Moonlight is dangerous. Even at a lame Swiss boarding school, where everything is as bland as the morning muesli, the moon’s seductive glow holds danger. Long shadows of poplar trees become shimmering specters on the freshly fallen snow. Stone chimneys rise like dark gargoyles overhead. Familiar surroundings seem strange and foreboding. But maybe the biggest danger of all is that moonlight takes away the privacy of the dark, revealing things that are better left unseen.
On a cold night in November, moonlight found the windows of my dorm room at theSteinfelderAcademyfor Girls. As I had so often that fall, I stared up at the full moon, worrying about Austin Bridges the III, the most dangerous person I knew, and wondering if he thought about me.
It’s bad enough that most people go through their whole lives searching for their one true love, but when you do meet him and he turns out to be a werewolf—a werewolf who disappears on you—things can get pretty depressing. Especially for me, Shelby Locke, former brat camper turned Swiss boarding school prisoner.
Standing before the window, bathed in the melancholy light, I traced the scar on my arm—the scar I’d earned helpingAustinescape Camp Crescent, the place we’d met last June. Assisting him with an exit strategy so that his hairy secret wasn’t revealed had come at a greater price than just a flesh wound—it had meant doing time at Red Canyon Ranch, the desert boot camp where I’d spent the rest of the summer. But just at my lowest point there,Austinhad arrived to save me from the boredom and despair of hikes, latrine digging, and endless boot shining.
Unfortunately, when the summer came to an end,Austinjetted back to the never-ending supply of antichange serum waiting for him inLondon, and I was packed away to a crappy girls’ school made of stone and surrounded by mountains.
I’m no genius, but I got the message my stepmother, Honeybun, and Dad were sending me:
You will finish out high school in a remote Swiss fortress, far from our mansion in Beverly Hills, far from your original hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin and any friends you ever knew. We will keep you out of sight and out of mind. You do not exist in our reality.
Honeybun and Dad couldn’t have picked a worse or more isolated boarding school if they’d tried. High up in an old mountain chateau,SteinfelderAcademyfor Girls was like a prison for embarrassing daughters of the privileged class. A jail for snobs, nerds, delinquents, and the misunderstood. I put myself in the last category because any rule I’d ever broken had been for what I thought at the time was a good cause. Sadly, helpingAustinhad, in the end, made me seem a bigger delinquent than I’d ever actually been. I found out the hard way that the world doesn’t give you points for good intentions.
It had almost healed over now, the scar on my arm. It was only a faint red crescent, but often when I thought ofAustin, it itched. And sometimes, when I stood in front of the dorm window drinking in moonlight, it almost burned. If I had gotten a tattoo on my arm that said, “Austin” it wouldn’t have been as big a reminder of our night in the forest, the night he almost died saving me. You’d think after going through something like that together we’d be inseparable, that even the stone walls of a remote Swiss chateau couldn’t keep him away. But I hadn’t heard a peep from him since I’d arrived at that castle of crapola.
No letter. No telegram. No pigeon with a message tied to its leg. The last time we’d spoken was when we’d said goodbye in the desert. Since then, it was like he’d fallen off the face of the earth. Or maybe it was just me. I’d fallen off into a snow-filled crevasse named Steinfelder.
In the tradition of other “attitude adjustment” institutions, Steinfelder had confiscated our phones and kept us from e-mail access, so it wasn’t like I could contactAustin. Standing in the moonlight, as weird as that sounds, was the only way I’d found to be close to him. It was the way I remembered what we’d shared during a summer that now seemed so long gone.
“Tchk, tchk.” My roommate Marie-Rose made a concerned sound across the room. “Always at the window. Go to bed.” She was bossy for being only five feet tall, but maybe having people call her Rosemary all the time had given her a chip on her shoulder. Well, that and being kicked out of the best ballet schools in Europe.
I drew the lacy curtain, which did very little to shut out the moonlight. “I’m sorry. I can’t sleep.”
“No kidding,” she replied.
Sighting, I switched on the light between our beds.
“Mon dieu!” Marie-Rose squealed, throwing a pillow against her eyes.
“What are you, a vampire? Are you going to burn?”
Marie-Rose lowered her light shield. “No, but it’s two a.m. You really want Mrs. Lemmon to find our light on?”
I shuddered. The last thing we needed was that crotchety dorm-mother-slash-history-teacher on our case. I fished a flashlight out of the nightstand drawer.
“Sorry. I’ll read a book under the covers.”
“Ah, no,” Marie-Rose said, waving me off. “I can’t sleep now, anyway.” She sat up in bed and rooted around under her pillow. “I’ve been waiting all day to read these magazines my mother sent,” she said, throwing me one of them.
Never having been the most athletic girl in school, I missed the throw and the tabloid fell to the floor, opening to the center spread. A girl with raven hair stared up at me from a glossy paparazzi photograph.
I slipped out of the covers to retrieve the magazine. “Eva’s petit ami,” I said, reading the French headline aloud.
“Eva’s boyfriend,” Marie-Rose translated.
“Probably Eva Maleva. You know, the European pop princess?”
I hadn’t heard of her, but there was something captivating about Eva’s eyes. She was definitely pretty. I was about to turn the page when I noticed the guy on her arm—a hood over his face, like he was hiding from the photographers accosting the pair outside Eva’s concert. He had beautiful, full lips, but I could barely make out the rest of his dark features in shadow beneath the hood. And then, amongst all the French gobbledygook beneath the picture, I read a familiar name: Austin Bridges III.
“Oh, crap.” I threw the magazine back on the floor and turned off the light.Austinhad a new girlfriend! That was why he hadn’t been in touch.
“Excuse me,” Marie-Rose growled. “I was reading over here.”
“Right. Sorry.” I clicked the light back on.
“Oh, cherie, you’re crying! What’s wrong?” I wiped my wet eyes against the sleeves of my sleep shirt. “Remember that boyfriend I told you about?” I said in a small voice. “He’s in your magazine with Eva.”
“What? No!” Marie-Rose jumped out of bed and picked up the tabloid. “That’s your Austin with her?”
I nodded, still snuffling. “Apparently, he goes for the beautiful, famous type now.”
Marie-Rose sat down next to me and put her tiny arm around my shoulders. “It is probably not what you think,” she said. “I’m sure Eva is photographed with many people.”
I shrugged out from her grasp. “I told you he hasn’t been in touch for months.”
Marie-Rose’s eyes were kind behind her wispy red bangs. “Until you know the truth about why he hasn’t written, there is no reason to get upset. He will be in many magazines, that boy. It’s hard to avoid when you are the son of a rock star.”
I had to admit, my roommate had a point. The tabloids had always plagued Austin and his family. It was a fact of his life. “And what about that Eva girl?”
“She’s got a different boyfriend every month, if you believe the rumors. Now, we should turn off the lights and sleep.” Marie-Rose climbed under the covers of her bed. “As my maman says, everything will look better in the morning.”
I extinguished the light, and moonlight flooded the room again. Just as my eyes closed, I swear I heard a wolf’s cry off somewhere in the night. But that, of course, was probably wishful hearing. If I know anything about the night and the moon, it’s that you can’t trust the dangerous tricks they play.
You would think, being in Europe and all, that theSteinfelderAcademyfor Girls would have good food. That world-class chefs, hired to feed the errant girls of the wealthy, would be staffing the kitchen, preparing an array of delicious, unpronounceable foodstuffs.
Instead, every meal was almost impossible to choke down. Maybe it was some sort of secret diet plan our parents had us on: we would become so broken down by malnutrition we would become the complacent robots they’d always hoped we’d be. Or maybe the owners of Steinfelder were just horribly cheap.
Anyway, as I sat down to our culinary torture the next night, I was still deep in shock from having seen the picture ofAustinwith Eva Maleva, perfect European pop princess. Marie-Rose floated down next to me on the bench, her normally serene face showing concern. If I didn’t already feel like crying, the air was thick with the smell of burnt onions.
I rested my chin in my hands on the long oak table, looking toward the windows, which revealed a darkening landscape. The poplars at the edge of our field were glazed with ice crystals reflecting the fluorescent glow of Steinfelder’s security lights, and in the distance, the chain link fence was a reminder that there was no easy way out of this place. If you somehow made it over the fence, you’d face the extremely steep, icy road that led down from our mountain perch. The duke who’d built this place had wanted absolute solitude. That was our inheritance. Our punishment.
The dining room, always silent before meals, came alive as the first-year students finally arrived at the tables with the food. Our puny server pranced over, giggling, and nearly knocked her domed silver platter onto the floor.
“Whoops,” she mumbled, setting it down with a crash, which slopped juice of some sort onto our table. “Sorry.”
Anxious to get it over with, I lifted the lid and found a pile of steaming something, surrounded by blackened baby onions. “Oh, yum.”
The server girl took the lid from my hands. “It’s sweetbreads and cow tongue. Enjoy,” she said, skipping off back to the kitchen.
I grabbed a serving fork and prodded one of the brown chunks. “What are we supposed to do with this?”
“We eat it. As on every other night.” Marie-Rose took the fork from me and selected a big piece, slapping it onto my plate. Then she served herself.
“Just once, I’d like to uncover a juicy porterhouse steak.”
“Yes, un bisteck avec des pomme frites,” Marie-Rose said, looking down wistfully at her plate. “Alors,I’m going to pretend we are sitting in a bistro on theLeft Bank.”
“Good luck with that.” I tried to cut the piece of meat on my plate, but as expected, it was rubbery. I know that some people actually like guts and stuff when they’re cooked right—I’ve watched enough Travel Channel shows to know they’re a delicacy—but this stuff had been boiled to the texture of a Super Ball. Sighing, I helped myself to another hunk of Steinfelder’s dense wheat bread. Then I grabbed the meat platter, spooning some of the baby onions into my plate. I would fill up on vegetables, even if they were burnt.
As I set the platter back down on the table, though, I felt something near the rim. Something taped there. Had that been why the server girl had giggled? Without letting anyone see, I dislodged the tiny piece of folded paper and shoved it into my pocket.
I forced down some of the onions and the bread and listened to Marie-Rose’s recap of her Advanced Math class earlier that day. Near the end of her story, the servers came around to clear the table, and I earned a scowl for leaving my meat on my plate. I knew what was next on the menu, a watery pudding dessert, but at least that might kill the taste of Super Ball and blackened onions.
“So, are you going to tell me? What did you find?” Marie-Rose whispered. Always observant, she must have seen me pocket the note.
“I’m not sure,” I said, unrolling the little paper in my lap.
It won’t be long now.
Seriously. That’s all the stupid thing said. Like I knew what to do with that.
Marie-Rose elbowed me in the side. “What is written?”
“Shh.” I passed it to her.
She read it in the folds of her napkin, and then handed it back to me. “What does that mean? Do you know who sent it?”
“Someone in the kitchen, I guess.”
“Maybe it was meant for another table?” she whispered. “But who is A?”
“A?” I unrolled the note again and looked at it more closely. Sure enough, in the tiny script in the lower left corner was the letter A. I turned over the paper, looking for more writing I had missed, but I didn’t see anything. Could A be for Austin? My heart swelled with hope as I stared down at the little missive, hoping I was right.
“And, what do we have here, girls?”
Marie-Rose and I straightened up.
“Nothing, Madame,” Marie-Rose said.
Madame LaCroix, headmistress of Steinfelder, stood at the foot of our table, a beatific smile improbably displayed on her thin lips. “It looks as if you were passing a note,” she said, her voice like icicles down the back of my neck. “Hand it to me, please.”
I crushed the note in my hand, trying as hard as I could to smudge the writing, to break down the fibers of the paper so it was unreadable.
“Come, come,” she said, smiling as if doing so pained her. Her hand shot out, a collection of keys clinking like chimes behind the jeweled bracelet on her wrist.
“We found it,” I said, dropping the note into her palm. “I’m not even sure what it means. Maybe it’s referring to dessert?”
Madame LaCroix donned the reading glasses hanging from the gold chain around her neck and peered down at the paper. She made no comment as she folded it into a crisp square and stowed it in her bosom. “Mesdemoiselles,” she said, turning to address the crowded dining room. “As all of you know, we don’t pass notes here at Steinfelder.” She swiveled back toward us. “I’ll see you two girls after your last class tomorrow for extra homework. And in case you’re wondering, the note is mine. Don’t even entertain the thought of my returning it to you.”
Like I wanted to touch it after it had been stored in her bra. “Um, okay,” I said. “No problem.”
Madame LaCroix sauntered off to yell at a girl who’d fallen asleep next to her dish of pudding.
“Do you think A might be…” Marie-Rose trailed off, making the connection herself.
I shrugged, not sure what to make of the mysterious note, but the thought ofAustinmade me smile as I forced down the barely edible dessert, which had just landed on our table. Had he found a way to get a message to me in this awful place?
My heart lifted with the thought that “It won’t be long now” meantAustinwas coming to Steinfelder. And that I’d find out what had kept him away in the first place.
I just hoped it had nothing to do with Eva Maleva.