City of Secrets
Previously: The first day of school at Caribou Canyon High found Penny Harper grieving the death of her brother Richie. In an effort to focus on her future and boost her chances at a college scholarship, Penny reluctantly agreed to take on a tutoring job. At the end of the long and tiring day, she was confronted by Chase Martindale, her brother's killer.
Frankie struggled to stay focused on Mr. Rosen’s lecture, but it was no use. His voice was one long note, and it was stronger than a sedative. The sad thing was, Frankie liked English. It was her own bad luck that she was stuck with a teacher who had the personality of a brick wall. Frankie didn’t think she’d be able to stay awake the rest of the period. Several students had already fallen asleep.
Something sharp poked her in the arm. She turned to see a paper airplane flutter to the floor. She didn’t have to pick it up to read the message on it; it had been written in block letters with a black marker. Go back to your cauldron, you dirty witch.
Frankie huffed derisively. Go back to your cauldron? Really? Is that the best you can do? she thought. She decided that summer vacation had left her bullies rusty. The barely disguised sound of snickering came from nearby. A glance showed Laurel Beaumont and Dave Colton looking in her direction and grinning. Frankie flipped her middle finger at them before leaning over to pick up the airplane.
Dave’s friend Jason tapped him on the shoulder and whispered, “Pay attention.” Dave and Laurel turned back to the front.
Frankie brought the paper to her lips and planted a kiss next to the word “witch,” leaving an imprint in black—the color of the lipstick she’d reapplied after lunch. Frankie glared at Laurel, aimed, and launched the paper airplane. “Bullseye,” she said when it hit Laurel in the back of the head, ruffling her perfect hair.
“Hey!” Laurel shrieked, turning around and glaring at Frankie.
“Ms. Moreno!” Mr. Rosen called over the gasps. The entire class—except for the heavy sleepers—turned to face Frankie.
“Sorry, Mr. Rosen. Just giving Laurel the kiss of death. You can go back to whatever it was you were talking about.” Half the class laughed, while the other half called out “ooh” in a sing-song tone.
Mr. Rosen’s face turned red, but he didn’t look surprised. He stepped forward, though this had no effect on Frankie, considering that she was in the last row. “Ms. Moreno, we are not going to start off the year this way.”
“Wow, you can get your voice to change pitch! You should try that during your lectures. It might keep people awake.” Frankie, shut up. You said you were going to do things differently this year. She had said that, but breaking old habits was hard. There were more oohs from the class.
“That is enough, Ms. Moreno.”
“She’s such an idiot,” Laurel whispered loudly. The students surrounding her laughed.
“That goes for the rest of you too,” Mr. Rosen added, though Frankie thought it seemed like an afterthought.
Frankie bit her lip. She was tempted to comment on the beard Mr. Rosen appeared to be trying to grow; it was uneven in places and partially gray. It was as if he were asking to be taunted. She managed to keep her mouth shut. When it was clear she was done entertaining everyone, the other students turned around, and Mr. Rosen continued his lecture.
Frankie was starting to drift to sleep when the sudden queasiness in her stomach jolted her awake.Oh no, not now. She sat up, hoping the nausea would pass. Instead, it grew stronger. She bit back a gag, tasting bile in her mouth. It wasn’t going away. She gathered her things and stood.
“Ms. Moreno, what are you doing now?” Mr. Rosen asked.
Frankie was already weaving her way between desks. “What does it look like?” She really needed to get out of there, but her classmates weren’t making any moves to pick up their things from the aisles. Dave even stuck out his foot.
“Watch out, Frankie,” Jason Singer said. Frankie stepped over Dave’s foot and gave Jason the finger over her shoulder—because the bored sound of his voice told her that it hadn’t been a real warning. Jason and Dave were friends; pretending to be nice to her was part of their game.
Mr. Rosen was walking toward the door, and Frankie feared he would block it. “Ms. Moreno, you will return to your seat before I give you detention.”
“Sorry. Can’t. I have plans with nature.”
“She’s probably late meeting her pimp,” Laurel said. The rest of the class laughed.
“Don’t worry, Laurel. I’ll be sure to tell him where you’ll be waiting later.” A few people started to laugh at this, until Laurel glared at each of them in turn, her icy gaze making it clear that they would regret having laughed.
“Nice shirt, freak. Arch enemy? What—are you trying to warn us about you?” Emma Crawford asked.
Frankie didn’t bother to point out that Arch Enemy was a band; it should’ve been obvious from the shirt. Instead, she referred to the words written on the back, though they were partially hidden by her hair. “Yeah, and I’m the root of all evil. You better watch yourself.” With those parting words, she disappeared out the door.
The second she was in the hall, she ran toward the nearest bathroom. When she got there she threw her weight against the swinging door, let her backpack slide off her shoulders, and dove for the first stall. She dropped to her knees and knelt over the toilet just in time.
“God, this sucks.” She leaned against the side of the stall to catch her breath. “Why the hell do they call it morning sickness anyway?”
When she was sure she was done, she splashed cold water on her face and rinsed out her mouth. She picked up her bag and left the bathroom, feeling lucky she hadn’t been interrupted. Luck wasn’t something she had a lot of.
She grabbed her jacket from her locker and headed for the front door, figuring she’d deal with the consequences tomorrow. She didn’t know why she’d thought this year would be any different.
“I’m not going to stand here and chat about our summers, Chase.”
Frankie didn’t recognize the girl’s voice—which came from around the corner—but the mention of Chase’s name made her stomach clench and her heart pound. She spun around and headed back the way she came. She wasn’t sure where she was going, she just needed out of the vicinity of Chase Martindale. Far out of the vicinity.
“Why’s that, Penny? I hear you might have some interesting stories to tell.”
Frankie froze. Penny Harper. Richie’s sister. Richie’s sister was alone in a corridor with Chase Martindale. Richie would hate Frankie forever if she left Penny alone with Chase Martindale. Not that Richie didn’t already hate her forever. Not that he would even know if Frankie left Penny alone with Chase, but Frankie would know, and she couldn’t do it.
But that didn’t mean she could move to defend Penny either. She stood frozen, her legs heavy and her heart pounding so hard it felt like it might burst through her chest. Her throat was tight; she wasn’t sure she could breathe.
“Is this how we’re going to do it?” Penny asked. “I guess that’s good, because I don’t like games.” Her voice, which Frankie usually heard methodically spitting out facts, was cold.
“What are you talking about? I was referring to your internship at NCAR. You may beat me for valedictorian after all.”
Chase’s tone was light, almost teasing, but Frankie knew it was an act. Her vision blurred. She leaned against the wall as waves of dizziness overwhelmed her. Chase’s voice brought with it fragments of memories that swirled in her head; she fought to push them away.
“Oh, I’m going to beat you all right. Probably because I’m concentrating on school instead of murder,” Penny said.
What? Frankie thought. The shock of the words jerked her back to the present.
Shoes squeaked across the floor. A locker door slammed shut. Or maybe something slammed into the locker.
“You little bitch, you don’t know when to quit, do you?” Chase said, his voice low. It was a tone Frankie remembered all too well. You breathe a word of this, and I’ll kill you, you worthless slut.
Penny gasped. “What are you doing?”
It was the fear in Penny’s voice that propelled Frankie around the corner. Chase—large and wolf-like—held Penny—small and bookish—against the lockers by the shoulders.
“Get away from h—her,” Frankie said. It came out much quieter than she’d intended and her voice broke before she was even finished. It was a wonder Chase heard her at all. Frankie could only be glad about one thing: it worked. Chase dropped his hands from Penny’s shoulders and stepped away from her.
He moved toward Frankie and she became aware—not for the first time—of his immense size. Football players were supposed to be big, and Chase was a good one. But he could do more with that arm than throw a football. He could do more with those muscles than tackle other players. These were things Frankie never wanted to think about again, but it was hard not to when he was looming over her.
He laughed. The sound bounced off the lockers and echoed in Frankie’s ears. It reminded her of the woods and sharp sticks on soft earth and the howling of coyotes and waking to the nightmare of that face and those cold eyes. “What’s the matter, Frankie? You’d rather I be on you instead?”
Frankie blinked at him. He was smiling. How could he be smiling? Her mouth was dry. “J—just leave her alone.”
“You think you can tell me what to do?” Chase asked, his grin gone now. He took another step toward her, and she found herself frozen. He was right. She couldn’t tell him what to do. She’d made a mistake, and now her nightmares were going to come true.
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