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       Ominous, p.1

         Part #13 of Private series by Kate Brian
 
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Ominous


  An imprint of Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing Division 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, New York 10020 www.SimonandSchuster.com This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2011 by Alloy Entertainment and Kieran Viola All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form. is a trademark of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

  The Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau can bring authors to your live event. For more information or to book an event, contact the Simon & Schuster Speakers Bureau at 1-866-248-3049 or visit our website at www.simonspeakers.com.

  Produced by Alloy Entertainment 151 West 26th Street, New York, NY 10001

  Typography by Liz Dresner

  The text of this book was set in Filosofia.

  Manufactured in the United States of America

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  Library of Congress Control Number: 2010935877

  ISBN 978-1-4169-8472-6

  ISBN 978-1-4424-1288-0 (eBook)

  For Mom, who’s my biggest fan

  I couldn’t move. Outside Billings Chapel, the wind howled. The ancient floorboards overhead creaked and groaned. My bones were like ice. I stared down at the title of the book in front of me, hardly able to absorb what I was seeing.

  THE BOOK OF SPELLS.

  This could not be real. I wasn’t actually standing in the basement of a centuries-old chapel faced with a dusty, leather-bound spell book. I felt like I’d just stepped into a Nancy Drew novel and taken over as the heroine. Tentatively, I reached out to touch the cover, but before I could, the book was snatched away.

  “You have to be kidding me,” Noelle Lange blurted out, holding up the heavy book. Her dark, windblown hair was fanned out over her shoulders and her face was red with fury. “This is why she sent us here? A spell book?”

  My heart caught as she waved the antique tome around like it was no more valuable than an out-of-print dictionary. “Noelle—”

  “You know what I’m going to do with this, Grandmother?” she shouted at the book. “I am going to track you down wherever you are right now and smack you upside the head with it!”

  “Noelle, just … calm down. Don’t go psycho on me now.”

  She hesitated but threw the book back down onto the podium, tossing up a cloud of dust that filled my nostrils. I coughed painfully.

  “Oh, I’m the psycho?” Noelle said sarcastically, yanking her cashmere scarf from her neck with shaking hands. “Right. Because I’m the one who sent us out here in the middle of the night in a snowstorm to find an old book!”

  She threw the scarf over the back of a chair and unbuttoned her wool coat. Apparently her anger was making her hot.

  I walked over to the podium and opened the book, and all the air went out of my lungs. There, in handwriting I’d recognize anywhere, were the words Property of the Billings Literary Society.

  Elizabeth Williams had been a student at the Billings School for Girls back in 1915. I had spent so much time poring over her writings in the Billings Literary Society book, I could probably copy her script by now. I felt like I’d gotten to know her since reorganizing her secret society at Easton Academy. I knew what colors she liked to wear, how she was fiercely loyal to her friends, how she loved living away from home. But now I felt as if I didn’t know her at all. Because nowhere in the BLS book had she ever mentioned a word about spells, or witchcraft, or this huge volume we’d just discovered. Not one single word.

  Noelle stormed over to my side and nudged me out of the way. She opened the book to the center—to a page titled “The Purity Spell”—then quickly flipped the pages forward and back.

  “What’re you doing?” I asked.

  “Checking to see if it’s one of those hide-a-key book things,” she said. “You know, with a big chunk cut out to hide something that actually matters?” She heaved a sigh and slammed the book closed. “Nope. Nothing. Unbelievable.”

  She started across the room, grabbing her scarf again as she went, coiling the ends around both hands and pulling it taut. “You coming?”

  “Where?”

  “Back to campus,” she said impatiently. “Personally, I don’t feel like wasting any more of my time up here.”

  “You’re not gonna take this with you?” I asked, gesturing at the book.

  She rolled her eyes and popped one hip. “Do I look like Sabrina the Teenage Witch?”

  I clucked my tongue. “No, but your grandmother … our grandmother …,” I said hesitantly. I’d only just found out that Noelle and I were half sisters—that her dad was my biological father—and the words weren’t exactly rolling off my tongue. “She wanted us to find it. Maybe there’s more to it than you think. Maybe there’s … I don’t know … something in there she wants us to read.”

  “Fine then.” She slid the book off the podium and started for the stairs. “Happy now?”

  “Ecstatic,” I said sarcastically.

  I followed her up the winding stairs toward the deserted chaplain’s office above, a sparsely decorated room that hadn’t been used for dozens of years. Noelle muttered something under her breath, clearly annoyed, but as we closed the bookcase door behind us, my heart pounded with curiosity and longing. I wanted to know what was in that book—to know what it had to do with Elizabeth Williams.

  Noelle yanked open the office door, and we both heard a tentative creak coming from inside the chapel. We froze and I grabbed her forearm. That had sounded a lot like a footstep. It was after midnight. Why would anyone be up here? Noelle looked over her shoulder at me, eyes wide, and I attempted to swallow.

  “Hello?” she called out.

  There was no answer. Outside, the wind whistled through the bare branches of the forest.

  “Is someone out there?” I shouted. All I could see was a darkened sliver of the chapel that contained a random pillow on the floor where someone had left it after the last BLS meeting, a folded blanket, half the preacher’s pulpit, and an empty LUNA Bar wrapper.

  Another creak. I gasped. Noelle set her jaw and stepped out into the chapel, dragging me with her.

  “No!” I blurted out, terrified.

  “Come on,” Noelle said, letting out a sigh. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”

  She walked purposefully down the center aisle, me scurrying along with her. The wind forced squeals and cracks and groans from the ancient wood walls. I didn’t breathe again until we were outside the chapel, gasping in the crisp winter air, and the door had slammed behind us.

  “I swear I’m going to kill that old crone,” Noelle said, jamming her wool hat down over her brow.

  “Let’s just get back to campus,” I said, eyeing the book. “And don’t drop that, okay? There’s snow and mud everywhere.”

  Noelle rolled her eyes and hugged the book to her chest. “I’ll guard it with my life,” she said mockingly.

  Another loud creak sounded from inside the chapel, and I jumped.

  “Race ya?” I said.

  “Okay,” she replied.

  And we both took off, half speed walking, half jogging through the forest, trying to make ourselves believe there was nothing to fear.

  The following morning, I took the stairs to Noelle’s single in Pemberly Hall. My eyes were puffy and at half-mast—I hadn’t slept at all. I’d spent the entire night thinking about my mom and dad, Noelle’s father, our grandmother, Elizabeth Williams, and that crazy book—and wondering why I couldn’t just worry about normal things. Like my grades. The SATs. My college applications. Those were the things every other junior i
n the country was worrying about. I couldn’t help but wish I’d never left Croton, Pennsylvania.

  I knocked on her door. It took Noelle a moment to answer, and when she did, she grabbed my arm and pulled me inside.

  “Wait. Reed just got here,” she said into her iPhone. “I’m putting you on speaker.”

  Noelle placed the flat cell phone atop her dresser and stepped back. She wore a gray wool skirt that came halfway down her calves, paired with heeled black boots and a black ballet-neck sweater. Her dark brown hair was pulled back from her face on the sides, and her makeup was impeccably done, complete with fully lined eyes and lavender eye shadow.

  Apparently she had slept. I pulled my navy cotton cardigan tighter around my wrinkled long-sleeved T-shirt and stifled a yawn.

  “Girls?” Mrs. Lange’s voice came through the speaker loud and clear. “Girls, are you there?”

  “We’re right here, Grandmother,” Noelle said, placing her hands on her hips.

  “Reed?”

  Noelle knocked me with her elbow.

  “I’m here,” I croaked.

  “Good. Noelle is a bit … out of sorts this morning,” Mrs. Lange said, sounding displeased. “Perhaps you can help me calm her down.”

  “Calm me down?” Noelle blurted. “Like that’s gonna happen. You sent us out into the snow in the middle of the night to find the quote-unquote key to our future and what do we find? A book about witchcraft.” She went over to her bed and yanked the thick tome out from under a tangle of bedsheets and silk pajamas, holding it up as if her grandmother could see it. “Is that what you’re trying to tell us, Gram? Really? That you think we’re witches? I’m sorry, but you’re either senile or really, really bored.”

  I took the book from Noelle with two hands, tired of watching her fling it around like an old paperback novel. This book had once belonged to Elizabeth Williams and was therefore a precious relic to me—whether or not the content was ridiculous.

  “Seriously, Grandmother, have you ever thought about taking up mah-jongg?” Noelle continued without pause. “I hear it really helps keep your faculties in order.”

  “Noelle,” I scolded under my breath.

  She widened her eyes at me. “What?”

  Through the speaker, I heard Mrs. Lange take a deep, patient breath. “Girls today are so skeptical and jaded. But you two—you have no idea the power you could wield.”

  Noelle rolled her eyes.

  “So …?” I said slowly, hugging the book to my chest. “Are you saying that you’ve actually done witchcraft?”

  “No,” she admitted. Noelle threw up her hands and turned away. She’d been back at school for almost two weeks and her Louis Vuitton rolling case was still open on the floor. She picked it up and turned it over, dumping its entire contents out on her gold and burgundy throw rug. “No one at Billings has practiced in a long time,” Mrs. Lange continued. “But the two of you … Girls, you have no idea how powerful you could be, now that you’re together.”

  I felt an odd chill go through me, and I looked over at Noelle. She was sorting through a pile of balled-up sweaters, crumpled socks, and tangled necklaces, her fingers shaking slightly.

  “You have a unique opportunity here,” Mrs. Lange continued, oblivious to Noelle’s silent tantrum. “You might be able to fix certain things, set right the unpleasant … situation that has arisen at Easton.”

  Noelle stood up straight, her arms falling down at her sides, one hand clutching an Hermès scarf, the other the gold chain strap on a Gucci purse. We looked at one another, and I knew we were thinking the same thing: The woman was senile. But then I saw a flash of movement behind Noelle, a blur of color against the stark white snow outside. Stepping over the pile of clothes at my feet, I carefully walked to the frost-laced window and peered out. There, across the quad at the decimated site of the former Billings House—our former home—was a group of people in long wool coats. I recognized the perfect posture of Headmaster Hathaway and the jet-black curls of Demetria Rosewell, one of the more powerful Billings alums. They walked carefully around the jagged stone outline that was the footprint of the demolished building, along with a pair of men who pointed and jotted notes on clipboards and bent their heads together in the bright sunshine.

  I felt a familiar hollowing-out sensation in my gut. “What’s that about?” I whispered to Noelle.

  “I don’t know,” Noelle replied, coming up behind me.

  Chilling words, coming from her, since normally she knew everything. Although lately, my know-it-all friend had dropped the ball more than once. The idea of her not always being in charge was going to take some getting used to. I turned and looked at the phone.

  “Mrs. Lange?”

  “Yes, Reed.”

  “Do you mean …” I kept one eye on the group out the window, their feet sinking into the snow. “Do you mean that we might be able to bring Billings back?”

  For the first time that morning, Noelle looked intrigued.

  “Now you’re thinking, Reed.”

  There was a glimmer of pride in her voice, and I felt it in my chest. I’d made my grandmother proud. Weird. Noelle and I looked at each other, then out the window. Mrs. Rosewell was shaking hands with Mr. Hathaway, nodding in a satisfied way. The sunlight glinted off Mr. Hathaway’s wide smile. There was something foreboding about it. Like someone was making a deal with the devil, but I wasn’t sure which side was good and which was evil. All I knew was that I didn’t like it.

  Noelle and I exchanged a glance. What if we could bring Billings back? Wouldn’t it be worth it to hear our grandmother out?

  “No. No way.” Noelle shook her head and stepped away from the window, as if she was shaking herself out of a daydream. She tossed her things onto her bed. “We are not witches, Grandmother. This is not some CW summer series.”

  “I don’t know what that means,” Mrs. Lange said.

  “It means this conversation is over,” Noelle replied. She plucked the phone off the dresser and held it in front of her mouth. “I’ll call you later, Grandmother. We’re late for breakfast.” Then she ended the call before Mrs. Lange could protest.

  “Well,” I said. “That was rude.”

  “She’ll get over it,” Noelle replied, shoving the phone into the rust-colored Birkin bag she was currently using for her schoolwork. She turned and sat down on the mound of her comforter with a sigh. Her shoulders slumped slightly. “I’m sorry, Reed.” She looked up at me tentatively. “For everything. The whole faked-kidnapping thing was her idea. She kept talking about birthright and us being sisters and how you needed to go through this test to prove that I mattered more to you than anything…. She said if you passed, then we’d have our reward. I thought it was just another one of her eccentric projects to pass the time and figured she was going to … I don’t know … give us the keys to some villa in Spain I’d never heard about so we could bond this summer.” She sighed again and her eyes fell on the book, which I still held clutched to my chest. “I never would have said yes to any of it if I knew she was batshit crazy.”

  “It’s okay,” I said, releasing my grip slightly so I could look down at the worn cover. “I can see how she could be really … persuasive.”

  A tingling sensation sprang to life in my chest and traveled down my arms and into my fingertips, making the book feel warm in my hands. I never would have said this to Noelle in a billion years, but there was this teeny-tiny part of me that wondered … what if Mrs. Lange wasn’t crazy? What if what she’d said was true and we could wield some kind of power? I’d seen some insane stuff since I’d started school at Easton last fall. Nothing supernatural, of course, but definitely crazy—things I never would have thought were possible even two years ago. What if this was possible too?

  “Okay, forget this.”

  Noelle plucked the book right out of my hands and tossed it back onto the mess of her bed. My fingers felt cold suddenly, and I tucked them under my arms.

  “I say we concentrate on m
ore important things,” she said, her brown eyes bright.

  “Like what?” I said, trying not to look over her shoulder at the book.

  “Things based in actual reality.” She reached for her black-and-white plaid coat and opened the door for me, but I hesitated. “What?” she asked impatiently.

  “Do you mind if I take that?” I said, gesturing toward the book. “I mean, if you’re not going to look at it—”

  “Seriously?” She walked to her bed, picked up the book, and held it out to me. “It smells like rotting garbage and mold. Please take it.”

  I reached for the book, but she snatched it back toward her shoulder, giving me an appraising glance. “As long as you promise me you’re not going to try anything in it. Because I really don’t think I could be friends with someone who actually believes in this crap.”

  I held her gaze. “I promise.”

  Her eyes narrowed further, but after a long moment she handed the book over. I stuck it in my messenger bag and pulled the flap down over it.

  “As I was saying,” Noelle said as we stepped out into the hallway. “I think we should talk about throwing you the most kick-ass seventeenth birthday party in the history of birthdays. You’re a Lange now. I’d say you’re well overdue.”

  Instantly, my shoulder muscles coiled.

  “I’m not a Lange.”

  I tried to keep the irritation out of my voice, but it didn’t entirely work. The thing was, I barely even knew Noelle’s dad, and I wasn’t even sure if I wanted to. But I was certain that I didn’t feel like part of their family. I was a Brennan, and I always would be.

  Noelle rolled her eyes as she started to close the door behind us. “Whatever. Daddy did call you, right? He said he left you a message.”

  “Yeah. He did. I just … haven’t gotten around to calling him back yet,” I told her.

  I’d gotten the message yesterday morning, right after I’d left the hotel where Mrs. Lange had given us the key and sent us on our wild-goose chase. My mother and I had hit a diner for lunch and had just sat down in our booth when the phone rang—an unrecognizable 212 number. Later, after listening to the message, I’d lied to my mother and told her it was my boyfriend, Josh. Because how was I supposed to tell her that the guy who’d fathered me all those years ago was now calling me up, saying he wanted to be a part of my life? She’d chosen my dad. Chosen to forget her mistake and leave my biological father behind. And now … because of me … he was back.

 
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