Romance

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The Game of Hope
Excerpt

I saw a man approaching. Cloaked and hooded, he moved with grace in the flickering candlelight.
My heart soared. Father!
He put out one hand, gloved in white leather. Hope was aglow all around him.
But then—as always—his hood fell back, and there was only a bloody stump where his head should have been.
I screamed, gasping for air, my heart pounding.

Mouse and Ém tried to calm me, but I only wept all the harder.
What did my father want?
Why was he haunting me?
Maîtresse rushed into our room in rumpled nightclothes, a shawl thrown haphazardly over her shoulders. “Such screaming, angel! You’ll terrify the Little Geniuses,” she said, putting down her candle. The shadows made her face look like that of a ghoul.
“I’m sorry,” I sobbed, slipping the miniature enamel portrait of my father from under my pillow. Father: so handsome, so elegant, to have died like that, the crowd cheering as his head fell into a basket of wood shavings.
“It’s that same night-fright she always has,” Mouse told her aunt, her voice tremulous.
“That scary dream of her father,” my cousin Ém said.
I looked into Maîtresse’s eyes. She was mistress of our boarding school, quite strict and demanding, yet we all loved her. “With his—” I winced, making a slashing motion across my neck.
“Come here, my sweets,” Maîtresse said, opening her arms.
Dragging their blankets, Ém and Mouse huddled in close. I could feel Mouse trembling. We called ourselves the Fearsome Threesome, but in the dead of night, Fearful Threesome might have been more apt.
“Repeat after me,” Maîtresse said, pulling the blankets snugly around us. She smelled deliciously of vanilla. “We are safe now.”
“We are safe now,” we whispered in unison.
Safe now, safe now, safe now.
But were we? It had been four years since the tyrant Robespierre had been executed, bringing an end to the Terror—but what if it were to happen again? Practically every girl in our school was of the nobility. What was to keep us from being hunted down, having our heads cut off?

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Aftermath
Excerpt

I will not say that the day Jesse Mandal asked me out was the best of my life. That’s silly, trite, foolish. But I was thirteen, which means I was all of those things. After school, I would have danced home, humming “Best Day Ever.” I’d have tweeted cryptic emojis of hearts and endless exclamation marks. I’d have lain in bed listening to All-Time Five sing about love, glorious love.
I was thirteen. I was that girl. But I didn’t dance home at the end of the day. I didn’t send any tweets. I never listened to ATF again. Because after that day, I’d never be that girl again.

The day started as my days had for the past year, no longer rising to my mom singing whatever song she can mangle my name into—“Good morning, Skye-shine,” or “The Skye will come up tomorrow.” I’d groan and bury my head under the pillow until she went off to do the same to my brother, Luka—who gets Suzanne Vega’s “Luka,” having been named after the song.
It was only when those wake-ups stopped that I realized how much I’d secretly loved them. Just like I’d loved her hot breakfasts, even when I complained that I could sleep in an extra twenty minutes if she’d let me grab a juice box and granola bar, like all my friends did.
That day I rise to the alarm moments before Luka raps on my door with, “Skye? You up?” He showers first—he’s sixteen and needs it more, and sometimes there’s no hot water anyway, if Mom forgot to pay the bill again. We both try to be quiet and not wake her. When Dad is away on business she’s rarely out of bed before noon, and in the past six months he’s been gone more than he’s been home.
I’m grabbing a juice box and bar when Luka says, “That is not a proper breakfast.”
“So you’ve said. Every morning.”
“That isn’t even real juice. You might as well drink soda.”
“Well, then . . .” I take a Coke from the fridge.
He plucks the can from my hand. “Sit. I’m making you scrambled eggs and toast.”
“You don’t have time.”
“I do. Isaac’s picking me up today. He’s borrowing his mom’s car and—”
A horn sounds outside. I arch my brows.
Luka’s cell pings with a text. He reads it and says, “Seriously?”
“That’s Isaac, isn’t it?”
“Yeah. He’s early. Something’s up. So important.” He rolls his eyes. “It always is with him.” He starts to type a response. “I’ll walk to school.”
“Then you’ll be late. And if we fight about it, we’ll wake Mom.”
He hesitates and then says, “Tomorrow, okay? I’ll cook for you tomorrow.”
“And I’ll drink real juice today. Just for you.”
He comes over and squeezes my shoulder. “You’re a good kid, Skye. Even when you try not to be.”
I stick out my tongue. He grins, grabs his backpack and jogs to the door.

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