Well, that was fast.
I hadn’t even been in Elk Springs for twenty-four hours and someone had already caught me talking to myself.
Cade stared at me, his eyes like searchlights, unwilling to let go.
“I—” I began, biting my lip. “I wasn’t talking to anyone,” I managed to spit out. “I don’t know what you think you heard.”
“Well, it’s just kind of confusing,” he countered, patronizing me, “because I did hear you. Just now. So what, you were talking to yourself?”
I could feel my face going red, flushing with embarrassment and a hint of irritation.
“Hanging out in dingy alleys?” he continued.
“I was not hanging out back here,” I snapped, narrowing my eyes. “I was just trying to head home and took a wrong turn.”
I totally wasn’t talking to a ghost just now.
“Yes, you were. I saw you. And I was watching for a few minutes.”
Wait a minute—what is HE doing back here, anyway? He looks just as suspicious as me, if not more.
I crossed my arms, feeling the anger bubbling to the surface. “What’s your excuse?”
“Excuse me?” Cade’s preposterous smile flickered.
“What were you doing creeping up on me like that? Spying on me. Are you a stalker or something?”
“Of course not.” He folded his arms, mimicking my stance.
“Well?” I could be difficult too, if that’s how he was going to play it.
“Don’t try to turn this around on me. I don’t have to explain myself.”
“I really think you do,” I replied.
We stared at each other for what felt like minutes, neither of us daring to break eye contact.
Unwilling to surrender.
He dropped his eyes finally, and I was shocked that I had actually won the standoff. That he’d acquiesced.
It was almost like he wasn’t used to being challenged.
Based on his appearance, I suspected that was probably the case.
“It’s a small town. Nothing ever happens here.” His dark eyes glanced up to gauge my reaction.
“Everyone here is”—he paused, searching for the right word—“robotic.”
“And then I saw the new girl looking all paranoid and practically running back here. It wasn’t really subtle.” Cade shrugged his shoulders. “I got curious.”
It was an honest answer. I could sense that.
But still, not enough…
“How’d you know I was new?” I raised my eyebrows.
“I saw the moving trucks. And I don’t recognize you, which means you’re not from around here.”
God, he is so aggravating.
“Maybe you’ve just never seen me before,” I said quickly.
“Not a chance.”
“So you’re a big people-watcher, is that it? That’s your thing?”
He nodded. “I like to read people. I’m pretty good at it too.”
My own curiosity got the best of me.
“Okay, read me.”
Cade scoffed in disbelief. “What?”
“Come on. Read me. If you’re so talented.”
The corners of his lips curled up in a soft smile—the first genuine one I’d seen from him.
His probing eyes lingered on mine for a moment, then seemed to trace me—my tank top and shorts, my sneakers, the golden locket hanging from my neck.
Perhaps his gaze should have felt more intrusive—like a magnifying glass searching for my seams.
But it didn’t.
“You’re what,” he pondered, “sixteen or seventeen?”
I don’t see why that matters.
“Your family is wealthy,” he said suddenly, his eyes growing distant, as though he was trying to mentally piece together the beveled edges of my life.
“But it’s not old money. Your parents focus more on their careers than they do on you. Or maybe they’re divorced.”
Okay, I am starting to regret giving him the green light.
“You don’t make friends easily. Perhaps you don’t even try to make them anymore.”
Crap. He IS good at this.
“And—you’re left-handed.” Cade went silent, waiting for me to confirm his assessment.
I was speechless. And a little annoyed. I mean, who gave him permission?
Oh right…I did.
I clapped sarcastically.
“Okay, Sherlock, how’d you do it? You’ve known me for all of—well, however long you’ve been following me.”
Cade smirked, running a gloved hand through his hair again.
“Well, the deduction about making friends was obvious, based on your lack of social skills,” he said matter-of-factly, like it wasn’t completely insulting.
“Those shoes cost, what—a couple hundred bucks? But they’re worn down. Lived-in. You’re not just wearing them as a display of your family’s money. You’re used to living practically.”
“And as far as your parents go,” he continued, “I noticed that you didn’t drive here. But your parents could obviously afford to buy you a car, which means that no one has actually taken the time to teach—”
Cade was cut off by the sudden erratic beeping of an open-back Jeep zooming down the alleyway.
I instinctively jumped out of the way, grabbing hold of Cade’s wrist to pull him to safety.
It all happened in slow motion.
I saw the teenagers in the car, laughing and leering at Cade, the driver swerving out of the way.
I felt his entire body flinch as my pinkie wedged itself between the leather and denim on his wrist, brushing against his bare flesh for the briefest moment.
His eyes squeezed shut as if from the most immense agony.
When they shot open a second later, he looked completely and utterly shocked.
He yanked his arm from my grasp. Aggressively.
Cade took a step back, refusing to look at me.
“I’m sorry,” I rushed to say, although I wasn’t quite sure what I was sorry for. “I didn’t mean to—”
As quickly as he had appeared, he was gone—his long legs carrying him swiftly down the alley and back onto the street.
Out of sight.
Running from me.
From my touch.
I hadn’t particularly enjoyed Cade’s company, but I had to admit: it was hard not to take his abrupt exit personally.
And he said I’M the one with poor social skills…
I dragged my feet back toward Main Street as I tried to forget the strange encounter and the even stranger boy I’d just met.
How could I forget?
Who is he, anyway?
The way he’d seen right through me so effortlessly.
Like he was reading a book.
And how he’d practically run for his life.
Is it me?
Is there something about me that threw him off? That had scared him?
I didn’t know how long I was standing on the street corner, completely zoned out, trying to process what had just happened.
I must have looked like an idiot.
“Hey,” said a girl’s voice, startling me from my daydream.
I was standing on the edge of the patio outside of the ice-cream parlor when something soft and moist brushed against my palm.
I looked down.
A massive Doberman was sniffing my hand.
“Sorry about Fluffy. She’s not exactly trained yet,” said the girl, her voice soft yet exuberant.
She looked roughly my age, with dark brown hair that hung in a braid on the side of her head—the kind that’s effortlessly messy, yet perfect at the same time.
She was smiling at me, her pale blue eyes squinting against the sunlight.
One of those people who just seemed to radiate warmth, beauty—the whole nine yards.
“You’re Raven, right?” she asked, taking a sip of her milkshake.
I nodded. “Yeah, how’d you—”
“I live next door to you. The pink house with the fence.” She scratched Fluffy fondly behind her ear.
“My name’s Emily,” she continued with a smile. “I was just at your house bringing over some brownies. I met your nanny, Grace. She said you were down here, looking for something to do.”
I tried to stifle my cringe. “Oh, God.” I attempted to laugh, internally mortified. “Sorry… She worries about me.”
Emily grinned. “It was cute. Do you want to sit down? They have the best shakes here. It’s actually becoming a problem for me,” she said, laughing and putting a hand on her flat belly.
I doubt that.
“Come on,” Emily insisted. “I know for a fact that you don’t have an excuse.”
Thanks a lot, Grace.
She doesn’t seem so bad, though.
Defeated, I plopped down into the chair across from her.
Emily took another large slurp from her milkshake. “So, how do you like Elk Springs so far? I mean, besides this ungodly heat wave.”
“It’s—you know—fine,” I replied, trying my best to sound convincing.
She looked at me expectantly, as if unwilling to accept my terse response.
I supposed that was what small towns were like.
No boundaries. No personal space.
And yet, she was so easygoing. So likable.
Normally this kind of social interaction was like pulling teeth, but something about Emily made me want to open up to her.
“Honestly, it was going okay until I bumped into this guy,” I said.
Her ears perked up immediately. “A guy? Wait, not Cade Woods?” Emily’s voice lowered when she said his name, almost with a certain reverence.
“How did you know?”
“He’s in my grade,” she said. “I saw him flying around that corner like two seconds before you. He looked completely freaked out. What was that about?”
She scooted her chair in closer, as if we were discussing the juiciest of gossip.
He caught me talking to a ghost and called me out on it. And then took off when I touched his skin. Apparently I repel boys.
But I didn’t say that.
“To be honest,” I said, “I have no idea. But, he just, like, bolted. Out of nowhere. It was really strange.”
Emily smiled knowingly. “Sounds like him.”
This time, I scooted closer to her. “What’s his deal, anyway? He’s very…”
“Hot?” she guessed.
“No—I was gonna say intense.”
“Oh, yeah—that too.” She thought for a moment. “Cade is very—well, he’s had an interesting life, I guess you could say. Everyone here knows who he is. And I mean everyone.”
“What, like he’s famous?”
Emily glanced over her shoulder to see if anyone was eavesdropping before responding, lowering her voice. “More like…infamous.”
I thought back to those dark, frightening eyes. The pure hostility that seemed to emanate from his very skin.
I couldn’t quite place it. That something about him that I couldn’t seem to push out of my mind.
It was almost like a strange magnetism.
Not like a physical attraction, but something purely metaphysical.
That rare feeling you get when you first meet someone, and you instantly know they’re going to impact your life.
To change your world.
At the very least, I knew one thing:
Cade Woods was dangerous.