Read an Excerpt
Book Three of the Sententia
By Cara Bertrand
Luminis BooksCopyright © 2016 Cara Bertrand
All rights reserved.
College was different. Without the rigid schedule of high school, my days felt open and unpredictable. Liberating, too, but ... different. Free time was a taunt, always waiting and in abundant amounts, with a city full of amusements and antique shops to spend it in. I was glad Boston was already my home, that I'd spent an entire summer exploring every last hidden place.
I was glad, too, that I'd spent so many hours during my wayfaring life before Northbrook studying on my own. The entire college experience had to be a challenge for the un-self-motivated. Of which there were many, including my roommate, Natalie. There were all kinds of everyone.
Maybe the most freeing thing about college was the ability to be yourself.
Or to be whoever you wanted to be.
Who was I? I never realized how difficult a question that was to answer. It depended, in part, on who was asking. To some, like the university registrar, I was the basics: I was Elaine Rachel Young, daughter of Allen and Julie, deceased; adopted daughter of Teresa Espinosa, artist and professor; eighteen-year-old freshman.
Some others seemed to see me only for two things, both of which I'd inherited: wealth and beauty. I thought that said more about who they were than who I was.
And then to a select group, I was something more. Among the Sententia — the people, like me, gifted with cognitive abilities that we called Thought, and the rest of the world called something like extrasensory perception — I was special. I was the last Marwood, the last known living Hangman.
I wondered what everyone would think if they knew they were walking around campus with the most dangerous Sententia alive, a girl who could kill anything with just a touch and a Thought. I was afraid of her, and she was me. But the thing was: I didn't have to be that girl.
When I'd made my bargain with Daniel Astor — Sententia leader, Carter Penrose's sort-of uncle, and all around bad guy — agreeing to leave Carter in exchange for a little thing called my life, I'd earned my freedom — from him, but also from her. Like I'd dreamed from the first day I'd learned the truth about myself, being Sententia was something I could leave behind.
Safe and anonymous in my first year at the University of Boston, I'd decided to take it all the way: no Sententia involvement at all. I wasn't even going to use my abilities. Even though it was in me, it didn't have to define me. I could define me.
How powerful was that?
I could be any me I wanted to be.
Of course, I quickly realized I was a work in progress. I stumbled into my dorm room in the International House out of breath and very nearly out of time, thankful as ever our building was in almost the exact middle of campus. It helped when you didn't know where you were going.
"Hello?" I called. Silence. Damn. No one was home!
The four of us were the only freshmen in the whole house, and only one of us was an actual International Student — Jin Hee, or Ginny as she asked to be called, from Korea. She was in the business school with me and I thought she was meeting me so we could go to discussion together.
I did mostly like my roommates, even if I might not have chosen them, but that was the point. It was exactly why despite having purchased an apartment within walking distance of campus, I lived here. We called ourselves the Ex-pats, because it sounded cute.
I kicked open the door to my room and screamed. Sitting in the middle of her bed was Nat, the slacker.
"Jesus," she said. "Scared much?"
"Didn't you hear me come in?!" She shrugged, and I wanted to scream again. I dumped my bag and keys on my bed. Only a dresser separated it from where Natalie lounged on her own bed. Our suite might have been bigger than the typical freshman shoebox, but our bedroom was small and beige. It's kind of strange when your college dorm is a step down from your high school one. Part of the experience, I reminded myself. "Where's Ginny?"
"Shopping? I don't know. Not home." Nat shifted focus back to her phone.
"Oh." Crap. I took a deep breath and resisted the urge to snap at Natalie. It wasn't her fault. "I guess I'll just see her in discussion then." I was really hoping she knew where it was.
"I think she said something about switching?"
Nat's eyes flicked to me for a second. "You have charcoal on your shirt."
"Charcoal. On your shirt." Before she went back to playing her game, she added, "And your face."
Sure enough, in the mirror I saw black smudges all over my t-shirt and more across my cheek and nose. "Shit! What the hell?" Apparently they'd come from my hand, which was smeared black with dust.
"Kendra," she said without looking at me, naming our other roommate, the artist. Nat gestured vaguely in the direction of the door, whose handle was as black as my hand. And shirt. And face.
Which is how I ended up the very last student to arrive at the first discussion section for my most important class — Intro to Business. I swore discussion locations were intentionally assigned as torture for freshmen, to ensure we got lost and give us maximum exposure to the randomest, hardest to find places on campus.
The room turned out to be small, windowless, and in the basement of a building I'd never even heard of before, let alone been to. The other students all watched as I stumbled into the closest open seat at the table, bumping the girl next to me; I actually recognized her from lecture.
"Sorry," I whispered.
"Welcome, latecomer," called the TA, whose back was to the door as he finished scrawling an office location and time below the name J. Kensington on the white board.
"Sor —" I started, and then the TA turned around. I half choked and had to start again. "Sorry."
J. Kensington was hot.
"Not a problem." He met my eyes and smiled. Blushing like a stupid freshman, I fumbled for my pen. "But try not to make it a habit. The sooner we start, the sooner we get done. Elaine, right? You're the last one on my list."
"Yes," I squeaked and cleared my throat. "But I prefer Lainey. And sorry. Again. I'm not usually late, I swear." I smoothed my hands across my notebook. I was literally the only student in the room without a laptop or something in front of me, as if the pen and paper were a set of my beloved antiques.
"Not a problem," he repeated, handing a piece of paper to the student closest to him. "Pass this to Lainey, if you would. As I was saying, I'm Jack. Please don't call me Mr. Kensington, ever. My info is everywhere — on the board, on that paper, and online. Believe it or not, I want to see you at office hours. Business relationships are developed in person ..."
I was trying to listen, I really was, but J. Kensington — Jack — was distractingly attractive. TAs were supposed to look like ... I wasn't sure, but not like Jack: maybe six feet tall, medium-length dark hair styled just the right side of messy, brown eyes meant for staring at, and a dimple that came out whenever he lifted one corner of his full mouth.
He'd rolled up the sleeves of his slim button-down and wore a quirky tie that, paired with the dimple, made him basically adorable. I assumed he'd come to discussion straight from a GQ photo-shoot of Future Business Leaders of America. I couldn't quite figure out if the letters running across his tie spelled something —
I dropped my pen when my neighbor touched my elbow at the same time Jack said, "It says, 'Do not read this. Violators will be prosecuted.'" Once again, the entire group was looking at me. And laughing. Shit. It was just not my day. The only positive so far was the guy at the head of the table I was making a fool of myself over. At least he was smiling at me.
"So, Lainey, that means you have the privilege of starting our required awkward let's-get-to-know-each-other session. Name, rank, where you came from, all that good stuff. Go."
The rest of the hour went better from there. It was actually fun. The opposite of awkward. And I think that was all because of Jack. When we'd gone all the way around the table, he said, "It's only fair I tell you mine, so, I did high school in San Francisco, college in New York, a year of work, and now I'm adding a stop on my tour of major cities here."
"So what you're saying is, you get around?" the girl next to me said. My mouth dropped open, but most of the class laughed. I'd never have had the nerve to say something like that. I glanced at my neighbor and she grinned at me while at the front of the room Jack smiled like the devil.
"Exactly," he said. "Was it Serena?"
"Excellent. Everyone, let that be your first lesson: don't be afraid to ask the hard questions."
"So where do you like best?" someone else called out.
"Another excellent question. Believe it or not, I moved here probably the same day you guys did, so I can't tell you how Boston compares — yet — but confidentially I can say you're the best discussion group of my half of the class, and, also confidentially, you're lucky to have landed with me."
We all laughed again, and I was sure he said that to each of his groups, but also that the last part was probably true. He even made the rest of the time discussing a few key points from lecture interesting. By the end, I was wishing we had discussion more than once a week. Serena, the girl next to me and also now my partner for the first of our million group projects, agreed.
Before leaving, she half whispered, "I think this just became my favorite class," and I laughed.
"Maybe mine too."
We were almost out the door when Jack called, "Latecomer! Hang on a second. If you don't mind."
No, I didn't mind. I said goodbye to Serena and backtracked into the now-empty classroom where Jack was perched on the edge of the table. "Sorry again about being late, uh, Jack."
He nodded somberly. "That's what I wanted to talk about." I was starting to worry he'd been hiding his inner hard ass when his face broke into a smile. "I'm sorry for giving you a hard time. And for just doing it again. I'm still figuring this whole TA thing out, so I thought I'd better apologize. You're really tall, by the way."
I laughed. With the way he was leaning on the desk, we were on eyelevel. "I'm sorry. In addition to being on time, I'll try to slouch from now on."
"Nah, definitely don't. It'll intimidate people. You want to cultivate that."
"Okay." I stood up a little straighter. He was smiling and casual, and I wasn't quite sure what to do, if I was dismissed or what. I wanted to keep talking to him just because. "I will. Any other suggestions?"
He surveyed me from head to toe, as if taking my measure or ... but he couldn't be checking me out, right? With a keen nod of his head he said, "Yes. Go to lecture, but you already do that, I can tell." He glanced up at the messy bun on top of my head. "And, also, wear your hair down." After a pause he added, "It will cover the smudge of, is it pencil? Right here."
And so lightly I wasn't sure he'd really done it, he touched a place on my jaw right below my ear.CHAPTER 2
I was a fucking cliché.
I pulled the well-worn piece of paper from my pocket and unfolded it for an innumerable time. The words were fading and creased but it didn't matter; I could still read them.
I will love you always.
I didn't know why I bothered looking at it, since I could see an exact replica any time I wanted. All I had to do was close my eyes. I laid back on my couch and did just that while the note rested on my chest.
Everything was different in Washington. I was different.
I was alone.
It hit me during the four hundred mile drive to DC, after the rapid rearranging of my future Uncle Dan had accomplished in a matter of days. I was on my way to an apartment I'd never seen and couldn't afford but for the generosity of my uncle, in a city I'd never even visited, and I was alone. Uncle Jeff offered to drive with me, but Aunt Mel needed him. This was a big change for all of us. Uncle Dan was in the city, but he was a busy man.
And then, waiting in my office cube like the light at the end of my stupid, sad tunnel, was Alexis Morrow. It was a surprise when I saw her, even though I knew she was interning for my uncle too. I hadn't known she'd be working with me.
She took one look at me and said, "Hey. Listen, I didn't really like her, you know that, but I'm sorry. That sucks, and I'm sorry."
Of course she already knew. But something about the way she said it, the look on her face, made it one of the truest moments we'd ever had. It made me smile.
I said, "Well, you warned me."
She smiled back, and that was it. "Yeah," she said, "I did."
I hadn't forgotten how beautiful she was either, but when faced with it directly, her beauty was a physical thing that knocked you over. Also: she looked like Lainey. Now her beauty was a punch to the heart. It crushed me, and I craved it.
It didn't take long. Lunches became nights out with the other interns became nights out together became nights in at my apartment. I kissed her. Unlike our first kiss, she didn't push me away.
Being with her was a strange mix of comforting and uncomfortable. She was something I knew, something from home, but different here. And different from what I'd grown used to. I shouldn't have been with her or anyone. But something about it being a broken promise made it even better. I could let myself do all sorts of things I wouldn't before.
Lex made life fun and school made life bearable. I wished I'd taken more classes, but I didn't want to push it. American had bent over backwards for me as it was.
Well, not entirely for me. For Uncle Dan. I knew he'd made a donation to compensate for my last minute switch. He'd made one to Harvard too.
Thinking about Harvard was forbidden, because thinking about Harvard led to thinking about Boston and everything there. Downtime was forbidden too. Work and classes were over for the day, and I'd already run plenty of miles that morning. I could run again, but that felt obsessive. When something felt obsessive to an obsessive you knew you were in trouble. I gave myself three more seconds to look at the note before I put it away and called Alexis.
"Hey, babe. You sound like you need to come over here."
She always knew. "What are you up to?"
"Party. Wanna join me?"
She knew I did. Or really that I didn't, but I needed to. "Where?"
The Young Somethings-or-Other for Democracy were partying not far off Georgetown's campus, at the shared house of what had to be ten young politico dudes. Judging by the house, I'd have guessed they had more idealism than money, but once inside I saw the signs. Expensive electronics. Furniture that was decent, even leather. Tennis rackets — a sure giveaway. At least one of them had some bucks, which meant his parents probably did too. Now I understood why Alexis was here.
As I nursed my warming beer and watched guys and girls get drunk and try to hook up with one another, I wondered if I'd have enjoyed this — college, and everything that came with it — more if I'd gone right away. Which was a stupid thing to wonder.
Of course I'd have enjoyed college more back then, when I was seventeen and an idiot. Back when hooking up was still my other hobby. Classes that made me think and, literally, thousands of girls I might find a way to sleep with? College would have been my nirvana.
This party was not helping me feel better. A hand appeared in front of my face, waving, and I blinked.
"What's up, man whore? I know what you're thinking."
God fucking bless Lex. Her brown eyes lit with amusement as she blocked me into the little space I'd carved for myself against a wall. I pulled her right up against me. Her height, the curve of her hip where it touched mine, the length of her deep brown hair that tickled my neck — its familiarity always made me breathe a little deeper, even if it was a sensory memory of someone else. "Oh yeah?"
"Yeah. You're far more transparent than you think, bad boy. So, see anything you like out there?"
"I do now."
She dragged me to a couch and sat on my lap, mercifully saving me from having to mingle on my own. While we lounged, new friends came and went, courting her favor. I couldn't decide if it was a shame or blessing Georgetown didn't have sororities. Alexis Morrow would have ruled them, but it wouldn't have made her better. As it was, the layers of bitchiness high school had polished to a gleam were slowly dulling and wearing away. I liked her better this way.
Excerpted from Tangled Thoughts by Cara Bertrand. Copyright © 2016 Cara Bertrand. Excerpted by permission of Luminis 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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