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"They're not looking at you. Those girls haven't noticed you, Emma. You're stealthy like a ninja. They're not looking at you." I repeated the mantra in my head as I pretended to study the beverage selection in the glass case before me, but a quick glance to the left told me I was lying to myself.
There, three girls in private-school uniforms similar to my own black, navy and green plaid one, were alternately staring at me and whispering to each other. I grabbed some iced tea out of the case and hurried to the cashier before they could say anything.
"It's fine, Emma. They're not going to say anything," I silently promised myself, nervously tapping the sole of my Mary Janes against a rack of candy as I waited in line. You really need to stop lying to yourself, Emma. They're so going to say something to you.
"Hey, are you, um I'm not sure how to ask this," the tallest girl, with black hair extensions that seemed as long as her legs, asked as she scrutinized my face. I wished I were wearing sunglasses. And a hat. And a ski mask.
I sighed, having been through this before. Yes, I'm Emma Connor. I'm the one whose boyfriend, Brendan, risked his life to save me in an epic battle with psychopathic classmate Anthony in Central Park after the winter dance. But what you don't know is I used some of my secret magical powers to save us and you're totally making me late for my spell classes with my friend Angelique. She's a witch like me. That about cover it?
Okay, maybe I'd leave that last part out. Even I couldn't believe it, and I'd lived it. And I really didn't want to rehash the details of that night with some snooping schoolgirls.
"What she means is," interrupted the shortest girl, who shot Extensions Queen a nasty look as she toyed with the glittering platinum-and-diamond pendant around her throat, "are you that Emily person? The one from Vincent Academy that was in that big fight a while back?"
I opened my mouth to correct thema few papers had gotten my name wrongbut then a brilliant idea came to me. Lie. Of course. Why don't I just lie?
"You know, I get that a lot." I laughed casually, darting a quick glance out of the street-facing windows. Brendan was out of sight, talking to a basketball teammate on his phone around the corner. Liam had called him with some kind of crisis, forcing Brendan to wait outside while I grabbed a drinkice cream made me thirsty. "I think it's just that we both have long dark hair."
"But you know her, right?" Shorty pressed. "I mean, you go to the same school."
I was about to lie again, but then I remembered that Brendan had lent me his basketball team sweatshirt, since it was chilly outand it bore the blue-and-gray Vincent Academy insignia.
"I've seen her in the halls and stuff." I shrugged, feigning indifference. "I don't know her-know her." And then a flash of inspiration came to me.
"But I've heard she's cool," I said. I briefly considered constructing some elaborate story about "Emily" saving orphans and nuns and kittens and maybe even a baby panda bear from a burning building. Instead I went with, "She's supposed to be really nice."
"She'd have to be." Shortyclearly the ringleader of this little triosniffed in a knowing tone before leaning in to me conspiratorially. "That's how I knew you weren't her. I saw the pic the Post ran. You're, like, way prettier than that Emily person. Not like that's saying a whole lot."
I grimaced internally as Shorty threw her head back and laughed at her own joke, her dirty blond curls bouncing with every cackle. A few papers had run our photos along with the storythe pics from our school IDs. The horrible, slack-jawed photo made me look like a zombie who just staggered out of a George Romero movie. Brendan, of course, looked like he casually sauntered out of some carefully cast reality show about high school rock stars. And I looked like I wanted to eat his brains. Fantastic.
"She's so much cuter in person," I muttered.
"She'd have to be!" Shorty snickered and leaned closer again with a confidential whisper, as if we were best friends, all of a sudden. "I mean, that guy Brendan is hot as hell. He hooked up with my friend at a party last summer. That Emily girl was nothing special."
The trio laughed as I bit back a snort. Nothing special? How many newbie witches have you met in bodegas, Shorty?
"Yeah, I guess." I excused myself as gracefully as I could, the girls' gushing about Brendan's finer qualities mercifully silenced as the sticker-covered door to the bodega slammed shut behind me.
I took a swig of my iced tea, checking my reflection in the store windowI know someone who thinks you're special before rounding the corner to meet him, more irritated at the reminder of Brendan's past conquests than anything.
My little storm cloud of anger dissipated as soon as I saw him leaning against the rough brick building behind him. He had just gotten a haircut, but I only knew this because he'd told me. His thick black locks were as unruly as ever, hanging into his piercing green eyes.
"There's my girl," he said, the corner of his mouth pulling up into a sly, sexy smirk. Even though there was a slight chill in the March air, thanks to a forecasted rainstorm, Brendan kept his black wool jacket hanging open, the school uniform's white button-down shirt concealing all the goodies that were underneath. I flicked his black tie away impatiently and rested my hands on the line of white buttons, trying not to think about how much more I liked this shirt when it was crumpled up in the corner of his bedroom two weeks ago. I couldn't help it: Brendan was abs-olutely pec-tacular, horrible puns intended and very accurate.
"Everything okay with Liam?" I asked, and Brendan nodded, an amused smile breaking out across his face.
"So you know how he got into a fight during last night's game?" I nodded as Brendan chuckled at the memory of how he and another player, Frank, had to hold Liam back from a mouthy player from Xavier High School. "Well, it was just some overheated shoving match, but little ol' Liam's freaking out. He thinks Coach Dunn's going to kick him off the team or suspend him or something."
"Do you really think he could get kicked off for that?" Liam was one of the few sophomores on the team, but he was still pretty impressive on the court.
"Nah, he'll be fine." Brendan shook his head dismissively. "Maybe he'll get benched for a game, that's it. He's just worried 'cause he's pretty new to the team. I mean, I got into a full-blown fistfight this year and I'm still on the team."
Brendan paused, then added smugly, "That was before you moved here. I knocked the guy out with one punch, you know."
I smiled indulgently. "Yes, I heard all about it, Braggy McBraggerson."
"Hey, that guy tripped me and then took a swing at me! I was merely acting in my own defense." Brendan pretended to be offended, holding his palms out innocently. "Liam will be finebesides, it wasn't his fault. So after I told him to stop acting like a whiny little girl, I told him what to say to Coach Dunn, and to go right ahead and use me as an example. After all, Dunn only suspended me. It'll work outif not, I'll go to Dunn myself and threaten to quit or something."
"You would do that for him?" My jaw dropped. Brendan was definitely one of the best players on the teamand he absolutely adored playing. It was one of the only things he liked about our school. As wealthy as his own family was, Brendan disregarded most students at Vince A, considering them all to be arrogant social-climbing snobs. And for the most part they were.
"It won't come to that, but why not? He's a good kid." He shrugged nonchalantly.
I couldn't help it, a big goofy smile spread across my face at the kind way he'd taken the sophomore under his wing. "Aw, look at you," I murmured, tugging on his black tie. "You're so cute."
"Ugh, come on, Em. Don't call me cute!" Brendan wrinkled his nose up, saying the word as if it pained him to pronounce it. "You say it the same way you talk about baby otters and those kitten videos you like. Guys don't like to be called cute."
I rolled my eyes. "Okay, you're so awesome and can bench-press a bus and do a billion push-ups," I drawled. "You're not cute or sweet at all. Better?"
"So much better." He chuckled, and I continued teasing him.
"You're the original badass. You can roundhouse kick a quarter and get five nickels." I held my fists up in the pose I'd learned from my kickboxing class, which I'd started taking after I healed from the winter dance, and pretended to kick Brendan.
"Oh, check it out, the mini-ninja has jokes," he teased, blocking my weak, halfhearted kick with his forearm. "Are you done making fun of me yet?"
"No, but I'll be nice and let you continue your story where you're not at all cute or sweet about Liam. The horror!" I stood back upright, grinning as Brendan gently tugged on the cowlick in my bangs.
"You're too much," he said, shaking his head at me and smiling. "And so what if I'm friends with Liam? He's a good kid." Brendan tilted his head, giving me one of his signature flirty smiles. "You know, you really should stop making fun of me, because it's all your fault, anyway."
"What's my fault?"
"Me, actually liking people at Vince A."
"What a tragedy," I deadpanned.
"Oh, it is," Brendan insisted, his eyes open in mock horror. "I'm losing my cred. Next I'll be voted prom king." He shuddered at the thought and I laughed at the mental image. If that crown was placed on his unruly dark head, the heavens would open up and he'd get trampled by the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
"Hey, don't blame me for making you want to be nice to people." I laughed, poking him in the chest. He grinned, grabbing my hand to kiss my fingertip, before dropping his hands to my waist, and drawing me close.
"I want to be nice because I'm happy," Brendan whispered in my ear, his breath sending trembles across my skin. "And it is all your fault, because you're the reason I'm happy." He touched his lips underneath my ear, and I forgot that I was supposed to be avoiding the annoying girls in the bodega. I forgot that I had somewhere to be. I'd forget my eyeballs if they weren't stuck in my head.
Maybe it's because Brendan was smart, sweet, supportive andlet's face itsmack-yourself-in-the-face hot. Or maybe it was because he could win a gold medal in making out. But most likely, it was because he's my soul mate. My honest, true soul matereincarnated over a thousand years, only to be reunited and ripped apart, generation after generation, thanks to a curse set in motion by a brokenhearted ancient lord. When his beloved wife, Gloriana, was murdered, Lord Archer thought he was securing their reunion in another life. He made a deal with a witch: his and Gloriana's souls would reunite in another lifetimeone where Archer would be reborn into a rich, handsome and strong descendant.
But Archer's goals shouldn't have been so selfish, so focused on his own glory, as the witch cruelly reminded him when she granted his proud wishes. When you make a deal with evil, there's always fine print. The witch doomed our souls with a neverending curse: after we reunited, Archer would relive the loss of his soul mate as she suffered an untimely, tragicand brutaldeath. Over and over again, lifetime over lifetime, condemning me from the moment I met Brendan. But after Anthony attacked me at the winter formal, Brendan risked his life to save minethe key to unlocking the curse started by his selfish past life.
The fight also confirmed that I had some seriously untapped witch powersGloriana had practiced witchcraft, and that magic stuck with her soul, magnifying as the years passed. My late twin brother, Ethan, was able to warn me of the danger, through dreams and some seriously scary signs, of the impending doom. But when I was somehow able to summon his spirit to help me pull Brendan from an almost-certain death, as he clutched on to the rocks high above Central Park's Turtle Pond after knocking me out of Anthony's path, we realized I had some major magical talent flowing through my veins. Before I moved to New York, I had no idea that I was what Angelique called a "born witch."