Chapter One: Heart Stopping

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Melody Bennett read the lone, terrible word once more, willing it to change. She wasn't so fortunate, for no matter how she squinted, tilted her head, or turned the ragged-edged slip of paper in her hand, the writing remained the same. The letters mocked and jeered her. She imagined the inked lines standing up from the thin surface and growling at her.


"Melody," Heather Claremont said, her tone sweet and cooing as she twirled the length of her lilac-dyed braid between her fingers.

Looking up, Melody blinked rapidly a few times, as though she'd forgotten what was happening.

"The other girls left, like, five minutes ago. If you wait any longer, you're going to lose."

With a sigh, Melody nodded. Her former high school rival was right, of course. But they'd agreed to turn over a new leaf. Stuck in the same dormitory building at their university, they were rebuilding their friendship. Heather was putting in the effort to see that through, to show that she was past their tenth grade dispute over Nathan Murray—that mousy-haired menace to women everywhere. They'd all been struggling for months to reestablish connections to each other in ways that wouldn't rehash painful memories.

Stuck on Dorning University's small campus for Spring Break, a few girls from Saxon Hall, and some of the faculty, were nearly the only occupants. To prevent the girls from losing their minds out of boredom, Heather had decided on a game. A scavenger hunt, she'd said.

Melody was simply dying to point out that retrieving a single item from another dorm did not a scavenger hunt make, but then Karen Lloyd and Abigail Pierce had not argued. They seemed to find the notion of sneaking into the other buildings to retrieve an object that would prove they'd trespassed without being caught somewhat thrilling.

And though they were permitted in the other dormitories, the fun of Heather's game was the thrill and the threat that they might get caught stealing school property. Melody almost hated to admit that she agreed.

Until she saw the name of the Hall she'd picked. But, meeting Heather half-way was the least she could do.

Heather's dark eyes widened, her gaze shooting from Melody's face to the paper and back. "Something wrong?"

"Uh, no, no." Melody cleared her throat as she tucked the torn slip into the pocket of her jeans. They were supposed to keep their targets secret until they returned with their items; Heather's rules stated the winner would be determined not only by time, but also distance between the buildings, and size of the target dormitory. "I'm just being a coward; I'm good. Off I go."

Heather watched the other girl spin on a heel, her sleek caramel hair bouncing on her shoulders as she disappeared out the door of the Saxon Hall common area. Holding in a self-satisfied sigh, she pulled an empty saucer across the table and upended the paper bag from which the others had drawn the names, dumping a bunch of tiny, crumpled paper slips into it.

She giggled as she extracted a lighter from the end table drawer and set the dish's tiny, fragile contents ablaze. Three slips of paper, all bearing the same name. They were supposed to bear the names of the Dorning's other dormitory buildings, but Heather might have forgotten the rules for a moment. Whoopsie. Of course, none of the girls had seen the way she'd held the bag. No one noticed how she carefully slipped the closer, more pleasant buildings' names into Karen's and Abigail's fingers, guaranteeing that Melody would only be able to pick the one she dreaded most.

Sleight of hand, always so much more useful than anyone thought. Oh, and of course, there was that one other detail she'd forgotten to tell Melody about Collins Hall, but . . . .

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