“We’ve been living overseas,” I told her, wondering what her reaction might be if I told her I was from the Kingdom of Heaven. “Our parents are still there.”

“Really?” Molly seemed impressed. “Whereabouts?”

I hesitated. “Different places. They move around a lot.”

Molly seemed to accept this as if it were fairly commonplace.

“What do they do?” she asked.

I fumbled for the answer in my head. I knew we’d discussed this but my mind went blank. It would be just like me to make a critical mistake within my first hour of being a student. Then I remembered.

“They’re diplomats,” I said. “We came with our older brother. He just started as a teacher here. Our parents will join us when they can.” I tried to cram in as much information as I could to satisfy her curiosity and stem further questions. By nature, angels were bad liars. I hoped Molly hadn’t seen through my story. Technically speaking, none of it was a lie.

“Cool,” was all she said. “I’ve never been overseas but I’ve been to the city a few times. You’d better be prepared for a change of lifestyle at Venus Cove. It’s usually pretty chill around here except things have been a bit weird lately.”

“How do you mean?” I asked.

“Well, I’ve lived here my whole life; my grandparents even lived here and ran a local business. And in all that time, nothing really bad has ever happened; there’s been the occasional factory fire and some boating accidents — but now…” Molly lowered her voice. “There’s been robberies and freak accidents all over the place — there was a flu epidemic last year and six kids died from it.”

“That’s devastating,” I said weakly, feeling a hollowness in the pit of my stomach. I was starting to get a sense of the extent of the damage done by the Agents of Darkness, and it wasn’t looking good. “Is that all?”

“There was one other thing,” Molly said. “But you’d want to be careful bringing it up at school — a lot of kids are still pretty torn up over it.”

“Don’t worry, I’ll watch my mouth,” I assured her.

“Well about six months ago, one of the senior boys, Henry Taylor, climbed up on the school roof to get a basketball that had landed up there. He wasn’t screwing around or anything, he was just trying to get it down. No one saw how it happened, but he slipped and fell. He came down right in the middle of the courts — his friends saw the whole thing. They were never able to completely get rid of the bloodstain, so no one plays there anymore.”

Before I could respond, Mr. Velt cleared his throat and looked daggers in our direction.

“Miss Harrison, I assume you are explaining to our new student the concept of covalent bonding.”

“Um, not exactly, Mr. Velt,” Molly replied. “I don’t want to bore her to death on her first day.”

I saw a vein throb on Mr. Velt’s forehead and realized I should probably intervene. I channeled a calming energy toward him and watched with satisfaction as he started looking less harangued. His shoulders seem to relax, and his face lost its livid hue and returned to a more natural shade. He looked at Molly and gave a tolerant, almost paternal chuckle.

“Your sense of humor is unfailing, Miss Harrison.”

Molly looked confused but was smart enough to refrain from further comment.

“My theory is he’s having a midlife crisis,” she whispered to me instead. Mr. Velt ignored us and busied himself setting up a projector slide. I groaned inwardly and tried to suppress a rising wave of panic. We angels were radiant enough in daylight. In the dark it was worse but concealable, but in the halogen light of an overhead projector, who knew what might happen. I decided it wasn’t worth taking the risk. I asked for permission to go to the bathroom and then slipped out. I hung around just outside, waiting for Mr. Velt to finish his presentation and switch the lights back on. The slides clicked sharply into place, and through the glass panel on the classroom door I could see that they demonstrated a simplified description of the valence bond theory. I was glad I wouldn’t have to study such basic things on a permanent basis.

“Are you lost?”

The voice came from behind, startling me. I spun around to see a boy lounging against the lockers opposite the classroom. Even though he looked more formal with his shirt buttoned, tie neatly knotted, and school blazer, there was no mistaking that face or the nut-colored hair flopping over vivid blue eyes. I hadn’t expected to run into him again, but now the boy from the pier was standing right in front of me, wearing that same wry smile.

“I’m fine, thank you,” I said, turning away quickly. If he had recognized me, he wasn’t giving himself away. I hoped that turning my back on him, as rude as it seemed, might cut the conversation short. He had caught me unawares, and something about him made me unsure where to look or what to do with my hands. But he seemed in no hurry.

“You know, the more conventional way to learn is from inside the classroom,” he continued.

I was forced to turn back then and acknowledge his presence. I tried to communicate my reluctance to engage in conversation with a cool look, but when I met his eyes, something entirely different happened. I had an instant, gut-wrenching physical reaction as if the world were falling from under me and I had to steady myself to stop from falling with it.

I must have looked like I was about to pass out because he involuntarily put out an arm to catch me. I noticed the fine cord of plaited leather he wore around his wrist, the only item out of keeping with his otherwise traditional appearance.

My memory of him hadn’t done him justice. He had the striking good looks of an actor but without any trace of conceit. His mouth was curved into a half-smile, and his limpid eyes had a depth I hadn’t noticed the first time. He was tall and slender, but underneath his uniform I could make out the shoulders of a swimmer. He was looking at me as though he wanted to help me but didn’t quite know how, and as I stared back at him, I realized that his attractiveness had as much to do with his air of composure as his regular features and smooth skin. I wished I could come up with some witty retort to match his confidence, but I couldn’t think of anything.

“Just feeling a little light-headed, that’s all,” I mumbled. He took a step closer, still looking concerned.

“Do you need to sit down?”

“No, I’m fine now.” I shook my head decisively.

Reassured that I wasn’t going to faint, he held out his hand and flashed me a dazzling smile.

“I didn’t get a chance to introduce myself last time we met — I’m Xavier.”

So he hadn’t forgotten.

His hand was broad and warm. He held mine a fraction too long. I remembered what Gabriel had said about steering clear of risky human interaction. Warning bells sounded in my head as I frowned and pulled my hand away. It wouldn’t exactly be the wisest move befriending this boy with his ridiculous good looks and hundred-watt smile. The flutter in my chest when I looked at him told me I was already in hot water. I was learning to read the signals given out by my body and knew that this boy was making me nervous. But there was a hint of another feeling, one that I couldn’t identify. I backed away from him, toward the classroom door, where I could see the lights had just come on. I knew I was being rude, but I was too unsettled to care. Xavier didn’t look offended, just bemused by my behavior.

“I’m Bethany,” I managed to say, already halfway through the door.

“See you around, Bethany,” he said.

My face felt beet red as I came back into the chem lab, and Mr. Velt threw me an accusatory look for having taken so long in the bathroom.

By lunchtime I’d realized that Bryce Hamilton was a minefield of projector slides and other traps designed to ferret out undercover angels like me. In gym class I had a mild panic attack when I realized I was expected to change in front of all the other girls. They peeled off their clothes without a second thought and tossed them into lockers or onto the floor. Molly got her bra straps tangled and asked for my help, which I gave nervously, hoping she wouldn’t notice the unnaturally soft touch of my hands.

“Wow, you must moisturize like mad,” she said.

“Every night,” I replied lightly.

“So what do you think of the Bryce Hamilton crowd so far? Boys hot enough for you?”

“I wouldn’t say hot,” I said, puzzled. “Most of them seem to have a normal body temperature.”

Molly stared at me. She looked like she was about to snicker, but my expression convinced her I wasn’t trying to be funny. “Hot means good-looking,” she said. “Have you seriously never heard that before? Where was your last

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