Sophie Lawrence followed her best friend, Lilli, into their sociology class at Lotus Academy. A few minutes early, they slid into a row in the large auditorium.
“Sophie, are you okay? You look really tired.”
“I didn’t sleep well last night. I had another vision,” Sophie whispered as students filed in.
“About the kidnappings?” Lilli whispered back. “We have to do something.”
“I know. I can’t believe we’re even having a fall semester. Three students were kidnapped over the summer, and none have been found.”
“We could tell them about your visions.”
“I doubt that would work any better than the letters I’ve shown the police. They’d institutionalize me.”
Sometimes her dreams, or visions, as Lilli deemed them, drove her almost to insanity. The other night she’d dreamt of a girl held prisoner in a stone chamber and had awoken to the smell of charred flesh.
What person dreamed these types of things and remained normal? How long was she going to have to deal with it? Several months was beginning to feel like eternity already, and with no end in sight, she wasn’t sure she was going to make it. If these dreams didn’t end soon, Sophie was going to volunteer to be institutionalized.
More students entered the classroom. Sophie glanced up, and her breath caught in her chest as the rest of the room faded away.
All except for him.
His gray-eyed gaze met her violet ones, and it hit her like a bolt of lightning. She gasped as his eyes widened. Like he recognized her, even though they’d never met before now.
Absolute trust and affection swelled inside her as she continued staring. Even from where she sat, she could tell he was taller than most boys, and some type of athlete from the muscles in his arms and chest. His brown hair was mussed, as if he’d just woken up, and his eyes were the color of ashes, pale and stormy.
Since he’d jerked to a stop the moment their gazes met, he was blocking the doorway to the classroom. Someone shoved him, and he blinked.
The spell was broken. He averted his face from her and climbed the rows.
Sophie’s face flamed as she thought about how hard she’d been staring. It had almost been like one of her visions. She couldn’t have stopped if she’d wanted to. Beside her, Lilli was breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth rapidly. “Are you okay?” Sophie asked.
Lilli glanced at Sophie with eyes full of wonder. “What just happened?”
“You saw him, too?”
“The curly-haired god with the muscles of Adonis and puppy-dog eyes?” Lilli sighed and bit her lip.
“What? No. I saw someone else.” Sophie desperately wanted to risk a look back to see if he was still there. That he hadn’t been one of her visions.
“I think something magical happened when I saw him, Sophie. It felt like lightning and sparks all at the same time!” Lilli turned in her seat to look back. Sophie watched her eyes glaze over before she turned back around. “It’s like I recognize him from somewhere. I know I’ve never seen him. It’s not like I would forget that face.”
Sophie decided the risk was enough and turned. There he was, a few rows behind them. Her heart started hammering in her chest. Next to him was the curly-haired god, who was indeed cute, with auburn hair and deep chocolate eyes. His facial features were almost delicate when he saw her watching, and she felt a smaller moment of familiarity.
She shot around and faced the front. “I had the same thing happen with the guy next to him.”
“What do you think it means?”
Sophie’s heartbeat was slowly resuming its normal rate. “I don’t know. Maybe nothing.”
“Nothing?” Lilli hissed. “That was hardly nothing. The room melted away when I saw him. Isn’t that what happens when you see your soul mate?”
“That doesn’t exist. That’s just a myth.”
“So are healers and psychics, right?” Lilli tucked a piece of hair behind her ear and tapped the pencil on her notebook. “He was hot!”
“Yeah, I guess.” Sophie tried to push the strange feeling out of her mind.
“Come on, Sophie. They were both hot.”
“They’re normal. We’re not. Did you forget that I have visions and you heal people?”
“Are we supposed to be alone for the rest of our lives because of these gifts? I don’t think so. And besides, there is nothing wrong with looking.”
“Who’s looking at what?”
Lilli and Sophie glanced at each other. Did someone overhear the first part of that conversation? They glanced up at the guy standing next to their seats. He was different from the others, dressed in black pants and a tight black t-shirt. His blond hair was short and spiky, and tattoos danced out from under his sleeves. When he raised an eyebrow, the hoop there rose, too.
“Uh, nothing.” Sophie’s cheeks heated.
“She’s so cute when she blushes,” he said to Lilli. When he reached his hand to shake Lilli’s, the leather cuffs on his wrists almost scraped Sophie’s face. His amber eyes twinkled with warmth. “I’m Aidan.”
“I’m Lilli, and this is Sophie.”
Sophie murmured a hello to him.
“Is she always like this?” He flashed a smile, a dimple showing to the left of his lips.
“I think you bring it out of her.”
“Hey, I can switch seats so you lovebirds can be closer,” Sophie interrupted.
Lilli and Aidan laughed. They quickly silenced it as the professor entered the room.
“Hello, class. I’m Ms. Whittaker, and this is Sociology.”
The teacher’s blonde ponytail swayed as she walked to the first of the rows and stopped. Sophie couldn’t help but feel something was off. The way Ms. Whittaker moved didn’t bring teacher to mind. Sophie instead thought of dancers.
Whittaker began passing out the syllabus to the class.
She stopped by Sophie’s row and handed some papers to Aidan. Her gaze traveled over all three of them before moving on. Sophie could feel the excitement brimming off of the teacher and wondered where it was coming from. Was she that happy to be teaching?
“Your grade will be based on one semester-long project. I want you to study the communication measures of students and people near the school. I’ve already picked the groups.”
“This is an advanced school, not to mention Sociology—the scientific study of society. You need to be pushed out of your comfort zones. That means you will be grouped with people you may have never met. As I call out your names, form your groups. We’ll resume regular class on Wednesday.”
“Do you think we’ll get a group together?”
“I doubt it, Lilli. She probably looked at our files and knows we’re from the same town.”
“I’m not from your town. Maybe we’ll get a group together.”
Sophie narrowed her eyes at Aidan. “Shut up.”
“Group number two consists of Lilli Washington, Jackson Donovan, Aidan O’Brien, Tristan Adams, Sophie Lawrence, and Morgan Tate.”
Lilli gave a small squeal as she, Sophie, and Aidan raised their hands. “We’re in the same group.”
Sophie’s smile slipped as the two guys from earlier and a girl joined them. She felt that familiarity toward the girl even as the girl looked down her nose at them.
“Great. We’re stuck with two geeks and emo boy.” Morgan’s loosely curled hair bounced across her shoulders as she studied her painted nails.
Sophie’s smile died. Yeah, they may not be popular, but there was no reason to be snotty about it.
Morgan sighed. “At least I’m here with you, Tristan.” She latched on to the gray-eyed guy’s arm, and Sophie fought back a possessive urge to slap Morgan’s perfect face.
Tristan met Sophie’s gaze, and heat sparked again as he shrugged Morgan’s arm off. He ran a hand through his hair, mussing it even more.
Morgan pouted and leaned forward to show off her curves. “You’re no fun anymore.”
“Where should we meet? We have practice this afternoon, but should be okay after that.” Jackson, the curly-haired god, gestured between him and Tristan as he spoke. He definitely reminded Sophie of a woodland deity. He was toned and muscled, but his features were practically angelic. She thought football would almost be too violent for him.
“I have cheer practice today. I’m not missing it for this,” Morgan said.
“No one said you had to, princess.” Aidan leaned back in his chair.
Morgan narrowed her cerulean eyes. They were startling against the backdrop of her cocoa-colored skin. Sophie had to blink against the brilliance.
“Let’s meet at seven,” Lilli said, attempting to smooth things over.
“Seven is fine.” Jackson smiled down at Lilli.
Sophie approached the library doors, the vision at the forefront of her mind. Panic threatened to choke her, but she fought the sensation down with a few deep breaths. Meeting the others earlier had sparked her psychic gift, and she didn’t want it to come true. Lilli shot her a glance and then looked pointedly at the door.
Guilt panged in Sophie’s heart. It was her fault Lilli was in Boston, hours from home. That Lilli volunteered to follow her there didn’t matter. Now Lilli was willing to follow her inside this library, knowing Sophie’s visions, because that’s who she was. Loyal, kind, determined. Not one to turn from something she felt she had to do.
Again she could see and hear the vision. The battle, the screams. She smelled brimstone. All she remembered clearly was Lilli using her healing gift to the point of exhaustion. Sophie wanted to protect her from that, but couldn’t. They’d made a pact years ago to always share what went on with their gifts.
Sophie took another deep breath and entered the library. It was after dark because Morgan wouldn’t miss cheerleading practice for their Sociology project.
Morgan was somehow a part of this. Whatever this was. As were the other study group members. The connection had slammed into Sophie the moment she’d met them in class. So she’d try to be nice.
The library was quiet. No whispers echoed off the hardwood floors. Only one librarian stood behind the counter. No other students sat in the chairs or used the computers.
“Just like in your dream.” Lilli looked over at Sophie, green eyes worried. She seemed fragile, petite in stature with a pixie-like face. She, like Sophie, wore the plaid skirt and navy blazer uniform of the Lotus Academy, one of the most prestigious private high schools in Boston. Underneath that fragile façade, Sophie sensed Lilli gathering her energy and courage, ready to heal any injury. Her friend might look fragile, but she was one of the strongest people Sophie knew.
Still, Sophie wished Lilli were at home, attending their old high school, far from this.
“Yeah.” Sophie sighed and walked forward. “Let’s go get the others.”
It didn’t take long to find the group. Their voices carried out from the open door in the silence of the empty library. Sophie saw Morgan first, sitting in a cheery yellow dress, legs crossed. Her makeup and hair were perfect. “I wondered if you’d show,” she said in a cool voice.
Sophie ignored her and went to sit. The only two open were between Tristan and Jackson.
Tristan’s eyes warmed when Sophie took the seat next to him. Her gaze roamed over his face. The square jaw, full lips.
When his lips tilted up at one corner, heat rushed through her.
“Come on. We need to get this started. I’ve got better things to do.” Morgan’s eyes narrowed at Tristan and Sophie.
Aidan whistled. “You’re hot when you’re jealous.”
Morgan’s blue eyes turned to ice when she glared at him. He smiled lazily at her.
Sophie could sense Aidan’s attraction to Morgan. Could he be more insane?
Not that Aidan was ugly. Sophie just figured his black clothing, studded eyebrow and ears, and tattoos were something the Queen of Ice wouldn’t be interested in.
Morgan shook her curls over her shoulder with a silent glare for the group.
Aidan grinned again and turned to Jackson. “You play for the football team?” He leaned back in his chair and tapped his fingers on the arm.
“Could you please stop that?” Morgan speared Aidan with another look.
“Sure thing, princess.”
Jackson watched their exchange with a small smile. A curl fell over his forehead that made him look devastatingly virtuous. “Tristan and I are on the same team. We’ve played together since we were kids.”
“Wasn’t it your quarterback that went missing this summer?” Aidan asked.
Sophie stilled. She caught the look Lilli sent her.
“It was. And a cheerleader the next month,” Tristan said. His voice rumbled through Sophie. “I heard they haven’t found the person responsible yet.”
Other visions, ones of the kidnappings, rose to the surface of Sophie’s mind. She shut her eyes, knowing the violet color would start to recede against the black of her pupils if the visions became too strong. Was it a coincidence this was brought up now? She had to hope the kidnappings and her most recent vision of the library fight weren’t connected.
“We could study male and female communications,” Aidan was saying.
Sophie hadn’t realized she’d missed any of the conversation. Hopefully the others just thought she was tired.
Aidan held up his hands. The light glinted off the tips of his blond, spiked hair. “I don’t joke around all the time.”
“You had me fooled,” Morgan spit out.
“Look, we have to get this done. Can we get along for the small amount of time we’re here?” Tristan leaned closer to the table. Sophie noticed the way his muscles moved underneath the white t-shirt he wore. “You said so yourself. You have places to go.” He kept his gaze on Morgan’s.
Their voices sounded far away to Sophie. Her heartbeat pounded in her ears, and the pressure in the back of her mind screamed at her to run. It was hard to stay seated when everything begged her to listen. But she couldn’t run. Like Lilli, it wasn’t in her nature.
Morgan uncrossed her legs and raised an eyebrow. “You’re certainly touchy since Cecilia left town. She left for…what’s his name?”
“Morgan, stop.” Jackson’s face brooked no argument, but Morgan barged on.
“Oh, no. I’m not going to stop now. His name was Cory, right? Cecilia and Cory. How cute.”
Tristan’s jaw clenched, and his gray eyes narrowed.
The feel of Tristan’s past hurt and Morgan’s spite swirled together to mix with the pressure in Sophie’s mind. The dam burst.
“Morgan, stop it!” Sophie jumped up. Her stomach dropped. Something was in the library, and it wanted them. “We need to go.” Maybe if she could get them to leave with her, the vision could be changed.
“Sophie?” Lilli’s face paled.
Looking between the stoic faces of the guys and Morgan’s frown, she knew she’d never get them out, and she couldn’t leave them. “There’s something in the library.” She refused to meet Tristan’s gaze.
“How do you know that?” Morgan’s voice raised a notch at the surety on Sophie’s face.
The others stood. Jackson moved closer to Lilli, standing next to her like an avenging angel. She could almost see him as Michael, the archangel, with the curly hair and sword. She got the impression that he would die to protect Lilli. By the end of the night, he might get the chance.
A scream echoed off the walls in Sophie’s mind.
She darted out the door before she had time to think. The librarian’s fear choked her. She had to help.
“Sophie, wait!” Lilli called after her.
Sophie hoped Lilli wouldn’t follow. Her breath came in quick, harsh pants as she forced her feet to move down the darkened hallway. The librarian’s emotions were shards of agony that dug deep into Sophie’s skull. She fought something off, and whatever it was, it scared the hell out of her. Sophie stopped behind a row of bookcases and shut her eyes to gather her courage. Her body shook from the horror raging through her mind.
The librarian didn’t scream again.
Using every ounce of her will, Sophie stepped out from behind the bookcases. The lights flickered, and for a moment she couldn’t see.
When her eyes focused, her heart skipped a beat. The librarian lay on the floor in a puddle of dark blood. A metallic smell reached her, and Sophie’s stomach churned.
She skidded to a halt and knelt beside the woman. The librarian’s eyes were closed, and her breath came in shallow gasps. Blood bubbled and streamed through the jagged marks on her chest.
“Sophie? Sophie!” Lilli came around the bookcases. She paused when she located Sophie and the librarian.
Sophie tried to put pressure on the wound, but it was too large. Both her hands barely covered the width of the claw marks. She couldn’t think too much about the fact that whatever did this was still around. The sinister darkness still lurked in her mind. She heard Lilli’s footsteps halt beside her.
“Is she?” Lilli’s eyes filled with tears.
Sophie shook her head. “Can you heal her?”
Lilli’s eyes hardened with determination. “I can try.” She brushed Sophie’s hands out of the way and placed her own over the gaping wound. It gurgled as a warm, golden light shone from Lilli and spiraled into the gash.
Something teased the edge of Sophie’s senses. She cocked her head to the side like she was listening to someone speak across the room. The pressure in her mind thickened.
Whatever attacked the librarian was coming. Sophie opened her mouth to warn Lilli.
Icy fingers wrapped in her hair and jerked her up. Fetid breath hit the back of her neck.
“Guardian,” it hissed.