Thank you to Stacy Cantor, editorial princess, whose magic red pen royally helped this book. Thanks to all of my friends, online and off, for your support and continued encouragement of my writing. You all rock! To Jim McCarthy, my prince of an agent.

Chapter 1

'That guy is staring at you.'

I glanced over at the far right corner of the cafeteria and groaned. Melinda was right. In fact, I knew the tall, dark-haired guy in the faded Van Halen T-shirt and navy blue hooded sweatshirt had been staring at me for about ten minutes and I was relieved someone else had noticed.

'Who is he?' I asked. 'I don't recognize him from around here.'

'No idea. Some loser.'

'Just ignore him,' I suggested.

She grinned at me before taking a sip from her bottle of Evian, the sum total of her Wednesday lunch. 'Maybe he wants to ask you to Winter Formal.'

I made a face. 'No, thank you.'

'Well, he's going to be too late.' Her grin widened. 'Because I know who is going to ask you.' I blinked. 'Who?'

She shrugged. 'Can't tell. It's a secret. But not for long.' Great. A secret. I felt my blood pressure shoot up about fifty points right then, wondering who she was talking about.

Melinda looked way too proud of herself. She couldn't possibly know how much stress she was causing me with her cryptic statements. She didn't have any comprehension of what a loser I'd been before transferring to Erin Heights High School two months ago-not that I felt all that much different now.

Though I'd seriously lucked out when I'd become friends with her.

Not only did my mom move us three thousand miles away from our old home in San Diego, but she'd moved us right out of the country. We were now settled in the small town of Erin Heights, which was about thirty minutes west of Toronto, in Canada, nestled right next to Lake Ontario. Mom had been born in the area so she was excited to be back. Me? Not so much.

And it was cold here. Like, cold. I knew it was only like this during the winter months, but unfortunately, being that it was the seventh of December, one day after my not-so-sweet sixteenth birthday, we still had a whole lot of winter left to shovel our way through. Snow should be for skiing over on vacation, not for trudging through in less-than-adequate shoes on your way to school. That was my opinion, anyway.

I hadn't been in a very good mood when we arrived in October. In fact, 'miserable' probably would have best described me. I had to start school while the semester was already in progress-the absolute kiss of death for someone trying to fit in.

Mom got married to Robert, a Canadian accountant she met on a singles cruise, and we moved up here right after the honeymoon. I probably should be used to this kind of thing by now, though. My mother's been married four times, and I've had to start at a different school each and every time. Since I'd never had much of a chance to settle in and get to know people who already had established cliques and friendships, I was usually out of luck.

Nikki Donovan: outcast. Welcome to my life.

The first day I moseyed into Erin Heights High I was expecting exile. Up until lunchtime my first day, it was exactly that. I was ignored. I got some curious stares, a few unfriendly glares, but nothing too major.

I ate my oh-so-gourmet peanut-butter sandwich alone and seriously considered dwelling eternally in my morbid unhappiness for lack of anything better to do.

But then Melinda James and her entourage entered the room and sat down in the very center of the cavernous cafeteria. I had overheard a couple of classmates referring to them as the 'Royal Party,' and at first glance I could tell that Melinda was the queen. Pretty, blonde, stuck-up, and wealthy-a total high school cliche. Or at least that was my first impression of her.

The reason that we were best friends two months later was quite simple.

Five minutes after she walked into the cafeteria that day she nearly choked to death on a honey-mustard pretzel.

I was clued in that something was wrong when everyone around her started to freak out and I turned, curious to see what was happening.

Melinda had her hands around her throat and she was making odd little noises. Everyone thinks that when you choke on something you cough, but when you're choking, no air is getting down your throat so, actually, no coughing. Her face was quickly turning blue. Her perfectly smooth long hair was messy from tossing her head back and forth. Her model-pretty face wore an expression of terror. And everyone in her general vicinity had taken one rather large step away from her.

No one knew how to save her. No one was even willing to try.

Well, except for me. Thanks to being forced by my mother to take a CPR class the previous summer, I knew the Heimlich maneuver. When I approached, Melinda stared up at me with wide, watery eyes. Her lips had quickly developed a distinctive purple tinge.

Without saying anything first-it wasn't exactly the time for friendly introductions-I grabbed her designer shirt, spun her around, and tried my best not to break any of her ribs. The offending piece of honey-mustard pretzel flew out of her mouth and hit a guy named George Rodriguez, who I'd later learn was the president of the chess team, squarely in the forehead.

George wasn't too thrilled about the situation. But Melinda was grateful. Very grateful.

'You are my guardian angel,' she said very seriously, with her hand against her throat. 'Uh. . who are you?'

'I'm Nikki,' I said nervously. 'Nikki Donovan.'

'You saved my life.'

'It's no big deal.'

'It is a big deal. Huge.' She took a drink of water with shaking hands. 'You're new here?' 'Brand new. This is my first day.'

'So you don't know anybody yet. You were over there eating alone, right?'

I looked down the table of Royal Party members-the most popular kids at school-all staring at me as though I'd done something miraculous. I really hated being the center of attention. 'I haven't met too many people yet. No.'

'Then consider yourself my new best friend,' she said. 'For a week. I can introduce you to everybody and help you fit in here. And you can sit at this table at lunch. Does that sound okay?'

I shook my head. My mouth felt dry. 'Forget it. It's really not necessary.'

Her eyes widened a little, possibly with surprise that I hadn't jumped on her offer right away. 'Come on. One week. You have to say yes.'

I had to?

I chewed my bottom lip as I considered my options. Basically, be alone and try valiantly to make friends with people who already had established cliques that year, or take Melinda up on her one-week offer of friendship and try to make the best of it.

'Okay,' I finally agreed, careful not to get my hopes up too much that it would lead to a real friendship.

The other members of the Royal Party mostly ignored me or kept their distance, which was fine by me because they were kind of intimidating. But the more I hung out with Melinda as the days went by, the more I realized that she wasn't all that scary. Since I had a really hard time faking being nice-I wasn't much of an actress, I guess-I just behaved like myself. Warts and all.

I don't actually have any warts. It's just a saying.

After the week was over, I assumed that was it-I'd be on my own again. But Melinda kept chatting with me by the lockers after school like nothing had changed.

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