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NEW! Fourth in Caroline's Young Adult Series The Revengers from Fire and Ice.

Kelsey is not a party girl. She doesn’t want to go to her class get-together but goes anyway, hoping to transform herself. She has a drink, her first ever. She likes the way it makes her feel and has another. And another, until she doesn’t know what’s happening.

In the morning she remembers enough. Everyone else already knows. She is so ashamed, she takes poison.

They find her in time to save her life. But she doesn’t want to be saved, and tries it again.

Meanwhile, Maddie Canfield begins a crusade to teach men that women are actually human beings and not sex toys. She writes an op-ed piece for the newspaper. It offends her ex-boyfriend, Evan Steffers, who perpetrated the outrage against Kelsey. He captures Maddie and her friend Cree, gags and blindfolds them, and locks them in his basement. He promises to come back, but never does. Are they forgotten? Are they meant to die there?

Chapter 1

The dress was a pink sheath. When she saw it in daylight, it had more of a peach tone.

Still, it looked good on her. It was soft and pretty and it didn’t wash out her pale coloring.

The shape was another story. How could she have been so stupid? She knew she didn’t have any figure. The reflection in her mother’s full-length mirror only confirmed that fact. She was as straight up and down as a person could be, and bony.

She turned to look at the back. It was cut low enough to show her chicken wing shoulder blades. Really, really stupid. She reached for the zipper to tear off the dress.

“Kelsey, you look so glamorous!”

Her sister Velda stood in the doorway. “Let me look at you.” Velda came on into the room.

Kelsey shriveled under her touch. Velda was the firstborn, the one who got all the looks. She was shaped the way a woman should be, and had golden blond hair that fell to her shoulders in soft waves. Kelsey’s hair was platinum and tightly curled. She could do nothing but keep it short, a curly mat all over her head. She hated herself. She always would, in spite of Dr. Schiff.

Velda turned her around, studying every angle. “I’ve never seen you looking so beautiful.”

“I am not.” Kelsey snapped it out, but softly. Velda paid no attention.

Kelsey went on. “It’s all wrong! It’s wrong for me and it’s not what the others will be wearing.”

“What are the others wearing?” Velda’s tone was soothing, as though she talked to a child.

“Jeans. Or shorts.” After all, it was August.

“Well, then, why don’t you wear jeans or shorts?”

Kelsey had no answer. She had wanted to be beautiful, but she never would be. Especially not in this dress.

“What sort of party is it?” Velda asked.

“Just a get-together. My class.”

“I see. Before you all scatter to the winds. My class did that, too. It’s sad, leaving Lakeside. Where is this party?”

“At the Brandons’. On Overlook.”

“They have a pool, don’t they? You’re bringing a suit, I hope.”

No way. Cindy Brandon had suggested it, but no way was Kelsey going to expose herself in a swimsuit. The other girls would all be in bikinis. And would look good in them. No way.

“I’m not wearing shorts,” Kelsey said. “Not with these legs.”

Velda looked down at her legs. Hadn’t she ever noticed what sticks they were?

Kelsey folded her arms and huddled into them. “I’m too skinny all over. I don’t have any—anything.”

“Oh, come now. You’re a beautiful young woman.”

“Am not.”

“Kelsey, listen to me. Haven’t all those months of therapy done anything for you?”

“My body image was not what we talked about.”

“Then what did you talk about?”

“That—man.” Kelsey longed to take off the dress, but not in front of Velda.

“The one at school?”

“No!” Not Ben. He hadn’t really done anything, only terrified her. “The one next door.”

“Oh, that man. But he’s in prison now.”

“That’s not why he’s in prison. And he’s not what bothers me.” Kelsey went to her own room and looked through everything she had. Pants, shirts, sweaters. A few dresses that she never wore.

She paused at a black skirt with a flower design and accordion pleats. That might work, as a compromise between jeans and the pink sheath. She would return the sheath, if she could. If not, she would save it for another time and wear it with a lacy stole to hide her chicken wings.

To go with the skirt, a white tee with crocheted edging around the neck. The neckline wasn’t too deep and there was no bare back. She held them up together. The effect was only so-so, but better than jeans if the others were dressed up. Yet not too dressy in case they weren’t.

She wished Velda would leave so she could try on the outfit. Velda stayed, wanting to fix her hair.

Kelsey tamped down her irritation. “There’s nothing you can do with my hair. It just is.”

Once again Velda studied her. Ran a finger through the silver-blond curls. People always told her she was lucky to have naturally curly hair. They didn’t seem to grasp, or didn’t want to, that there was such a thing as too curly.

Glynis Goode from school had hair like Kelsey’s. It was a little darker blond but just as curly. Glynis didn’t mind it at all. She tied it up sometimes, or else wore it frizzed out like a tent. On Glyn it didn’t look too bad. As if it was supposed to be that way. Was that confidence, or what was it?

Velda turned her again and said, “Hmm.”

Would you please just get out of here?

“Maybe what you need is some jeweled combs.” What she needed was somebody else’s hair. Anyway, Velda had just confirmed that she needed something.

“I don’t have any jeweled combs,” Kelsey said.

“I have. Let me run home and get them.”

Run home and stay there.

Her expression must have said it all. Velda relaxed and forgot the jeweled combs. “Who are you going with?”

“Nobody. These are just people from school.”

Velda should have known Kelsey wouldn’t have a date. When did she ever?

“You’re going by yourself? That’s so brave. I mean, it’s not like—I mean, you’ve come a long way, Kel.”

“A long way from what?” Kelsey knew exactly what she meant.

“From the way you used to be.”

That was exactly what she meant.

Velda had to pile it on. “Was it the therapy?”

Oh, sure. Give somebody else all the credit. “Maybe it was me.”

“In that case, sweetie, congratulations.”

Velda didn’t believe her. Kelsey took her chosen garments to the bathroom. Velda followed, asking about shoes.

“Sandals.” Kelsey tried to close the door.

Her sister held it open. “With or without hose?”

“Why hose? This is summer and it’s supposed to be informal.” She had planned to wear stockings and white pumps with the sheath. What a mistake that whole outfit would have been. She hoped the skirt wasn’t too much.

“We had a party like that when we graduated,” Velda said. “It’s so sad, the whole class breaking up after all those years. Anybody else going to be in the Boston area?”

“I don’t know.”

She did know. Ben Canfield, she had heard, was going to MIT. She refused to mention his name or even think about him. Nor would he want to think about her. She was the reason he had left Lakeside. Transferred to the public school right at the beginning of his senior year. All because of her.

“I’m going to take a shower,” she announced to the hovering Velda.

“Take a bubble bath, sweetie. It’s so-o-o relaxing.”

“I don’t need relaxing.”

No doubt Velda could see through that, but she had better not say so. This was a test, going to the party unescorted. She couldn’t be escorted because there was nobody to do that. Cindy Brandon had assured her it wouldn’t matter. Plenty of people, Cindy claimed, were going single. It was a test for Kelsey to prove to herself and others that she could handle it. Not because of the therapist, but just because she was strong. She could do it!

She showered and dressed. Put on lip-gloss and a touch of eyebrow pencil. She needed that, with her blond eyebrows. She checked herself in the full-length mirror. It wasn’t too bad. Could have been worse. She straightened her back and checked again. That was better.

They heard her on the stairs and called for a command appearance. At least her mother commanded it, backed by Velda. They were out on the patio, her mom and stepfather, Velda and Velda’s husband Ron. Both the men approved automatically. The women had endless comments.

“Are you sure you want to wear that?” her mother asked. “What happened to the dress we bought?”

“It’s too formal,” Kelsey mumbled.

“But it was good. Not everybody can wear a dress that slim. This—I don’t know what this is. It’s—it’s—”

“SS&G,” said Velda. It was a term that came from their grandmother and stood for sweet, simple, and girlish.

“That’s what it is, yes. Are you sure you want it?”

“I don’t have anything else.”

Mom glowered, cocked her head, and took another look. “Well—it is rather girlish. But then, you are a young girl. It gives the right idea.” She still seemed doubtful.

Never mind that she was almost eighteen. To Mom she would always be four years old. Stepdad handed her the car keys and finally she could escape.

Overlook Place was a short road that went off from Fremont Drive, where Kelsey’s home was. It didn’t overlook anything more than a steep wooded hill that sloped down toward the Vanorden Kill. In winter when the leaves were off part of the Kill was visible, at least from Glynis Goode’s house at the end of the road. That must have been what it overlooked.

Besides the Goodes’, there were only two other houses on Overlook. The Brandons’ came first. Cars were parked helter-skelter on the grass in front of it. She felt silly arriving in a car when she could have walked. It wasn’t that far, but the car gave her safety. She could still turn around and leave.

But not go home. There would be too many questions. If she said she was suddenly ill, they would see right through it. Even if the illness were genuine, they would know the reason for it.

Why did she have to be such a wimp? All those months with Dr. Schiff hadn’t done a thing. She had told Cindy Brandon she would be here. With that crowd, Cindy wouldn’t know if she wasn’t.

A car whizzed past her and into the Brandons’ driveway. She hoped they hadn’t seen her sitting outside, trying to get up the nerve to go in. She pictured herself driving on in and getting out of the car. In her skirt. Nobody else wore a skirt. They all had on shorts or cut-off jeans.

Dr. Schiff once said, “You have to keep in mind, nobody else is as conscious of you as you are.”

They had been discussing focus. For one brief instant Kelsey had an epiphany. People who weren’t shy generally had an outward focus, on people and things outside themselves. They focused on how other people seemed to them instead of the other way around.

That insight was gone in a second and the focus went back to herself. Really, that was kind of egotistical, but what was she to do? She had read somewhere that there was an actual chromosome for shyness. Maybe she read it wrong, but it made her feel a little better. She was born that way and couldn’t help it.

She put the car in gear, took her foot off the brake, and inched forward. See? That wasn’t so hard. She spotted a place on the grass where she could park and be able to get out easily. She forced herself to continue until she reached it.

Now what? She looked for Cindy Brandon. It might work better if she got out of the car. Most of those people were classmates but not really friends. There were strangers, too, probably dates.

She saw Evan Steffers and the other football players. Evan had left Lakeside but of course they’d invite him. He was part of their class.

She saw Glynis Goode, who was in the class below theirs, but lived next door to the Brandons. They might have had to invite her. Or she invited herself.

Glynis was best friends with Maddie Canfield. Maddie was Ben’s sister. They had both transferred to the public school, but this had been Ben’s class, until he left it. Because of Kelsey.

What if they were both here? Ben wouldn’t want to see her any more than she wanted to see him. Her key was still in the ignition. Just as she reached for it, a car parked behind her, blocking her in.

It must have been a sign. Dr. Schiff sent it, forcing her to this party whether she liked it or not. She got out of the car, trying to put her focus on the pool and the people in it. The pool was a sizable one with underwater lights. It was screened from the road by a row of bushes. If anyone asked, she would tell them she couldn’t go in the water. The girls would understand.

She closed the car door behind her. She debated whether to lock it and what to do with the key. Jeans really would have been a better choice. Her skirt had no pockets. She started forward and nearly bumped into Glynis Goode.

“Hey!” said Glynis. “You got here. Cindy didn’t think you’d make it.”

“Well—I did.”

Glynis wore denim shorts and a multicolor halter-top. She had shapely, tanned legs.

Kelsey said, “I don’t know where to put my keys.”

“I can take them.” Glynis dropped them into a pocket in her shorts. “You drove?”

“Yes, I—” She tried to think of an explanation that would make sense. “For going home.”

Glynis wore her frizzy blond hair in two little clumps sticking out at the sides. Kelsey tried an outward focus. “Your hair looks cute that way.”

“Oh, it’s just to keep it under control.” Glynis took a sip from a plastic cup and eyed Kelsey’s outfit. “You’re not going swimming?”

“No, I—I’m not.”

“Me either. We have our own pool at home. Hey, you want something to drink?”

Evan Steffers walked by and wiggled his eyebrows at them. Probably at Glyn.

Kelsey ventured, “Is Maddie here, if he is?”

“You’re kidding,” said Glyn. “They broke up ages ago. That’s why she left Lakeside. To get away from him, but he still kept bugging her. Then he went away and she was so happy, but now he’s back.”

“How come they broke up?” It sounded as if Maddie did the breaking. But Evan was so hot.

“Didn’t you know? I thought everybody knew. He turned out to be this arrogant control freak. He didn’t even want her talking to her own brother. Imagine being jealous of somebody’s brother. I mean, that’s sick. So what if Ben’s adopted? He’s still her brother. So she split, but then Evan got worse. Some guys can’t handle it. She says it’s ego. Don’t you want something to drink?”

Kelsey pried her thoughts from Maddie’s brother Ben. “What do they have?”

“Everything. Come on inside and pick your poison.”

Kelsey tried not to flinch at the terminology. It was not a new expression. She wanted to be with it, or at least seem as if she was.

Once before, after a party her parents had hosted and she was the only one up the next morning, she discovered someone had left half a drink. She had no idea what it was, that amber liquid, but out of curiosity, she took a sip.

Eww! Someone had doused their cigarette in the drink. It put her off liquor for a very long time, but she was ready to give it another try.

A makeshift bar had been set up in the living room. Kelsey was astounded at what it offered. No adults were in attendance, only two boys she didn’t know.

“Are they allowed to do that?” she asked. “I thought you had to be twenty-one.”

Glyn said, “Really, Kel. What nursery did you just come out of?”

Was everybody else so far ahead of her? She made an effort to feel sophisticated. “What are you drinking?”

“Tom Collins. Try some.” Glyn offered her the cup.

She sniffed it first and then took a sip. It was sweet and tart at the same time. The tartness must have been liquor. “What’s in it?”

“Tom Collins mix. And gin.” Glynis said it with amusement as she watched for Kelsey’s reaction. Kelsey did her best not to react.

She went up to the bar and tried to seem knowledgeable. “Tom Collins, please?” To her distress, it came out a question.

Once she had her drink, they went outside. Glynis kicked off her flip-flops and sat on the pool’s concrete rim with her feet in the water. Kelsey unbuckled her sandals and did the same.

Evan Steffers walked by. He hadn’t been at Lakeside in almost a year. He slipped an ice cube down Glyn’s bare back. She turned around and slapped his leg.

Glyn dealt so easily with all these guys, and bantered so easily with everyone. Kelsey envied her.

College would be different. No one knew her there and she could be a whole new person. She was already starting to put together that person.

She kicked her feet in the water. “This is so nice. I wish we had a pool.”

“You have horses,” Glyn reminded her.

“That’s right,” said Cindy Brandon, who had suddenly materialized. “It’s every little girl’s dream to have a pony.” She crouched down to their level, letting her taffy-colored braid fall forward.

The new Kelsey turned to ask her, “Did you do that when you were little?”

Kelsey laughed. “Even when you were little?”

“Yep, that’s what I wanted. Not so much anymore. I want to go into medicine. Maybe veterinary medicine.”

“Really? That takes a lot of study.”

“I’m up for it. Can I get you a refill?”

Kelsey handed her the plastic cup. When it came back, its contents went down faster than the first time. This was fun. She was glad she hadn’t gone running home

Glynis patted her shoulder. “Take it easy with that. I’ll see you around. I gotta pee.” She stood up and went into the house. Kelsey thought of going, too. Not for the same reason, but so she wouldn’t be left alone.

She wasn’t alone. Someone sat down on the other side of her.

Evan Steffers. She couldn’t believe it. He used to be Maddie Canfield’s boyfriend. Now he was there beside Kelsey. What would Maddie think of that?

Evan wiggled his eyebrows. “What’s up?”

How was she supposed to answer a question like that? She looked into his face and quickly away. His eyes were a deep blue.

How could Maddie have let him go? He was such a hunk. Big and blond, and those shoulders.

Maybe she didn’t let him go. It must have been the other way around and she lied about it.

His question needed answering. “Nothing much.” The Tom Collins gave her courage. “Where were you all last year? Or most of it.”

He grinned. “Did you miss me?”

“Getting around. New Hampshire. Then back again.”

“What were you doing in New Hampshire?”

“Trying out different places. Now I’m home where the best girls are.”

Wow. He couldn’t mean her.

She noticed Glyn a little way in back of him, trying to signal. What was that all about? Why couldn’t Glyn just say it? Kelsey put the cup to her lips and found it empty.

A look inside it confirmed that. She pulled her feet from the water but wasn’t sure she could stand. “I seem to need a refill.”

Evan reached for the cup. “I’ll get it.”

His hand paused in midair. He was looking at Glynis. “How about we go together?” He took Kelsey’s arm and helped her up.

She had no shoes on. The grass wouldn’t hurt her and she wouldn’t hurt it. She giggled, thinking that. She walked across it, up two front steps, and into the Brandons’ living room again.

Carl Brandon, Cindy’s twin, was now manning the bar. Kelsey had always thought he was cute, but nothing compared with Evan, who stayed close by her side.

Carl handed her the refilled cup. Kelsey thanked him, batting her lashes. Carl nodded an acknowledgement.

She turned to go back outside. The room turned with her but it didn’t stop when she did. She had to stand still for a moment until it settled.

Evan waited for her. “You okay?”

How kind of him. Or it might have been more than kindness. Maybe he really liked her.

So there, Maddie Canfield.

Evan had her arm again. She didn’t remember his taking it. He said, “You want to lie down for a while? You’re looking unsteady.”

“I am, aren’t I?” She giggled.

He led her toward a flight of stairs. She had never been in the Brandons’ house before. Obviously the stairs went somewhere, even if they wavered a bit.

“Like a waterfall.” She knew she said it, but it didn’t sound like her.

“What are you talking about?” He paused, looked back, and jerked his head in a beckoning gesture.

There were two steps, then a landing, and then the rest of the stairs went on up to the right.

She climbed slowly, guided by Evan. She wished her head would calm down. He’d asked her a question but she couldn’t remember what it was.

Several people came up behind them. Warner Wall, Marsh Dorman, and Casey O’Keefe. Football players, like Evan. And she was the only girl. Did Maddie ever have it like that?

“Drink up,” said Evan. “We’ll get you another.”

She still had the cup in her hand. It wasn’t quite empty. She swallowed the rest of it.

“Good stuff, huh?” He took the cup and handed it to Warner, who dashed back downstairs.

“No more,” she managed to say.

“He’s already got it. You don’t want to waste that good stuff.”

“Yes, I—” She hiccupped. “—do.”

Warner came back with the refill. She shook her head, which didn’t like being shaken, and refused to take it.

Evan opened a door and led her into a room. It must have been a guestroom, twin beds with matching aqua covers. A bed. That was what she needed.

The other jocks came in with them. She didn’t need a lot of company. She only wanted to close her eyes and sleep.

Evan led her to the nearer bed. Pulled back the cover.

“Now we’re gonna have some fun,” she heard him say.

“Now we’re gonna have some fun,” she heard him say.

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