Eternal Bond & Brimstone
My foot slammed on the brakes, stopping the bumper of my gently used sedan from striking the front of a faded red pickup truck. Holy crapola. I could have died before even making it inside my new teenage hell. Well, gotten whiplash at least.
I lowered the volume on Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall.” The song had been my anthem all weekend. Seriously, I didn’t need an education. I’d rather give up sugar than immerse myself in this new torture my dad thrust me into.
Ha! Me, give up sugar? Never.
I brushed the remnants of my breakfast on-the-go off my lap, the chocolate candy wrappers falling to the floor. I stepped out of the car, my lips sliding into a frown at the small, worn brick building. The parking lot consisted of four short rows, the majority of spots filled by rusty pickups. Could you expect anything else from a Podunk town in the middle of Virginia, population one thousand?
A brisk autumn wind stirred my short mahogany bob across my face, and I shivered. Everything about this town was the opposite of my warm, beachy Charleston, South Carolina.
Mystic Hollow was my new home.
Mystic. Freaking. Hollow. What the hell kind of craptacular name was that? I just landed in a bad supernatural teen drama where I was soon to be accosted by the enemy vampire. Naturally, I’d fall madly in love with my savior, the boy wonder of witches.
A groan left my mouth, echoing through the empty parking lot. Time to face the banjo-laced music, Lena Raven.
I stepped away from my car, and a hard yank tugged on the end of my jacket. My body teetered, and I fell back into the seat, smacking my elbow on the steering wheel.
Son of a biscotti! I rubbed the throbbing spot, gritting my teeth. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first occasion of clumsiness, and it certainly wouldn’t be the last. I was prone to it. My father called it endearing. I called it a disease.
At least no one was here to witness my stellar gracelessness. They were all inside—because it was the middle of the day. While my dad was busy with his new hardware store, I slept right through my alarm. It was lunchtime.
I was definitely going to be the loser sitting in the corner of the cafeteria alone reading a book today, which would cement my reputation for the rest of my junior year and probably senior.
I finally managed to climb out of my car and grab my book bag from the back. The chorus from “(Don’t Fear) The Reaper” played in my head as I trudged toward the open thick-metal-and-glass door. I definitely feared something right now. My hell was about to commence.
Another frigid wind blew, cutting through my corduroy jacket. I picked up the pace just as a dark shadow passed in front of the entrance. The door began to close.
“Hey. Wait!” I sprinted toward the building. I was the last person on Earth who should be running. A leaf could trip me or even the most minuscule crack in the asphalt. If one existed, my foot would find it.
The door slammed as I reached it, eerie giggles carrying through from the other side. Blood rushed to my cheeks. Oh, great. Someone decided to screw with the new girl already.
My lips thinned as I pulled on the icy metal handle. It wouldn’t budge. It was locked.
I glanced around, my teeth chattering. Of course there were other doors into the school, but I had no idea where.
Maybe I should go home and start fresh tomorrow. My dad wouldn’t be too upset.
Just as my foot lifted to start backing away, a pudgy woman appeared through the watery glass window.
My heart sank. No turning back now.
As she opened the door, I was blasted with a cloud of flowery perfume so strong my eyes watered.
“I don’t know how in the world that thing got locked.” She waved me in, giving me a toothy grin. Light crinkles deepened around her brown eyes. “You must be Lena Raven.” She checked her watch. “My stars. Aren’t you a little late?”
I adjusted my book bag. “I overslept.”
She fluffed her overly teased blonde curls and waved her hand for me to follow. “I suppose you get a freebie since this is your first day. But next time, if you’re late, you’ll need a note.” My boots squeaked on the tile as she led me down the white, maroon, and gray hall.
“Yes, ma’am.” I swallowed as a few kids darted around the corner at the other end of the hallway. Were they the jerkfaces who locked me out?
“I’m Mrs. Gracin,” she said, straightening her fuzzy pink sweater. “I work in the main office of Mystic Hollow High.”
We entered a room with a long, muddy-brown counter stretching from bland vanilla wall to bland vanilla wall. A woman was typing away on a computer, her silver bun so severe it pulled the wrinkled skin taut at her temples. A pair of slender reading glasses perched on the tip of her hook nose. She reminded me of a shriveled bird.
Her dark, beady eyes landed on me, her lips shrinking to white lines. “I see you’ve finally arrived, Ms. Raven.” Her voice was nasally and bitter. “I don’t know what kind of school you attended in Charleston, but here we expect students to arrive in a timely fashion.”
“Oh, Ms. Keating, don’t be so hard on her.” Mrs. Gracin shuffled around the counter toward the other woman, her smile warm. “It’s her first day at a new school. Give her a break.”
Her nose wrinkled. Ms. Keating didn’t look like the type of woman who gave breaks. She gave detentions. She’d smack the back of my hand with a ruler if that kind of thing were still permitted.
After a long stare down, the thin woman passed a piece of paper over the counter. “This is your schedule for the semester.”
I picked it up, examining the classes. English, Algebra, Spanish, American History, Theology… “Theology?” I glanced at the two of them. Wasn’t that religion or something?
“Your father approved your classes.” Mrs. Gracin waved her fleshy hand to fan her face as a light blush colored the round apples of her cheeks. “James is such a nice man. Very charming.”
“Yes, Mr. Raven was quite pleasant.” Ms. Keating’s wrinkled, bony fingers ran along her pearls, a faint smile curling her dry lips. “Very polite.”
Oh, gawd. I couldn’t take my dad anywhere. He’d even managed to charm the hostile and dour Ms. Keating.
I cleared my throat, putting a stop to their drooling. “Do I have a locker?”
Mrs. Gracin gave a quick shake of her head as if she were dispersing a few more wayward thoughts. “Oh, right.” She opened a drawer and handed me a lock with the combination taped to the back. “You’re lucky one twenty-seven.” She motioned toward the door. “It’s around the corner. Just follow the numbers.”
“And here’s Mystic Hollow’s guidelines.” The older woman handed me a booklet. She was back to business. “Clearly, you haven’t read the one I gave your father or you would have been on time.”
Geez. I was late. I got it.
“Sorry,” I muttered. “I was busy unpacking.” Not true. I’d stayed up all night listening to angry rock music to annoy my dad. It didn’t work though. I caught him dancing in the kitchen as he filled the cabinets with our dishes.
“It’s okay, dear,” Mrs. Gracin said. “We understand.” She flashed another warm smile and waved me on. “Go find your locker. Each of your teachers will issue you a textbook.”
I twisted my book bag around and shoved the rule book I wouldn’t be reading inside. “Thanks.” I grabbed my schedule and lock and turned toward the door.
“Good luck, Lena,” Mrs. Gracin called. “We’re so glad to have you.”
I trudged out of the office and down the hall. I was going to need more than lady luck on my side to make it through the rest of the day.
My gaze lingered on the dinted maroon lockers stretching along the walls. One twenty-seven would be toward the left. I turned the corner. My foot entangled with the other one, and I tripped. Pain ricocheted through my butt as I hit the scuffed gray tile.
“My goodness. You took quite a spill.” A custodian loomed over me, his wrinkled, age-spotted hands clutching a push broom. The name tag on his faded navy uniform read Mr. Freeman.
Where the heck had he come from? “It happens.” My cheeks flamed as I glanced around, checking to see if anyone else had seen my epic crash.
A long breath blew out as I struggled to my feet, sharp stabs shooting through my bum. “Don’t help me or anything,” I mumbled too low for him to hear.
A dry chuckle slipped out of the custodian. “You’re new.” Thin, white tufts of hair barely covered his scalp.
I grabbed my book bag from the ground, carefully slipping it over my shoulder. “Yep.” I searched the area for my lock. Great. Did it disappear in some supernatural vortex? Ms. Keating wouldn’t be happy if I had to slink back to the office and ask for another one because I lost it in less than five minutes. She already thought I was an irresponsible rule breaker because I missed half the day.
“Looking for this?” Mr. Freeman twirled my lock around his finger, the edges of his lips curling into a crooked smile.
“Yeah.” My brows furrowed. When did he grab it? I never saw him move. “Thanks.” I held my hand out for it, but the custodian continued to spin the hunk of metal.
His blue eyes narrowed. “You’re a little blessing, aren’t you?”
My head snapped back. “Excuse me?” Had this guy chewed one too many cans of tobacco?
His deep, raspy laugh sent chills skittering down my spine. He stepped closer. “You should be more careful.” He stopped twisting the lock and pointed to my head. “You wouldn’t want to crack that thing open. It would ruin the chewy goodness inside.”
I swallowed hard as my pulse spiked. Hannibal Lector much? Was he going to ask me about fava beans and Chianti?
Mr. Freeman dangled the lock. “You should get going now.”
No fracken duh. I didn’t want to have my brains eaten by this cannibal. I took the lock, my eyes lifting. His irises were almost black.
Goose bumps crawled over my skin. Wait a minute. Weren’t they light-blue a second ago?
“Run along now,” he said. “You wouldn’t want to miss lunch.”
I nodded and skirted around him, his gaze heavy on my back. I bent and retrieved my schedule from the floor. When I glanced over my shoulder, he was gone.
My brows slammed together. That wasn’t creepy at all.
I shook my head and trekked down the hall, finally finding my locker. I’d only been here a few minutes, and I’d managed to get locked out, piss off a lady in the main office, nearly break my ass, and have a run in with Hannibal the Cannibal janitor.
I pulled my phone out of my bag to see if I had any notifications from my friends back home.
Nope. They were probably headed off campus for lunch. Mystic Hollow High had a closed campus rule. I did know that one. It was just as well. Where would I go anyway?
With a sigh, I grabbed my bag to slip my phone back in. My phone had other ideas. It slid from my fingers and hit the floor.
I winced as it finally stopped bouncing. This was my third phone in a year. My dad would kill me if I broke another. I bent to grab it. Thankfully, it was still intact, and the screen was crack-free.
Dodged a bullet.
I stood. Well, I tried. Instead, my head collided with the bottom of my locker door, slamming into it with enough force to make my arms slacken, dropping everything.
Pain exploded across the top of my noggin while stars popped in my vision. Bells rang in my ears. “Fracken A,” I groaned, grabbing the wall for support. If I had to go to the hospital for stitches on my first day at a new school, I was going to die of humiliation. I wouldn’t be leaving that hospital. Ever.
I slowly stood, the hall spinning. Oh, shitzu. I was about to go crashing on my face.
“Woah.” A pair of hands steadied me, keeping me from an epic knock out.
I was two parts thankful, and one part mortified because it meant this person had a front row seat to my spastic inelegance. The figure swam before me as I leaned next to my locker, blinking my vision clear.
All I saw was black. A gasp lodged in my throat. Did I knock myself blind?
I quickly shook off the stupid. I was staring at a black t-shirt stretched over a muscled chest barely an inch from my nose.
My gaze traveled up… and up until I traced the edges of a strong, shadowed-with-sexy-stubble jaw, a pair of contrasting lush lips, and carved cheekbones. His eyes were deep hazel with flecks of gold that would make any miner happy.
My heart thumped triple time like I’d been given a jolt of electricity. Or maybe a shot of adrenaline.
“T-Thanks,” I mumbled, my tongue thick. Was I doing an impression of The Godfather for crap sakes?
The guy was a head taller than me with broad shoulders that melted down into a tapered waist. A leather jacket strained against his powerful arms. I was too close to see his bottom half, but I was betting it was just as impressive. I resisted the urge to check my chin for drool.
Dirty blond locks hung partly in his tan face. My fingers itched to run through the silky strands.
Maybe I had fallen into a supernatural teen drama. If he were the boy wonder of witches, I’d gladly be his damsel in distress human. Cue the evil, day-walking vampire now.
As I continued my perusal, his eyes began to harden, turning from a sun-kissed liquid lagoon to sharp gemstones.
“What are you doing here?” His voice rumbled low, danger swirling through every syllable.
It snapped me out of my lusty scarlet haze. “I-I’m trying to put my stuff in my locker.” That was not what I anticipated from my future hero.
The guy moved closer, his leather jacket brushing my arm. “You expect me to believe that?” He traced my face, studying me so intensely my skin prickled. It almost reminded me of Creepy McCreeperton janitor.
I glanced around the empty hall, my pulse quivering. Maybe this guy was the villain of the story. “Um, yeah.” I took a deep breath, swallowing hard. As if his looks weren’t bad enough, he smelled salty like the ocean baking in the sun mixed with something spicy. Despite his intimidating presence, I wanted to lick him.
Ugh. Shut up, Lena.
This guy was invading my space, looking like he wanted to tie me up and question me.
Wicked images flashed through my mind involving a shirtless him with lots of rope. My cheeks flooded with heat, and a nervous laugh slipped out.
His lips thinned. Apparently, he didn’t appreciate my giggles. He stepped even closer until I was one with the locker behind me. “Did someone send you?” He didn’t touch me, but heat spilled from him, canceling out the cold metal against my back.
“Yeah. My dad.” What the hell kind of question was that? The dude was hot, but he was a few crayons short of a full box. “If I had a choice, I’d be at home with a box of Lucky Charms—extra marshmallows—watching The Price Is Right. But, my dad is kind of a law-abiding citizen, and since I’m only sixteen, I still have to attend this teenage wasteland of hormones and angst.” I snapped my jaw shut, silently cursing. Why couldn’t I be one of those girls who had control over their mouth?
A line formed between his brows, and he shook his head. “Something’s not right.” He stared into my eyes again. “There’s something about you…” he trailed off.
Crazy and beautiful? That was a lethal combination.
“And there’s something about you.” I motioned to the minute space between us. “You’re in my personal bubble, dude. Mind stepping out of it?”
His head cocked to the side, the edges of his lips barely twitching. Those hard eyes softened to moss and gold again. They were still as intense, a look no teenage guy I’d ever met was capable of. “You fall a lot.”
There went that pesky heat creeping up my throat and into my face again. Oh, man. Please tell me this gorgeous and slightly crazy guy didn’t see me fall back into my car. Or had he seen me trip over my own feet a few minutes ago?
“Uh, yeah.” Great save, Lena. “It’s a habit I acquired at the young age of—” My babble cut off as his fingers plucked a lock of hair from my forehead and ever so slightly touched a tender spot.
Holy guacamole. That salty scent and warmth coming off him had my knees quaking.
“You hit the locker pretty hard, and you have a good knot, but it’s not bleeding.” His rumbling voice did funny things to my insides. “You should get some ice from the nurse.”
“Like I want to walk around school on my first day carrying a big neon sign that says idiot.” My trap snapped shut.
His close proximity was making me stupid.
I shook myself and cleared my throat. “Look, bucko, remember what I said about the personal bubble thing?” My hand pressed against his chest to move him back. Oh my gawd. It was like laying my hand over a hot metal plate. Was he wearing a suit of armor under that t-shirt?
His gaze flicked to my hand. His heart pounded hard and steady. When he glanced back up, his eyes had brightened, smoldering between those dark, thick lashes.
I swallowed hard and let my hand fall. Okay, no touching the giant.
The guy finally took a few steps back, giving me some much-needed space. He stared at me with that unnerving look again. “I’ll see you around, Lena.” Without another word, he turned and trekked down the hall, his steps way too silent for someone so big.
Was that a threat?
I leaned against the locker and let out a long breath. Every inch of my skin prickled from the strange encounter. One thing was for sure, Hottie McHottness was not your average high school student. Not even close.
My brows suddenly knit. Wait a damn minute! How in the world had he known my name?