dare.
Jihn agreed, so Tierney was counting on that to get her out of this mess she'd created for herself. Thank the goddess it was Friday. She could avoid Dare until Monday, and by then, hopefully she'd have found the remedy.
Thirty-five more minutes.
She was beautiful.
He knew he should have expected it, but somewhere deep, down inside, he'd told himself that life wouldn't be so unfair as to let a spell turn Tierney beautiful while he turned into... this horrible parody of his former looks. He hadn't thought life would let him, a Nightworlder -- someone born above these worthless pieces of flesh that called themselves humans -- sink so far as to find himself ridiculed by them.
All day he'd been telling himself it wasn't their fault that things had changed and not to take his anger out on them. He had to survive in this place for at least another two months, and then in the town for another year after that. That had been the deal; live with your great-aunt for a year, then you're on your own, free to do as you want. His parents told him that right before they'd shipped him off to this godforsaken town.
And while he hadn't been happy about it, at least there had been an ending to the mess in sight. Now he wasn't sure what they -- what he -- had gotten himself into. This whole situation was far beyond his call of duty.
She was beautiful and he was angry.
He couldn't help but stare at her, at her flawless features twisting into the illusion she now was. Fine, delicate features, so pure it was stunning, and her eyes -- which he reluctantly admitted had always been pretty -- framed in that exquisite setting. If he hadn't been able to see beneath that mask, hadn't been able to see the visage that lay raw just underneath, she would have made him ache.
He wanted to run his fingers through that long hair. Straight now, the colors mixed and melded into a striking sheet of silk. His fingers itched to touch it, to see if it felt as sensual as it looked.
But he wouldn't do that.
He looked at the clock. Thirty-five more minutes until the bell rang. A smug smile curving his lips, he returned his attention to his soulmate and her suddenly beautiful appearance.
Thirty-five more minutes until she started paying for what she'd done.