“It’s all part of my charm,” Xavier winked.

“Bethie!” Molly ran to catch up with us as we reached the gates of the school. “What do you think of my new look?” She twirled around, and I saw that she had undergone a complete transformation. She had dropped the length of her skirt to below the knee, buttoned her blouse up to her chin, and fastened her tie neatly. Her hair was pulled back in a severe braid, and she had discarded all of her jewelry. She was even wearing the regulation school socks.

“You look like you’re ready for the convent,” Xavier said.

“Good!” Molly seemed pleased. “I’m trying to look mature and responsible.”

“Oh, Molly,” I sighed. “This wouldn’t have anything to do with Gabriel, would it?”

“Well, duh,” Molly said. “Why else would I walk around looking like such a loser?”

“Uh-huh.” Xavier nodded. “High marks for maturity right there.”

“Don’t you think it’s better to just be yourself?” I asked.

“Her true self might scare him,” Xavier remarked.

“Oh, shut up.” I slapped his arm lightly. “All I’m saying, Molly, is that Gabriel has to like you for who you are. ..”

“I guess,” Molly hedged. “But I’m happy to change; I can be whoever he wants me to be.”

“He wants you to be you.”

“I don’t,” Xavier began. “I want you to be…” He broke off with a laugh as I elbowed him.

“Could you at least try and be helpful.”

“Okay, okay,” Xavier said. “Look, girls that are fake or try too hard are a major turnoff. You need to chill and quit chasing him around.”

“But don’t I need to show him that I’m interested?” Molly asked.

“I think he knows.” Xavier rolled his eyes. “Now you have to wait for him to come to you. In fact, why don’t you try dating another guy…?”

“Why would I do that?”

“See if Gabriel gets jealous. The way he reacts will tell you everything you need to know.”

“Thanks, you’re the best!” Molly beamed at him. She yanked her hair loose, tore open her buttons, and ran off, probably in search of some poor boy to use as her prop in the master plan to win Gabriel’s heart.

“We really shouldn’t encourage her,” I said.

“You never know,” Xavier replied. “She might be Gabriel’s type after all.”

“Gabriel doesn’t have a type.” I laughed. “He’s already in a committed relationship.”

“Humans can be strangely tempting.”

“Tell me about it,” I said, standing on my tiptoes to affectionately nibble his earlobe.

“I’m afraid that’s inappropriate behavior for the schoolyard,” Xavier teased. “I know my charm is hard to resist, but please try and control yourself.”

We parted in the halls of Bryce Hamilton. As I watched him walk away, I felt a strange sense of security that I hadn’t experienced in a long time, and for moment I truly believed that the worst was over and behind us.

But I was wrong. I should have known it wasn’t over, couldn’t be over quite so easily. No sooner was Xavier out of sight than a little cylinder of paper fell from the top of my locker. As I unrolled it, I knew I’d see black calligraphy crawling across it like a spider. Dread settled around me like a fog as the words burned into my brain:


The Halo series is a project in which I have invested much emotion and energy. But it couldn’t have been done without the contribution of the following people:

My agent, Jill Grinberg, for being so enthusiastic and totally believing in the story.

My mother, for her support as well as her ruthless honesty.

Jean Feiwel, Liz Szabla, and the team at Feiwel and Friends, for devoting so much time and energy to this project.

Lisa Berryman, for having mentored me since age thirteen.

My inspirational principal, Dr. David Warner, for his understanding of young people and their dreams.

Special thanks must go to Matthew DeFina (Moo-Moo), for his invaluable insight into the male psyche, for his considered answers to my endless questions, and for making me smile when things got too hard.

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