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Robin Wasserman

Envy

The second book in the Seven Deadly Sins series, 2005

for Grandma

Chapter 1

Beth loved to trace her fingers along the gently curved line of Adam’s back. It was her favorite part, this moment, this quiet pause just after they’d finished rolling around beneath the covers (careful not to go too far or to mention the fact that, as always, they stopped just before they did). And just before the inevitable. The tension. The bitter look. The fighting.

No, it was worth it to lie there for a moment, watching the rise and fall of Adam’s back as he sprawled on his stomach, spent. Easy to prop herself up and admire his lean, muscled form, to marvel, for the thousandth time, that he was hers, that she was in his bed, that she could lean forward and softly touch her lips to his bare back, that her body still glowed, warm and tingling where he’d last touched her. Better to lie still, breathe deep, enjoy the light streaming through the windows, warming her bare skin, and feel close to him, like their bodies were connected, like they were one. It was always her favorite moment-and it never lasted.

“So, are you still working at the diner tonight?” he asked in a carefully casual tone, stretching and rolling over onto his back.

“Unfortunately.” She kissed him again. “You know I’d rather be with you, but…”

“I know,” he said quickly. Sourly. “Duty calls.”

“But maybe I can come over again after school tomorrow?” she asked hopefully. Her voice sounded falsely cheerful, brittle, even to her. But maybe she was imagining that. Maybe he wouldn’t notice.

“Can’t. Swim meet,” he said. “But we’re on for Saturday, right?” He sat up in bed and began looking around for his clothes, which had been tossed aside hastily a couple hours before.

“Definitely. Right after that SAT prep meeting.” Beth’s chest tightened at the thought of it, the test that would define her future. She had only a few weeks left to study, which meant she didn’t have the time to waste on a stupid school-sponsored practice test and prep session that would surely fail to teach her anything she didn’t already know. But, like all school-sponsored wastes of time, it was mandatory.

“Great,” Adam said shortly, pulling a T-shirt over his head. It was pale blue-the same shade as his clear, sparkling eyes.

“Wait!” She sat up and grabbed his wrist, pulling him back to the bed, back to her. She didn’t know what to say to him, didn’t know how to get back that feeling of closeness that, these days, disappeared every time one of them spoke. It used to be so easy, so comfortable, and now it was like their relationship was some fragile piece of glass. If one of them said the wrong thing, spoke too loudly or too long, it would shatter. So they were careful. They were polite.

They were strangers.

Was it because she’d been so jealous of him and Kaia, the new girl who looked like a model and sounded-to her, at least-like a phone sex operator? Because she had refused to trust him, no matter how many times he’d assured her that nothing, nothing would ever happen? Or was it because of what had happened with her and Mr. Powell, the hot French teacher who’d taken such an intense interest in the school newspaper, and an even more intense interest in Beth, its editor in chief? Was it because of the unexpected, unending kiss Powell had suddenly planted on her, a kiss she’d never asked for, that she’d fled from, that she’d said nothing about-but that maybe, deep down, she’d wanted?

Whatever it was, she wanted it to just go away. She wished that she and Adam could somehow find their way back to normal, if only she knew where to start.

“What are you thinking, blue eyes?” he asked, half in and half out of the bed-and his clothes.

She could tell him, and they could talk about it, about everything. Finally, an actual conversation-open, honest, painful. Real. And maybe they could finally try to fix things.

Or not.

“I’m thinking I’m not due at work for another hour,” she told him, and threw her arms around his neck, drawing him to her. “I’m thinking that this shirt has got to go.”

He obediently pulled it over his head and tossed it back on the floor, then lunged toward her and swept her into his arms. It wasn’t open or honest, and it wouldn’t fix anything. But it was easy. And right now, easy was all she could handle.

In most towns the Nifty Fifties Diner, with its rancid burgers, temperamental jukebox, tacky decor, and rude waitresses, would have quickly become an empty shell, housing a few lonely patrons whose taste buds had long since abandoned them. Empty on weekends, scorned by the breakfast crew, it would, by all rights, have lasted about six months before the owners shut its doors and got the hell out of town. But this wasn’t most towns. This was Grace, California, where haute cuisine meant ordering from the booth rather than at the counter, and even MacDonald’s feared to tread. In Grace you took what you could get, and pretty much all you could get was the Nifty Fifties Diner, wilted French fries, surly service, and all.

Which is why every day after school, a crowd of bored teens crowded its way into the diner’s rusty orange booths. But it wasn’t just the desperation that drove them to it. Harper Grace (formerly of Grace Mines; Grace Library; Grace, California-currently of Grace Dry Cleaning on Fourth and Main) had been known to favor the place with her presence. And after all, the masses concluded, if Harper Grace and her crew deigned to eat there, it must have some redeeming quality.

As far as Harper was concerned, it had one and only one: It was there.

Actually, make that two, she thought, snagging a fry off Miranda’s plate. As usual, her best friend had eaten about one-tenth of her order and spent the past hour pushing the rest of the food around on her plate.

One: The diner was there.

Two: Everyone in it cared less about the food than about watching Harper’s every move. It was just like school… only without all the boring parts. Popularity without the homework.

And she so loved the attention.

“Think Beth is working today?” Miranda asked, looking around for the blond bombshell they both loved to hate.

“Who knows?” Harper asked, rolling her eyes. “Who cares?”

Miranda laughed. “Be nice, Harper,” she warned, but Harper knew she didn’t really mean it. For one thing, Harper Grace hadn’t clawed her way up the school’s social ladder by being nice. For another, rule number one of their friendship was that Harper said aloud all the bitchy thoughts Miranda was too polite to voice. Why mess with tradition?

“What, would you prefer she be here hovering over us with that stupid smile?” Harper gave Miranda her best Beth Manning grin and affected a high and fluttery voice. “‘Hey guys! Can I get you anything? Water? Coffee? My backbone? Don’t worry, I won’t be needing it.’”

“You’re right,” Miranda admitted with a sly smile. “Much better she be off somewhere with Adam. Better making out with him than bothering us.”

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