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Jennifer Estep Bundle
First Frost, Touch of Frost, Kiss of Frost & Dark Frost
By JENNIFER ESTEP
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2012 Jennifer Estep
All rights reserved.
"Can I borrow your hairbrush?"
Paige Forrest stared at the long mirror mounted over the row of sinks that lined one wall of the girls' locker room. Gym class had ended three minutes ago, and all the girls were busy yanking off their sweaty T-shirts and shorts and changing back into their real clothes — the skinny jeans and tight, cropped tops they wore to impress themselves, each other and, most important, the cute boys at Ashland High School.
Everyone except for Paige, who stood frozen in front of the mirror. She was pretty with her long black hair and pale green eyes, but I didn't think that Paige was looking at herself with the normal vanity of a sixteen-year-old girl. For one, Paige wasn't putting on a fresh coat of lip gloss or mascara or dusting her face with sparkling powder like the other girls crowded at the mirror were. She wasn't gossiping with the girls around her or wondering what disgusting, gray mystery meat was going to be served in the cafeteria today. She wasn't even texting on her phone or checking her messages.
No, Paige was leaning over the sink and peering into her own eyes as if she could see something in herself that everyone else couldn't — something horrible, from the pained, twisted expression on her face.
The look made me want to know what she was hiding.
I was kind of nosy that way. Okay, okay, so I was a lot nosy that way. Okay, okay, so I was exceptionally, exceedingly, unstoppably nosy — to the point of obsession sometimes. I wanted to know everything about everyone around me. Why? Well, I blamed it on my Gypsy gift.
I was a Gypsy with psychometry magic. A fancy way of saying that I saw images in my head and got flashes of other people's memories and feelings off almost everything that I touched. A favorite necklace, a beloved book, a cherished photo of a family trip to the beach. I could get a vibe off anything that someone had a personal attachment or connection to, and I could see and feel exactly what that person had felt whenever she'd worn that necklace, read that book, or looked at that photo.
I didn't know exactly why I had magic or why I was even considered a Gypsy in the first place, but I liked the power that my psychometry gave me. I liked knowing what everyone around me was really thinking, from whether a girl was truly my friend or talked about me behind my back to whether a boy was really into me or was actually thinking about another girl instead. Like Drew Squires, my one and only boyfriend. Thanks to my psychometry, I'd flashed on Drew while we were kissing and felt him pretending that I was Paige. I'd dumped him on the spot.
Yeah, sometimes the things I saw and felt hurt, but I still loved knowing other people's secrets. And judging from the weird look on her face, Paige was hiding something — something big.
"Paige?" I asked again, a little louder this time, my voice rising over the chatter of the other girls, the squeak of shoes on the floor, and the constant slams of the locker doors.
Paige partially snapped out of whatever trance she'd been in and met my eyes in the mirror.
"Gwen? Gwen Frost?" she asked in a daze, almost as if she didn't recognize me.
I looked at my own reflection in the mirror. Sure, my wavy brown hair was a loose, sweaty mess right now, which is why I wanted Paige's hairbrush to start with, so I could pull my hair back into a ponytail. My winter-white skin was all flushed and splotchy from attempting to play basketball during gym class, and my violet-colored eyes were a little strange-looking to start with. Okay, okay, my eyes were very strange-looking to start with.
But Paige and I had gone to school together since kindergarten. Sometimes we even hung out when our mutual friends got together on the weekends. She should know exactly who I was — especially since she'd hired me to find her missing cell phone.
Phones, keys, wallets, laptops, crumpled bras, and bunched-up boxers. For the right price, the kids at Ashland High School hired me to find things that were lost, stolen, or otherwise not where they were supposed to be. Yeah, I used my Gypsy gift to make extra money instead of fighting some great, ancient evil with my magic. Sue me for being an entrepreneur and not wanting to work at some greasy fast-food dive like other kids did.
Thanks to my psychometry magic, it was easy for me to find stuff. Usually, all I had to do was run my fingers over a girl's desk or look through her purse to get a good idea of where she might have left her cell phone or dropped her favorite bracelet. And if I didn't immediately see where the lost object was, then I kept touching stuff until I did. Kind of like Nancy Drew following a trail of psychic bread crumbs to wherever they led her.
People left psychic vibes everywhere, on everything they touched, and those vibes revealed everything from what they'd had for lunch to what they really thought of their best friend's new boyfriend. Most of the time, the girl either secretly thought the guy was a total jerk or she wanted him for herself. All I had to do to tap into those vibes, to see people's actions, to feel their true emotions, to discover their secrets, was stretch my fingers out and touch all the objects around me, big and small.
In Paige's case, she'd promised me twenty bucks if I could find her phone before her mom realized it was missing. So two weeks ago, after school, I went over to Paige's house, walked around her room, and ran my fingers over her desk, bookcases, and nightstand. Mostly, images of Paige filled my mind — sitting at her desk doing homework, looking at the collections of fairy tales she loved to read, stashing some Oreos in the back of her nightstand, even though she wasn't supposed to have sweets. All the things she did in her room on a regular basis and all the emotions that went along with them — dull boredom over the homework, bright happiness looking at the books, sly satisfaction at sneaking her favorite treat right under her mom's nose.
Paige had thought I was a little strange, pacing back and forth across her room and poking into all her stuff, but eventually, another image had popped into my head, one of Paige's little sister swiping the phone off the nightstand so she could snoop through Paige's text messages. I'd told Paige what I'd seen, and sure enough, we'd gone down the hall to her sister's room and found her using the stolen phone.
Paige blinked, finally shaking off the rest of her daze.
"Gwen Frost," she murmured again, her voice a little stronger this time.
She turned away from the mirror, and her eyes dropped to the wooden bench I was sitting on. Paige had already fixed her hair, which looked sleek and perfect as always, and she'd put her brush down on the end of the bench, less than a foot away from my hand. Paige stared and stared at the hairbrush, her green eyes bright and glittering, and she had that weird, twisted look on her face again.
What was wrong with her? Was Paige high or something? It wasn't unheard of for kids to get totally wasted on pot or something worse, even in our rather tame North Carolina high school. But Paige had seemed fine in gym class, shooting layup after layup, since she was one of the stars of the girls' basketball team. I hadn't been so lucky, because I was a total train wreck when it came to basketball. Today, I'd managed to bang myself in the head with the ball when I'd tried to shoot a freaking free throw — with the whole class watching, of course. Even the coaches had snickered and rolled their eyes at me. Yeah, I was just that kind of loser, a book-smart Gypsy girl who sucked at pretty much every sport you could think of and probably a couple that hadn't even been invented yet.
"So can I use your hairbrush or not?" I asked, getting a little impatient.
I'd already swapped my gym clothes for my usual sneakers and jeans. I'd also unzipped my purple hoodie and put it on over my T-shirt of Karma Girl, one of my favorite superheroines. Maybe I wasn't a budding fashionista like some of the other girls were, but I didn't want to go back to class with my hair frizzed out to epic proportions.
Paige hesitated, and a strange emotion flashed in her eyes, almost like a warning. "Sure."
"It's okay, Gwen," my friend Bethany Royal piped up from her spot on the far end of the bench. "You can borrow mine."
Paige kept staring at me, and I looked back at her, even more suspicious now. She was definitely hiding something — something huge. Maybe it was the fact that Drew had pretended I was Paige when he'd kissed me. Maybe I was a little more angry, jealous, and hurt over that than I wanted to admit. Maybe I wanted to find some way to get back at Paige, even though I knew it wasn't her fault that Drew liked her instead of me.
But at that moment, I wanted to know Paige's secret more than anything else. I felt like I needed to know it for some reason. And all I had to do to discover exactly what she was hiding was just pick up her hairbrush — the one sitting oh-so-close to my fingers.
"No, that's okay," I told Bethany. "Paige's brush is right here."
Still looking at Paige, I reached out, curled my fingers around the brush's handle, and waited for my psychometry magic to kick in, for the feelings and memories to hit me the way they always did.
An image immediately popped into my mind — one of Paige sitting on her bed, wearing a thick pink robe and clutching the hairbrush in her hand so hard that her knuckles were white against the brown wooden handle. After a moment, the door to Paige's room opened, and her stepdad came inside. Paige had shown me a picture of him when I'd been over at her house searching for her cell phone, and he was a nice, normal-looking guy. He shut the door behind him, and Paige's grip tightened on the brush even more.
Her stepdad came over to the bed, sat down beside Paige, and tugged the brush from her hand. Paige obediently turned to the side, and her stepdad started brushing her hair. Okay, that was a little weird. I mean, it wasn't like Paige was a little girl who couldn't take care of her own hair, so why would her stepdad comb it out for her? For the first time, I began to get a bad, bad feeling about what I was going to see.
It seemed like Paige's stepdad brushed her hair forever, although it was only a second in my mind. Then, when he finished, he gave the brush back to Paige, who put it on her nightstand. Paige lay down on the bed, her hands clenched together over her stomach, her knuckles white once more.
I thought her stepdad would pull the covers up over her, tell her good night, and leave the room.
Instead, he pried Paige's hands apart and opened her robe, almost like he was unwrapping a present. Then he took off his pants, lay down beside her, and started touching Paige in all the places that he shouldn't.
And that's when I started screaming.
I screamed and screamed and screamed. But I couldn't stop the memories from filling my mind, couldn't stop myself from seeing what Paige's stepdad was doing to her, couldn't stop myself from feeling all of Paige's fear and hurt and pain and helplessness. One by one, her emotions hit me, like daggers driving deeper and deeper and deeper into my heart — into my very soul.
It was horrible.
The most horrible thing I'd ever seen and felt with my psychometry magic — and I couldn't get it to stop. All around me, the other girls pressed themselves up against the dented metal lockers, wondering what was wrong with me. But all I could do was scream and scream and scream some more.
Paige stared at me the whole time, a grim look on her face, as if she knew exactly what I was experiencing. Maybe she did. After all, I'd used my Gypsy gift to find her phone. Maybe Paige had figured out what I could do, how I could see and feel all the things that people tried to hide.
All the terrible, terrible things.
I don't know how long I screamed, but eventually I slipped off the wooden bench and hit the cold cement floor, the hairbrush still clenched in my fingers, my knuckles just as tight and white around it as Paige's had been. I tried to let go of the brush and found that I couldn't — and I couldn't stop screaming either.
White spots started to flash in front of my eyes, then black ones. Eventually, the black spots bled together and turned into a solid wall. The wall toppled over, slamming into my mind, and I welcomed the crushing darkness.
The low, steady beep-beep-beeping woke me. I frowned. What was up with my alarm clock? It didn't sound like that. And why was my bed suddenly so hard and lumpy? And the sheets so stiff and scratchy? I felt like my brain was stuffed with cotton, but slowly, the day came back to me. My suckitude at basketball. Changing in the locker room. Talking to Paige. Picking up her hairbrush. Seeing what her stepdad was doing to her.
A whimper slipped out of my throat before I could stop it.
"Easy, Gwen. You're okay now. You're fine, baby."
A warm hand stroked my cheek, and a soft wave of love and concern washed over me, like a fleece blanket wrapping around me and keeping me safe from everything — including the horrible things I'd seen today.
"Mom," I whispered, recognizing her gentle touch.
I opened my eyes to find Grace Frost leaning over me. My mom had the same features that I did — brown hair, pale skin, violet eyes — but she was beautiful in a way that I longed to be and knew I was not. Even wearing a simple black pantsuit, there was a, well, grace about my mom, an elegance that I just didn't have.
"What happened?" I asked.
I sat up and realized that I was lying in a hospital bed, wearing a paper-thin gray gown covered with purple polka dots. Plastic tubes snaked from my left wrist over to some machines that beeped out my heart rate and other vital signs. Off to my right was an open door. Beyond that, nurses walked up and down a drab hallway, while patients attached to IVs shuffled along behind them.
"You had an epileptic seizure," my mom said. "At least, that's what the doctors think."
I shook my head and winced as a dull ache started throbbing behind my eyes. "It wasn't a seizure. It was my Gypsy gift. It just ... I just ... freaked out."
Concern filled my mom's eyes. She was a Gypsy just like me, which meant that she had a gift like me. In my mom's case, she knew if someone was telling the truth or not just by listening to their words. Basically, my mom was like a living, breathing lie detector. Yeah, her magic made it hard on me whenever I wanted to get away with something that I shouldn't. Still, my mom's Gypsy gift came in handy, especially since she was a police detective. My mom had dedicated her life and her magic to helping people. She was the bravest person I knew, and I wanted to be just like her.
In a shaky voice, I told her about picking up Paige's hairbrush and the terrible things that I'd seen Paige's stepdad doing to her. My mom's face got a little tighter and her violet eyes grew a little darker with every word I said. By the time I finished my story, I could almost feel the anger coming off her in cold waves.
"Did Paige say anything to you?" my mom asked. "Did she ever mention her stepdad to you before?"
I shook my head. "No. We're not that close, and I didn't see him around when I went over to her house to find her phone."
My mom had opened her mouth to ask me another question, when a series of familiar jingle-jingle-jingles sounded. A moment later, an older woman wearing a purple silk shirt and black pants and shoes stepped into the room. At least, that's what I thought she was wearing. It was kind of hard to tell since layers of colorful scarves covered her body, wrapping around her in a rainbow of fluttering fabric. Bright, gleaming silver coins dangled off the fringed ends of the scarves and jangled together with every step she took. Another scarf held her iron-gray hair back off her wrinkled face. The scarf was the same violet color as her eyes — as all our eyes were.
"Hello, pumpkin," Grandma Frost said in a warm, cheery voice, coming over to stand beside the bed. "How are you feeling?"
"Better, Grandma," I said. "I have a headache, though."
For a second, Grandma's eyes took on an empty, glassy look, and something stirred in the air around her — something that seemed old, watchful, and knowing all at the same time.
Excerpted from Jennifer Estep Bundle by JENNIFER ESTEP. Copyright © 2012 Jennifer Estep. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Touch of Frost,
Kiss of Frost,