Chapter 1

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Bloodshot.

Emery Parker focused on her reflection in the hotel mirror. A pool of grey stared back at her, the usual whites of her eyes replaced with intersecting red and white lines. Gripping the edge of the sink, she turned the faucet on, watching the smooth stream of water as it circled down the drain. Her hands dove under the steady flow, cool water splashing onto her face. She reached for a towel and dried her hands, then patted her face dry.

Her index finger grazed the screen of her phone. Holoicons hovered in the empty space before her. Messages, contacts, email. But there was only one thing she could seem to focus on. The date.

June 1, 2055.

Emery eyed the holoicons for a few more seconds before smacking the phone to the corner of the bathroom counter. It teetered on the edge, begging to be saved from its inevitable crash-landing.

Her gaze met the distraught figure in the mirror. Dirt and ash matted her once rich auburn hair, and the dark circles under her eyes had shifted from a faint purple to a deep violet.

How had she gotten here?

Emery sighed, breaking eye contact with the pitiful image before her. Her knees buckled as she collapsed onto the frigid tile, the towel falling to the floor.

How had she let this happen?

Her head fell into her hands, fingers drumming against her temples in rhythm with her accelerating heartbeat. She focused on slowing her breathing.

One Mississippi. Two Mississippi. Three.

With a deep inhale, Emery hoped that she could somehow overcome the feeling of dread that had followed her for weeks. All she wanted was to go home. To see her mom and her sister. To know that they were safe.

But she couldn't go back. Not anymore. Her home-her world-was gone. Nonexistent.

She'd made sure of that.

Emery clasped her right hand over her chest, eyes closing as her heart calmed, the thud low and deep.

That was the thing about shattered hearts. Even in the midst of tragedy, they begin to heal.

+ + +

One year earlier.

Emery heaved the final box out of her palisade-blue bedroom, mesmerized by the sunbeams dancing on the walls like tightly wound ballerinas. Leaning against the doorframe for support, she lugged the box right in front of her younger sister's room. She knocked on the door and poked her head inside, scanning the room for any sign of Alexis. The room was vacant, aside from the television's weak attempt to break the silence.

Emery wandered down the hall in search of her sister's whereabouts. The den was empty. So was the guest bedroom. Alexis always seemed to disappear at the most inconvenient of times-not all that surprising for a thirteen-year-old.

"Emery," her mother called from the kitchen, "are you almost ready? If you don't leave soon, you're going to run into traffic!"

The time had finally come. Emery Rae Parker was about to transfer to boarding school at the prestigious Darden Preparatory . . . if she ever left and made it in time.

Over the ironclad railing, her sister's brown ponytail swayed as she climbed up the steep staircase. Alexis looked strung out and tired, or perhaps it was just the Arizona heat that had flushed her freckled cheeks beyond recognition.

"Please tell me this is the last one," Alexis said, looking down at the misshapen box.

Emery nodded with a sheepish smile. "It should be. I'll check one more time, just to be sure."

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