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CRIMSON FROSTA Mythos Academy Novel
By Jennifer Estep
KTEEN BOOKSCopyright © 2013 Jennifer Estep
All right reserved.
Chapter One"I have a confession to make."
Logan Quinn looked at me. "Really, Gypsy girl? What's that?"
I shifted on my feet. "I don't actually like coffee."
The Spartan stared at me a moment before his lips curved up into a teasing grin. "You probably should have mentioned that before now."
Yeah, I probably should have, since we were in a coffee shop. A large counter; lots of comfy leather chairs; wrought-iron tables; paintings of gods and goddesses on the walls; a display case full of blueberry scones, raspberry tarts, and decadent chocolate cheesecakes. Kaldi Coffee looked like your typical java joint, except that everything was first class and super-pricey all the way, from the fancy espresso machines that hissed and burped to the rich, dark aroma of the ridiculously expensive coffee that flavored the air.
Then again, such luxury was the norm in the upscale stores in Cypress Mountain, North Carolina. The Mythos Academy kids accepted nothing less than the best, and Kaldi's was one of the most popular places to Hang Out and Be Seen when the students had free time, like we did today. Afternoon classes and activities had been cancelled so all the kids could attend some big assembly at the academy's amphitheater later on. I wasn't sure what the assembly was going to be about. Probably some more hearty reassurances from the professors and staff that all us warrior whiz kids were as safe as we could be at the academy, now that Loki was free.
For a moment, a face flashed before my eyes—the most hideous face I'd ever seen. One side so perfect, with its golden hair, piercing blue eye, and smooth features. The other side so completely ruined, with its limp strings of black hair, red eye, and melted skin.
Loki—the evil god that I'd helped set free against my will.
A shudder rippled through my body. Thanks to my psychometry magic, I never forgot anything I saw, but the image of Loki's double-face was burned into my memory. No matter what I was doing or whom I was with, no matter how hard I tried to forget what had happened, I saw the Norse trickster god's image everywhere I went. Gleaming in the windows of my classrooms, shining in the glossy surface of my dorm room desk, shimmering in the mirror, like a devil perched on my shoulder.
I shuddered again. It had taken all the strength I had not to scream when I'd brushed my hair this morning and had suddenly seen Loki grinning at me in my bathroom mirror, the perfect side of his face lifted up into a smile, and the ruined side turned down into a horrible, twisted sneer—
"Gypsy girl?" Logan asked in a soft voice. "Are you still here with me?"
I pushed all thoughts of Loki away and made myself smile at the Spartan even though I wanted nothing more than to wrap my arms around myself and huddle into a ball in the corner.
"I know, I know," I grumbled. "I should have told you that I don't actually drink coffee. I just didn't want anything to ruin our first date, and when you suggested coffee ..."
"You went along with it," Logan finished.
Maybe it was thinking of Loki and his split face, but as I looked at Logan, I was once again reminded of how different we were. Simply put, Logan Quinn was gorgeous, with his thick, ink-black hair and intense ice-blue eyes. His designer jeans, blue sweater, and expensive leather jacket only highlighted how strong and muscled his body was.
Next to him, I pretty much faded into the background. The most interesting thing about my wavy brown hair was how frizzy it was today. You might look twice at my eyes, which were an unusual shade of violet, but the only thing special about me was the necklace I wore. Six silver strands curved around my throat before their diamond-tipped points formed a snowflake in the middle of the design. A Christmas gift from Logan, one that I almost always wore, even though it didn't exactly go with my plain gray sweater, purple plaid jacket, and not-so-designer jeans and sneakers.
And it wasn't just our looks and clothes that were different. Logan was a fierce Spartan warrior who was the best fighter at the academy. I was still trying to figure out how to wield a sword, even though I was Nike's Champion, the girl picked by the Greek goddess of victory to help her fight Loki and his Reapers of Chaos here in the mortal realm. Something I had failed at pretty miserably so far, since Loki was now free and bent on plunging the world into a second Chaos War.
"You know what, Gypsy girl?" Logan said, once again interrupting my troubled thoughts. "Nothing could ruin this date. Ask me why."
He slung his arm around my shoulder and grinned. "Because I'm on it with you."
And suddenly, everything was okay, and I could breathe again.
That's why I was head over heels for the Spartan. Logan could be everything from fun and flirty to stubborn and infuriating, but then he went and said things like that. Was it any wonder I had such a massive crush on him?
Okay, okay, so maybe it had started out as a crush a few months ago, but given everything we'd been through, my feelings for him had quickly deepened into something more: love. At least, that's what I thought it was; that's what it felt like to me—this warm, soft, fizzy feeling that filled my heart whenever the Spartan grinned at me, whenever he teased me or tried to make me forget about my worries.
I sighed and put my head on his shoulder. Logan hugged me to his chest. He didn't say anything, but he didn't need to. Just being close to him was enough for me, after all these months we'd spent dancing around each other.
"You guys ready to order?" the barista asked.
We stepped up to the counter. The Spartan ordered a triple espresso since he loved the caffeine rush, while I got a hot, honey-pomegranate tea. Logan started to pull his wallet out of his jeans, but I beat him to it and handed the barista a twenty-dollar bill.
"My treat," I said. "After all, I'm the one who suggested coffee in the first place way back when."
Logan nodded. "That you did. All right, Gypsy girl. Your treat. This time. The next round's on me."
We got our drinks and went over to a table in the corner of the shop next to a stone fireplace. Since the students had been given the afternoon off, we weren't the only Mythos kids who'd decided to come to Kaldi's and get something to eat and drink before the assembly started in another half hour or so. I spotted several students I knew, including Kenzie Tanaka, Logan's Spartan friend, who was on his own date with Talia Pizarro, a pretty Amazon in my gym class. I waved at them, and Kenzie winked at me before turning his attention back to Talia.
"What is he doing here with her?" A sneering voice drifted over to me.
I looked to my right to see Helena Paxton staring at me. Helena was a stunning Amazon with caramel-colored hair and eyes. Since Jasmine Ashton's death back in the fall, Helena had established herself as the new mean-girl queen of the second-year students at Mythos. She sat at a nearby table with two of her Amazon friends, all of them dressed in pricey jeans, stiletto boots, and tight, fitted sweaters; they had perfect hair, jewelry, purses, and makeup to match.
"I thought Logan's standards were a little higher than that. Guess I was wrong. Then again, guys will do anything—and anyone—to get some."
Helena's voice was low, but the cruel smile on her face told me that she meant for me to hear every word. I'd never done anything to Helena, except stand up for another girl she'd been teasing, but that had been enough to put me on the Amazon's hit list. Now, every time she saw me, Helena went out of her way to be snotty to me. Try as I might, I could never seem to get the best of the Amazon, not even dream up a quick comeback to get her to shut up.
Helena whispered something to her friends, and they all started snickering. My hand tightened around my mug of tea. Not for the first time, I wished that I had an Amazon's quickness so I could bean Helena in the head with it. But she would only catch the mug and throw it back at me before I could blink.
"Ignore them," Logan said. "They're just jealous that you're here with me."
I rolled my eyes. "Yeah. You and your ego."
His grin widened, and I couldn't help but laugh. No matter how bad things got, the Spartan could always make me laugh, if only for a moment. Something else that added to that warm, fizzy feeling in my chest.
We sat there in silence, listening to the murmurs from the other kids and the gurgles of the espresso machines. After all the battles we'd survived recently, it was nice to just hang out with Logan without worrying about what was going to happen next or what Reapers might be lurking around, masquerading as students, professors, or even the coffee shop staff.
But after a few minutes, the reality of the situation hit me. I was on a date with Logan freaking Quinn, one of the cutest guys at Mythos—and I had no idea what to say to him.
"So ..." I said. "What do people talk about on dates?" Logan looked up from his espresso. "What do you mean?"
I shifted in my seat. "I mean, you have a lot more experience at this than I do."
In fact, Logan had a reputation for being a total man-whore who went from one girl to the next. Me? I'd had exactly one boyfriend for a grand total of three weeks before I'd met Logan. So going on a date was still sort of a new experience for me. Besides, the Spartan had this natural, easy charm that made everyone like him—girls and guys alike. Me? I was about as charming as a wet sock.
"I know what we talk about at the academy. You know, weapons training, where Loki might be hiding, when he's going to come and kill us all, how we're supposed to stop him."
Actually, that last one was more like how I was supposed to kill the god. Yeah, me, kill an actual living, breathing, walking, talking god. And not just any god, but Loki, who was pretty much evil incarnate.
But that was the seemingly impossible mission that Nike had given me the last time I'd seen her a couple of weeks ago—something that I hadn't shared with Logan or any of my friends. Kill a god. I had no idea how the goddess expected me to do that. I had no idea how anyone could do that, especially me, Gwen Frost, that weird Gypsy girl who touched stuff and saw things.
Logan kept staring at me, and I found myself opening my mouth once more.
"I guess we could talk about how I'm actually getting a little better at using weapons, although I doubt that I'll ever be in your league. Or we could talk about Nyx, and how totally cute she is. Or Daphne and her healing magic. Or Carson and how obsessed he is with the winter concert the band is putting together ..."
Babbling. I was finally out on a real date with Logan, and I was babbling like a wind-up doll someone had cranked into high gear.
Logan reached over and put his hand on top of mine, which was still wrapped around my mug. "Relax, Gypsy girl. Relax. You're doing fine. We don't have to talk about anything, if you don't want to. I'm just happy to be here with you. It's nice to just sit here and relax, with everything that's been going on these past few weeks. You know?"
His fingers felt warm against my own, but more than that, I felt the warmth in Logan's heart—and all his feelings. His strength, his bravery, his determination to fight Reapers and to protect me no matter what. All those images, all those feelings, flashed through my mind, driving away all my doubts about me, Logan, and everything else that was going on right now.
My Gypsy gift let me know, see, and feel the history of any object I touched. Given that, I had to be careful about touching things and, most especially, people. More than once, my hand had brushed against someone's, and I'd realized that what he said didn't match what he felt. That's what had happened with my first boyfriend. He'd kissed me, and I'd realized that he was really thinking about another girl instead.
But there was nothing to be afraid of with Logan. I knew all the Spartan's secrets, and he knew mine. Well, except for the whole Gwen's-supposed-to-kill-Loki thing. I still wasn't sure exactly how to bring that up, and I wasn't going to. Not today. There would be time enough to obsess and worry about that later. Right now, I just wanted to enjoy my date with Logan.
"How is it that you always know just what to do and say to make me feel better?" I said.
Logan grinned. "Just another part of that Spartan killer instinct. I can slay the ladies just as well as I can Reapers."
I rolled my eyes and leaned over to punch him in the shoulder—and managed to knock over my tea and his espresso. Liquid cascaded all over the table, most of it spilling off the far side and into Logan's lap. The Spartan jumped up, but he didn't have an Amazon's quickness, so he couldn't avoid getting soaked.
"Sorry!" I said, getting to my own feet. "I'm so sorry!"
I reached for the silver holder on the table, intending to rip some napkins out of it, but instead I ended up knocking it to the ground as well. The napkin holder clang-cla-cla-clanged across the floor.
By the time the holder skidded to a stop and the noise faded away, everyone in the shop had turned to stare at us. Embarrassment made my cheeks burn, while Logan looked like he'd had water dumped all over him.
"Sorry," I mumbled again.
"It's okay," Logan said, holding his hands out to his sides to keep from touching his now-sticky clothes. "I'll just go get cleaned up."
He headed off toward the bathroom. I sighed, picked up the holder, put it back on the table, grabbed some napkins out of it, and started mopping up the mess. After a few seconds, most people went back to their conversations—except for Helena and her friends. They were too busy laughing at me to talk.
I put my head down, ignored them, and cleaned up the liquid as fast as I could before wiping my hands off. I threw all the used napkins into a trash can, then sat down and slumped as low as I could in my chair. So far, this date hadn't exactly been a big success—or even just the fun time I'd wanted it to be. Once again, I'd messed up everything without even trying. Sometimes, I thought that was my specialty in life.
I was so busy brooding that I didn't pay any attention when the door to Kaldi's opened, and three men trooped inside. Once again, all conversation stopped, and I felt a collective emotion ripple off everyone in the shop: fear.
"The Protectorate," I heard Helena whisper.
The Protectorate? What was that? I'd never heard of them before, but apparently they knew me because the men walked in my direction, their eyes fixed on my face.
I tensed, then sat up in my seat, wondering who the men were and what they wanted. Could they be Reapers come to attack the students? I'd wanted to be alone with Logan, so I'd left Vic, my talking sword, in my dorm room. Stupid of me not to bring the weapon, even though we'd only been getting coffee. I should have known by now that nothing was simple at Mythos—not even my first date with Logan.
My eyes scanned the shop, looking for something I could use as a weapon, but the only things within arm's reach were the two mugs and the napkin holder on my table. I wrapped my hand around the napkin holder and put it in my lap under the table and out of sight of the men.
This wouldn't be the first time Reapers had attacked me. If these men decided to do the same, well, I'd think of something. Besides, one good scream, and Logan would come running out of the bathroom to help me.
One of the men stepped up and stared down at me. He was handsome enough, with blond hair and pale blue eyes, but his mouth was fixed in a firm frown, as if he constantly found fault with everyone around him. He looked at me, and I stared at him a moment before my gaze moved to the two men flanking him. One of the men was tall and slender, while the other was short, with a body that looked fat but was really all hard muscle.
The strangest thing was that the men all had on dark gray robes over their winter clothes. The robes reminded me of the black ones the Reapers always wore, although the men weren't sporting hideous, rubber Loki masks like Reapers did. Instead, a symbol was stitched into their robes in white thread on their left collars close to their throats—a hand holding a balanced set of scales.
I'd seen that symbol before. It was carved into the ceiling of the prison in the bottom of the math-science building on campus, and it had also been in the middle of the Garm gate that Vivian Holler had used to free Loki. My unease kicked up another notch. Nothing good was ever associated with that image, as far as I was concerned.
Excerpted from CRIMSON FROST by Jennifer Estep Copyright © 2013 by Jennifer Estep. Excerpted by permission of KTEEN BOOKS. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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