"Oh, Tierney, did you hear? You ate a newborn for lunch." Scorn hung heavy in Raquel's voice and she rolled her eyes. "I swear, I don't know where people come up with these things."

 

"I told you television would be the downfall of humanity," she replied, shrugging tranquilly. She slammed her locker shut, as it refused to close using normal tactics. As usual, she waited for Raquel to sort through the mess in her locker so they could walk to class.

 

Pausing in the midst of searching for a pen, Raquel's mouth tightened and her violet eyes flamed. "It's still not fair and it's certainly not true." Her eyes softened. "You don't deserve it."

 

"It's okay," Tierney answered, patting her arm comfortingly. "I have a prom date and Lindsay doesn't, so it all evens out in the end."

 

"I can't wait until Adrien tells her that he's taking Jordana!" Raquel exclaimed gleefully, her eyes losing their spark of anger. She paused. "I'm glad you're going with Julien."

 

They were silent a moment, faces mirroring agreement. In all honesty, Tierney was just glad she had a *date*, never mind who it was. She certainly hadn't been expecting anyone to ask her, unless it was out of severe desperation.

 

Then something occurred to her. "Who will you go with?"

 

Raquel blushed. "Actually, I already have a date." She held up a pen triumphantly, shutting her locker and spinning the combination on the lock. "Come on."

 

"Hey!" Tierney yelped to Raquel's quickly retreating back. Hurrying to catch up, she demanded, "Who? Why didn't you tell me?"

 

The blush deepened to the color of fine wine. "Do we have to talk about this?"

 

"I'm your best friend," Tierney pointed out, falling into step beside her. "Who else are you going to tell?"

 

"No one?"

 

"Are you *embarrassed* about your date?"

 

Raquel laughed, true humor playing in her violet eyes. She shifted her books to her other arm. "Not at all."

 

"I don't get it, then," Tierney confessed. She shoved her way past the drama club members, who were assembled in a large clump and were blocking the hallway. Ignoring the nasty remarks sent her way. "What's the secret?"

 

"I just don't want to tell," Raquel mumbled, veering sharply to the left to avoid a puddle of... something. She ducked her head to hide behind her long, platinum hair.

 

Tierney raised an eyebrow, then shrugged. If Raquel didn't want to tell her, that was the end of it. She'd slip eventually, although she was very good at keeping secrets. Almost too good. "Whatever."

 

She entered the classroom, walking over to her usual seat and sitting down. The books landed with a thud on the Formica desktop. The teacher, Mrs. Cavenar, was busy passing back last week's exams and other various assignments she'd neglected to grade before the weekend.

 

Raquel dropped into the seat next to her. She frowned worriedly. "You're not mad, are you?"

 

"No," Tierney assured her. Her pencil rolled off the desk and she leaned over to pick it up, one hand gathering her mass of riotous curls behind her head in an effort to keep it out of her face. Not surprisingly, it didn't work.

 

Relaxing, Raquel smiled slightly. "Good." Then she scowled. "Did I *tell* you what Harington assigned today? I hate that woman! I don't understand how she can teach English when she doesn't speak it, " she complained.

 

Leafing through her notebook until she came to a blank page, Tierney debated whether to bring up Raquel's lack of vocabulary, which was undoubtedly the issue here. Raquel had told her many times that as long as she could see Spot run, she wasn't going to worry about it. It would make a lot more sense if Raquel were dyslexic, but it was probably just because she was stubborn.

 

 "What's it on?" she asked finally.

 

Her mouth pursed, Raquel looked distinctly disdainful. "Multifariousness! Honestly, how am I supposed to write an essay on it if I don't know what it *is*?"

 

Tierney's shoulders shook with laughter.  "I don't suppose finding a dictionary occurred to you?"

 

Raquel blinked. "That's a brilliant idea. Mrs. Cavenar!" Her hand shot up, waving wildly. "Mrs. Cavenar!"

 

The teacher paused in the middle of handing a student a paper. "Raquel? Y a-t-il un problème?"

 

A pause, then she glanced at Tierney. "What did she say?" she asked, not even bothering to be covert about it. Suspicion wafted over her features. "Am I supposed to know that?"

 

"She asked you if you've got a problem."

 

"Oh." Raquel shook her head, her blond hair rippling over her shoulders. "No, no problem. Can I borrow a dictionary?"

 

"En français, Raquel."

 

A moment of silence reigned over the classroom. Most of the students were too busy groaning over their grades to pay attention.  If they weren't groaning, they were probably wondering if Mrs. Cavenar owned stock in red pens and her question didn't register.

 

Raquel chewed on the inside of her cheek thoughtfully. "What's the word for 'borrow?' Do they even *have* that word in French?"

 

Tierney sighed. "Apparently, because she just asked you to use it. Look it up."

 

"I don't have a dictionary!"

 

The guy behind her snickered. She swiveled in her seat long enough to glare at him, then spun back around, tapping her long nails against the desk. Tierney had to bite her lower lip to keep from laughing.

 

"Um... Puis-je... boire un book?"

 

Mrs. Cavenar's stare bordered on terrifying.

 

"Guess not," Raquel muttered.

 

Amused, but cringing, Tierney replied, "You just asked her if you could drink a book... In franglais."

 

Shrugging that aside, Raquel flipped open her French textbook, rifling through pages until she came to vocabulary lists in the back. Tracing her finger down the long line of words, her expression grew more and more dumbfounded. Mrs. Cavenar tapped her foot impatiently. 

 

Tierney took pity on her. "Avez-vous un dictionnaire, Madame?"

 

"Bien sûr," Mrs. Cavenar replied. She picked a book off the shelf beside her and handed it to a student, who in turn passed it to Raquel. She accepted it gratefully.

 

It took her a moment to realize she'd handed her a French-English dictionary and not one that defined obscure English words. Disgusted, she slapped it closed. "I am *not* asking her for a real dictionary."

 

"Before you ask, yes, there is a word for 'real' in French."

 

Tierney accepted her test from Madame, unsurprised to see a perfect mark at the top of the page. Languages came easy to her, probably because she'd read so much as a child. Regardless, French was the one thing she didn't have to work at.  She appreciated the break it gave her.

 

Raquel wrinkled her nose. "Very funny, Tierney." She groaned when she saw her grade. "Why didn't I take Spanish?"

 

"Because the Spanish don't use subject pronouns. I distinctly remember you telling Adrien it was 'unnatural.'" Tierney flipped open her textbook to chapter eleven. "I don't understand how you can't form a sentence after three years of French classes."

 

"It's a gift," Raquel answered. She fell silent at Mrs. Cavenar's withering glare. The woman was one of the many teachers who didn't include herself in Raquel's fan club, although in this case, the feeling was reciprocated. It was painfully clear that Raquel hated French with a passion.

 

"D'accord. Ouvrez vos livres à page 247."

 

Tierney didn't think it would be a good idea to laugh at the list of vulgar words suddenly streaming from Raquel's mouth.

 

 

***

 

Dare slammed his newly acquired locker shut with a bang. "How much more of this hell is left?"

 

"Last class of the day," Byron responded, a little too cheerfully for Dare's tastes, and glanced down at his copy of Dare's schedule. "Calculus. Only class I can tolerate."

 

Raising an eyebrow, Dare scowled. "I don't see how you can find anything to like about this place. It's full of humans and the teachers give work. I'd just as soon not have to 'tolerate' it."

 

"Might as well make the most of it," Byron shrugged. "Kind of like not having to search for my meals, myself. 'Course, being a shapeshifter, you don't really have the same benefits." He finished searching for his books, shutting the locker, then kicking it when it refused to catch. It bounced back open. With far too little concern, he shrugged and started down the hall.

 

Following him, Dare decided not to respond to that comment. His meals usually ended up very cold and very dead, usually in a very messy way. Someone would start to notice if he ate students on a regular basis. His parents had warned him quite eloquently what would happen if that ever occurred. He'd been tempted to do it just for the sake of defiance, until the Elders had parroted their words. While he wasn't afraid of any of them, he saw no reason to make enemies. Unless, of course, they were of the ugly human variety.

 

Thinking of his soulmate, his burning golden eyes narrowed dangerously. On the plus side, she was a witch, and not some pathetic little human. Still, he would have been a lot happier to find out his soulmate was someone like that attractive lost witch he'd seen at lunch. His soulmate's best friend, apparently.

 

Still, there were major possibilities to be had there.

 

Tierney, despite her grotesque face, would be quite lovely with a bag over her head. Her body could only be described as luscious. Legs longer than the Great Wall of China and a waist slimmer than a willow branch, as well as some other things it probably wasn't appropriate to think about. If not for her hideously mismatched features...

 

"Why is Calculus tolerable?" he asked finally, shoving those thoughts aside. Better not to think about his soulmate right now, or ever. After all, she was hardly significant.

 

"Human girl named Alison. Girl's very loud. Projects her thoughts." Byron grinned. "Usually answer before she does. She doesn't like questions."

 

Dare had to stop and think about that for a moment. "Doesn't the teacher get suspicious when answers on the test are identical?"

 

"Course not. Alison sits all the way across the room. Human's don't believe in telepathy, even if they say they do."

 

Byron stopped in front of a door, one that looked just like all the other ones Dare had entered today. How predictable and how boring, just like everything else he'd encountered. Fifty more minutes, he reminded himself. Fifty more minutes and he could leave this place that somehow gave humans the idea they were more than a dietary supplement.

 

The bell rang, which Byron clearly took as his cue to enter the classroom. The teacher sat at his desk, scrawling comments across homework assignments and occasionally nodding to himself. He looked up when Byron and Dare stopped beside him.

 

He set down his pen. "You must be the new student," he exclaimed, his voice filled with delight.

 

No shit, Dare thought silently. When a person you don't recognize walks into a class of forty students you've been teaching for seven months now, they're either a new student or a serial killer. He seriously hoped the man didn't have a penchant for frequently stating the obvious. 

 

"Dare Drache," he confirmed, handing the man his admittance slip.

 

"Larry Oleo," the teacher responded, and scribbled his initials across most of the paper despite the half-inch line he'd been allotted. "You can call me Mr. O."

 

Holding out the paper, something menacing gleaming in the man's rheumy blue eyes, Dare wondered if he was one of those sadistic teachers who took joy in seeing his students fail, only after he'd destroyed their brains with two months worth of homework crammed into one week. "Thanks," he said, his sarcasm more than a little evident. He took the paper and turned around.

 

With a groan, he realized he was standing face to face with Tierney Anderson.

 

 

***

 

 

How did she ever manage to get so unlucky?

 

First, she found out she was soulmates with a superficial shapeshifter. Now, she had class with him. If there had been any justice in this world, she would have grown up in Alaska, and this wouldn't be an issue. Dare, who looked like he'd just stepped off the pages of GQ, probably wouldn't last a second in snowshoes.

 

She snuck a peek at her soulmate, who sat exactly three rows away from her and to the right. He was staring, as usual. Okay, so she'd be a liar if she didn't admit he was strikingly attractive. Might as well be brutally honest and get that admission out of the way. From beneath thick and long lowered lashes, the one pretty thing about her face, she permitted herself the opportunity to study him covertly.

 

Completely golden, from spiky gold hair to burning gold eyes that dripped poison into his words. He was tall, with a lean, rangy build and a hard-muscled body, his movements fluid and controlled. If she had to guess, she would say he was some kind of cat, though she wasn't sure which one. Cheekbones to die for, of course, and a mouth so beautifully sculpted that it should be immortalized. He had a face that made her ache, and glancing around the classroom, she was apparently not the only one.

 

Spiky hair, spiky lashes, and a spiky personality.  All three sharp enough to accidentally impale yourself on. How typical of the Nightworld to hide internal deformity with external charm. Forcing herself to concentrate on the differential equation in front of her, she reminded herself that he wasn't worth it.

 

He didn't want her. Fine. But she really wished he would stop staring at her, that the heat from his gaze would cool or find some other target to bore holes into. Her nerves were taking quite a beating. She propped her chin lightly on her hands, her eyes straying to the clock to the clock above the door. In ten minutes, she could race out of here -- hopefully avoiding Dare -- and go home. The thought was positively blissful.

 

"Okay, there, Tierney?" Mr. O paused next to her desk, pulling her notebook around so he could check her problem. He occasionally paused at students' desks to look at their work, walking around the classroom like a secret service agent, and just as deadly to their grades. "Perfect, as always. Why don't you show the new student?"

 

It must be a conspiracy, she decided abruptly, staring at the teacher with trepidation. Help the new student. Sure, why not? Why would she possibly have a problem with that? This just confirmed her suspicions that Mr. O hated her, no matter how well he managed to disguise it.

 

Slowly, she stood up, gathering her books and taking them with her. She must have walked under a ladder without realizing it this morning. She stopped in front of Dare's desk, hesitating, then she moved the desk so they faced each other and sat down.

 

"What do you want?" he asked coldly, looking up from a problem Tierney could already see at least three mistakes in.

 

She uncapped her pen calmly, telling herself repeatedly not to let him get to her. Only a couple of minutes before she didn't have to subject herself to his insults anymore. "Mr. O asked me to help you."

 

"I don't want your help."

 

"I'm well aware of that," she answered, straightening his notebook so that they could both see it, "but if you tell Mr. O that, he'll look for an excuse to fail you all year."

 

He leaned forward, the muscles in his strong forearms rippling like water in a strong breeze. "Aren't you a junior?" he asked. His bright gold eyes sparkled nastily, deeper metallic flecks streaming from the pupils. It would be too easy to drown in those depths -- shallow though Dare was -- and, oh, that mouth...

 

*Shut up,* she told her brain firmly. Focus on the damned question. "Yes," she answered, her voice amazingly steady despite the numerous thoughts running through her head. "But I skipped Algebra."

 

"Oh, really?" he purred, mock amazement wavering over his face. "I didn't know my soulmate was both ugly *and* a genius. What luck."

 

Her face tightened and her lashes dropped like a flimsy protective barrier. When she looked up at him, fury played in their depths. "At least I got here by my own merit instead of cheating my way into class like Byron Redfern did. And shouldn't you be in remedial math?" She glanced down at his paper, then said softly, "They can teach you how to add."

 

He snatched the notebook away. "I did it wrong on purpose," he snapped, slamming the notebook closed. "I wanted to see what he would do."

 

She drew back, tucking a wild curl behind her ear thoughtfully. "Well, now you know," she said. "I'd appreciate it if you held off any other experiments for when I'm not around."

 

Those golden eyes smoldering, he reached out to examine one of those riotous curls. "Is this natural?" he asked, rubbing the russet strand between his fingers, letting the silky texture slide over his skin.

 

"Unfortunately," she admitted guardedly, waiting for the insult she knew would come.

 

He didn't disappoint her. "It's gorgeous," he complimented idly, staring at the colors, strands as black as oil nestled among platinum, and varying shades of russet and brown wrapped around them both. "It's a shame it was wasted on someone as ugly as you."

 

The bell rang. Stinging from that comment, she watched speechlessly as he picked up his books and walked away, looking quite satisfied with his parting shot. She snatched up her own books and stalked after him. Despite his quickened pace, she matched her steps to his easily, ignoring him as he deliberately tried to crowd her into a locker.

 

"We've already established that you don't want anything to do with me," she started conversationally, as though they were talking about the weather instead of a relationship that had never truly started and realistically, never would, "so stop staring and don't insult me. Just leave me alone."

 

He glanced at her, distaste etched onto his cheekbones and the derisive bow of his mouth. "I do not exist to you," he rapped out, his voice fierce and flat.

 

"Fine, as long as it works both ways."

 

"Done."

 

He nodded once, decisively, and turned down the corridor to their lockers. He didn't say anything else to her, simply turned his back and walked away. She was tempted to follow him again and give him a swift kick to wherever felt appropriate at the time.

 

Shoving her way through the mass of students to her locker, she opened it and threw her books inside. Homework. What books did she need for homework? Calculus, physics, and chemistry. She briefly wondered what had possessed her to take two sciences this year instead of taking advantage of her free period like Raquel did.

 

"Do you have any plans for right now?" her friend demanded, coming up beside her. Struggling with the padlock, she finally managed to pull it open, nearly dropping all her books in the process.

 

"No, why?"

 

Raquel started shoving books into her backpack at random. "You know that coffee house down by the mall? Could we go there to study? I was kind of hoping you would help me with my trig homework."

 

"Don't tell me. You're failing."

 

Raquel was always failing, no matter what classes she was taking or what her grades actually were. Her hatred of school tended to translate itself into exaggerated melodramatics at any given point in time.

 

Her friend blushed. "Well, not really, but I'd feel better if you would go over it with me." Then she really looked at Tierney, and noticed the unhappiness lurking in her eyes. "Tier, are you okay? What happened?"

 

"Nothing," Tierney said brightly, forcing a smile. "Of course, I'll help. One condition."

 

"I'll pay for your coffee," Raquel promised immediately. "And some of that hard Italian stuff you like so much."

 

"Biscotti," Tierney said dryly, "and you don't have to. This is something else." She paused in the middle of extracting her physics book. "Remember how I told you that we're cousins?"

 

Raquel nodded. "Yeah, I remember." She had finally finished shoving things into her book bag and was now struggling to close it because it was so full.

 

Hesitating, Tierney said, "Well, I have something to show you. Will you have time to go somewhere with me after we're done studying?"

 

"Where?" Curiosity ran rampant through the question., Raquel's violet eyes wide and questioning.

 

"It's sort of a surprise. You just have to trust me."

 

Sighing, Raquel answered, "You know I do. Let me go find Adrien and tell him where I'll be. I'll meet you in the parking lot."

 

She closed and locked her locker, taking off down the hall, leaving Tierney wondering how she'd react to being told she was a witch. Well, there was only one way to find out, wasn't there?

 

Banging her locker shut, she walked down the hall, ignoring Dare where he still stood with Byron at their lockers. She had the feeling Byron had used his own particular brand of coercion to get lockers that were in near proximity of each other.

 

She was careful not to look at either of them, though she felt Dare's heated gaze on her back, despite his promise. She almost wished he would give her a chance. After all, finding your soulmate was something special, and it certainly didn't happen to everyone. Because she was a member of Circle Daybreak, Tierney knew this for a fact.

 

Oh, goddess, what would Dare do if he found out about her parents? It would only make him hate her more. If she had to guess, she would say Byron had told him she was a witch, but she didn't know if Byron knew she was a half-breed as well. The results could be disastrous.

 

But then, Dare didn't want her anyway.

 

And for some strange reason, that thought sent defeat flooding through her. 

 

 

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