<>#gazes and pretended to be engrossed in opening her combination lock.
“Look who’s back in town,” Elle said with undisguised disdain.
“And she’s all glammed up with a new hairdo,” Paige added snidely.
“She tried to steal Jarrett, and now she probably wants to sink her claws into Chaela’s new boyfriend.” Elle spoke in a high volume, designed to pique the curiosity of the other students that meandered through the halls.
A small crowd began to gather, and Holland felt compelled to stand up for herself. Whirling around, she faced the three mean girls. Elle and Paige glared at her, while Chaela looked downward, unwilling to meet Holland’s gaze.
“Chaela!” Holland said sharply, forcing Chaela to glance up and look her in the eye. “I never tried to steal Jarrett from you. He lied and told me that you two broke up,” Holland explained.
“It doesn’t matter; it’s cool,” Chaela mumbled and anxiously chewed on a fingernail.
“No, it’s not cool,” Paige disagreed, her face twisted in repugnance. “You caught her cheating with Jarrett and you’re gonna let her get away with it?”
Grinning and jeering, a few overly zealous students began to chant, “Girl fight! Girl fight!”
“I don’t have a problem with Holland. Jarrett’s the past, and I’ve moved on,” Chaela explained, sounding uncharacteristically reasonable. She glanced at Holland. “Listen, you can have Jarrett if you want; he’s all yours.”
“No thanks; I have a boyfriend,” Holland replied calmly.
Unlike her typical, confident self, Chaela seemed frazzled and her eyes shifted around anxiously. Holland also noticed that Chaela didn’t look as polished or as put together as usual. There #LINK<>#were dark circles around her eyes, like she hadn’t slept in days. Her nail polish was chipped, and the nail on her left index finger had been nibbled down to the quick. Her hair was pulled back into a messy ponytail, and there were errant wisps of hair that she kept pushing out of her face. Holland had never seen Chaela look so terrible. She was completely disheveled in a wrinkly, uncoordinated outfit with colors that clashed.
Displeased with the civil exchange of words between Chaela and Holland, Elle’s dark eyes glinted with malevolence. “Chaela’s dating the hot, quarterback from Willow Hills, and so, you can have creepy Jarrett Sloan. You two losers deserve each other,” she said spitefully.
“I’m not interested in Jarrett,” Holland said in exasperation. Then, bitterly recalling how the three cheerleaders used to terrorize her friend, Naomi, Holland suddenly became hot with anger. She advanced toward them so abruptly and in such a threatening manner, the girls flinched and took several steps backward.
“If you girls are looking for someone to bully, you chose the wrong person. I’m not tolerating it. Do you understand?” Holland said in a raised voice.
“Whoa! Holland Manning is gonna kick some cheerleader butt,” an onlooker yelled, hoping to instigate a fight.
“Lighten up, Holland. We were only kidding.” Elle giggled nervously.
Keeping her eyes downcast, Chaela muttered, “Let’s go; we’re gonna be late for class.” Flinging their hair, Elle and Paige sashayed along the corridor. Walking between them, Chaela kept her head hung low.
With no brawl to witness, the group of spectators muttered in disappointment as they reluctantly dispersed.
Doreen Johnson emerged from the throng of students and sidled #LINK<>#up to Holland. “Way to go, Holland. I bet the bitch squad won’t be bothering you anymore.”
“Probably not,” Holland said with indifference.
“Where’ve you been? Heard you were at some fancy-schmancy school.”
“Yeah, I was away at boarding school.”
“What happened . . . did you get kicked out?”
“No. I left on my own. Got homesick.” Holland gave a tight smile and then closed her locker. “See you later; I have to get to my homeroom before the bell.”
“Who do you have for homeroom?” Doreen asked.
“I have Haroldson, too.” Doreen fell into step with Holland. “You should have stayed as far away from Frombleton as possible.”
“Crazy shit’s been happening. Didn’t you hear about Doug Shriver?”
“Yeah, I heard a rumor.”
“It’s more than a rumor. Doug claims he was bitten by a gang of vampires.” Doreen peered at Holland, waiting for her reaction.
“A gang of vampires?”
“Uh-huh. Teenage vampires,” Doreen added. “The McFadden woman said the same thing . . . she said that she and her husband were abducted by two normal-looking teens who turned out to be vicious vampires. She claims her husband was bled dry by a pack of them. People aren’t taking these cases seriously; they don’t want to believe that vampires actually exist.”
Holland knew all too well that the bloodsuckers existed. A shiver rippled through her as she recalled her battle with the Sullivan family. Thankfully, her blood was lethal to vampires, but she wasn’t sure if she could survive an attack by a gang of them.
#LINK<>#Doreen paused outside of Mr. Haroldson’s class. She reached inside her stretchy pink top and furtively revealed a silver crucifix. “I’m wearing this for protection,” she whispered. “You should get one, too; I heard that the vamps are planning to take over Frombleton.”
“Where’re you getting your information?”
“A friend of mine hangs with the vamps.”
The girls entered the classroom and Holland took a vacant seat next to Doreen. “Your friend is probably making up the story; putting a spin on the rumors that are circulating,” Holland suggested, fishing for more information about the vampires.
“It’s true. Vamps are right here in Frombleton. I used to go to their parties, too. But now that . . .” Doreen paused and swallowed. “Now that they’re . . . you know . . . murdering people, I’ve been steering clear of them. But my friend is still partying with them. And, um, so is Jarrett Sloan,” she said in a voice that was low and confidential.
“Jarrett’s hanging with vamps!” Holland exclaimed.
“Keep your voice down,” Doreen cautioned.
“Sorry,” Holland murmured. Last summer, after being a blood slave for Zac the vampire, Jarrett had barely escaped with his life intact. Why would he want to hang out with a vampire gang? Holland mused.
“Knowing what the vampires are up to has been eating at me. I couldn’t risk sounding like a lunatic, so I haven’t talked about this with anyone . . .” Doreen went quiet and she looked around suspiciously. “Other than my friend, I haven’t talked about the vamps with anyone until now.”
“Why’d you decide to tell me?”
“I don’t know; I guess you seemed weird enough to believe me.” Doreen gave an apologetic smile.
#LINK<>#Holland didn’t wince at the back-handed compliment. She no longer cared what anyone thought of her. And to be honest, being a witch of the First Order definitely qualified her as a weirdo.
“Who is this mysterious friend of yours? And why isn’t she worried about vamps taking over the town?”
“She’s actually my ex-best friend. She stole my vamp boyfriend—a hot dude named Chaos. Chaos can be an egotistical dick, but he’s so sexy, it’s easy to overlook his flaws,” Doreen said dreamily.
“Wow, your best friend stole your boyfriend?”
“It may not be her fault . . . vampires can do mind control, you know. I mean, it was so unexpected for her to start dating Chaos. She was seeing several vampire dudes, and she used to criticize me for being so emotionally invested in Chaos. You can’t imagine how hurt and shocked I was when she suddenly fell head over heels in love with him. She actually bragged about how much she likes it when he sucks her blood until she passes out.”
Holland grimaced. “Why would she let him do that?”
“The rush. It’s exciting and intense; like sexual asphyxiation, I guess.”
Holland didn’t know anything about sexual asphyxiation, but she did know that fooling around with vamps was life-threatening! Naomi had been infatuated with a vampire, and it turned out badly. It was chilling to think that another classmate was romantically involved with a dangerous bloodsucker.
“My friend, uh, Sophia . . . she hasn’t been to school in three days. My calls go straight to voice mail. And even though she’s a backstabbing, massive A-hole, I’m still worried about her. I stopped by her house after school yesterday, and her dad’s car is in the driveway, but nobody’s home. It’s like the entire household has disappeared.”
#LINK<>#Sophia Stoddard! Holland recalled that Sophia and Doreen were close friends. During middle school, Sophia had acquired a reputation for being . . . well, sort of loose.
Doreen bit her bottom lip. “I think I know where Sophia’s family is.”
“Downtown. At the old Lilac Hotel.”
Holland stared blankly at Doreen for a moment. “That old, abandoned hotel?”
Doreen nodded. “That’s the vampires’ hideout. It’s where they sleep during the day.”
“Lots of ’em. A couple dozen live there, and Chaos and a few others visit often.”
So, the old Lilac Hotel is their nest! Holland couldn’t stifle a smile. Once she passed this information on to Rebecca Pullman, the vampire crisis would be over. The residents of Frombleton would be safe, and the force field around her house could be removed, and she and her mom would no longer be on lockdown after dark.#LINK<>#