“She was regaling the entire table with tales of your viciousness,” he added, eyes glimmering.

“Me?” Forgetting about the whole eye screwing thing, I twisted toward him, which caused his knee to slide against the inside of my leg. My breath caught in my throat, and our gazes locked. I waited for him to pull back, but he didn’t. Neither did I. The grin on his face went up a notch.

His lashes lowered. “You.”

For a moment I had no idea what he was talking about. Something to do with . . . ah, yes. Bitchiness. “Wendy said I needed to cover up my face.”

He frowned. “She said what?”

I pointed at the strawberry mark. “Said I was grossing her out.”

“Well, that’s rude.” Heidi stuck out her lower lip. “It’s not like you can help it.”

“She’s a charmer,” Jensen murmured.

“And you dated her.” I grinned when his lips thinned a bit. “Just saying.”

He shifted in his seat, dragging his leg alongside mine, and I thanked God and Buddha that Heidi couldn’t see it, because I was convinced that Jensen was leg screwing me. “I wouldn’t say I dated her.”

My skin prickled. Wasn’t jealousy. Absolutely not. “That’s nice.”

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He shrugged his shoulder as he glanced over at Heidi, who watched us like she needed a bowl of popcorn in front of her. “So Ella was eye screwing me?”

“Oh my God!” I shot her a death glare when she started to respond. “I was not eye screwing anyone. What are you doing over here anyway? This is not your table.”

“We have assigned tables?” he asked.

Heidi pursed her lips. “I don’t think we do.”

I rolled my eyes. “You have always sat with them since you came back.”

His eyes had regained that playful, lazy quality. “So?”

“So?” I took a drink of my water. “You’re here.”

“I am.” He knocked his knee off mine again. “I wanted to visit you.”

Heidi made a cooing sound. “Aw, that’s so sweet.”

My fingers curled along the edge of the table and I shot her another look.

“What?” She pouted. “It is sweet. He crossed the brutal sea of the cafeteria just to visit you.”

“I think it’s incredibly sweet, too,” Jensen said, biting down on his lower lip.

My mouth twitched as I fought a smile. “You know, both of you—”

A high-pitched shriek cut me off. The sound was so loud and clear that it whipped through the noisy cafeteria, silencing everyone. I jumped to my feet just as Jensen did the same.

The shrieking sound came again. It was coming from Brock’s table. Without thinking, I stepped forward, but suddenly Jensen was there. He wrapped his hand around mine as he pulled me back.

At Brock’s table, Wendy was standing up, her hands pressed to her pale cheeks. She was still screaming—she hadn’t stopped. And everyone at the table had scattered, backing away with identical expressions of horror and disgust. Someone—Monica—had bent over at the waist, her long black hair shielding her face as she started to gag.

“What the . . . ?” I trailed off as I saw what lie on the table, next to Wendy’s backpack. “Oh my God.”

Pulling my hand free from Jensen’s, I smacked both over my mouth. Lying on the table was a red bird—a cardinal. The official state bird, I thought dumbly. Its wings were tucked neatly behind its back, and in the center of its little chest were a handful of mini stakes. Dozens stabbed clean through it.

CHAPTER 7

A horrible prank.

That was what the staff said once one of them had decided to check out why Wendy was screaming. That was what the teachers said in the afternoon classes, where each one lectured us on the virtues of maturity.

I’d never known anyone to stab a bird and place it in someone’s backpack as a prank. It was sick and disturbing, and not even remotely funny. Not to mention, when had it happened? Wendy had the bag on her all morning. Wouldn’t she have, I don’t know, noticed a dead bird in there before lunch?

The sight of the dead bird lingered all day, and I imagined it was the same for everyone. Well, everyone except Linds, who, while in art class, had expressed her disappointment at not seeing Wendy freak out. But it was more than just the grotesque sight. The bird—the type of bird—made me think of the past, a place I didn’t need to dwell on.

When I got home that afternoon, the house was quiet and empty. Normally Mom would be driving to Huntington tonight, but after what happened this weekend, she was not making the trip.

But I was still alone until she got off.

Trying to concentrate, to have some sort of normality in my life, I plopped myself down on the couch and cracked open my history text. It wasn’t until I read the same two pages four times that I dropped my highlighter in the crease of the book.

I pressed the tips of my fingers against my temples, massaging away the slight ache there. Weariness tugged at me, urging me to curl up and take a nap, but the idea of falling asleep while I was alone in the house wasn’t on the top of my to-do list.

Maybe seeing Dr. Oliver really wasn’t a bad idea.

Opening my eyes, I shifted my attention to the archway leading out into the hall and to the stairs. Coldness seized my insides. I stared at the empty foyer, unsure if I’d heard something or if it was just my imagination, but the tips of my ears tingled.

There had been a noise, a soft thud upstairs—

The doorbell rang, throwing my heart against my ribs. “Jesus,” I gasped, jumping to my feet. I hurried to the door and peered through the tiny peephole.

“Whoa,” I murmured, spying the chiseled profile of Jensen.

Two visits in less than twenty-four hours? Er, well, three if I considered the lunch thing a visit. Maybe four if I added in the self-defense class.

Beyond curious, I quickly unlocked the door and opened it. When he turned, the late afternoon sun kissed his cheek. “Hey,” I said lamely.

A half smile appeared. “Can I come in?”

Nodding, I stepped aside, a little caught off guard by his presence. It had been years since he’d been inside my house. Shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans, he walked toward the living room but stopped, turning to me.

Our gazes locked, and the moment stretched into what felt like forever. An awareness cloaked my skin like a warm blanket. Several feet separated us, but as the intensity in his stare rooted me in place, it felt like he was right in front of me. Why was he here? Had he just wanted to see me? Many years ago, he would just randomly show up, and I always looked forward to his impromptu visits, but that was then. We weren’t the same people anymore.

I really needed to say something. “Would you, um, like to sit down?”

He tilted his head to the side. “Sure.”

Feeling the back of my neck heat, I led Jensen into the living room. He went straight to the couch, picked up my history text and carefully closed it, keeping the highlighter in it so I didn’t lose my place.

He dropped to the couch, leaning into the cushions and extending his left arm along the back. “We didn’t get a chance to talk about when you wanted to do the lessons.”

“Oh!” I wanted to smack myself. Of course he had a valid reason to be here that didn’t involve his sudden inability to stay away from me. Forcing myself to act like I had some common sense, I sat beside him. “Yeah, the whole . . . bird thing kind of distracted everyone.”

“Yeah, wasn’t expecting to see that during lunch.” He paused and his jaw tightened as his gaze dipped beyond my face. He cursed under his breath.

I stiffened, not understanding at first, and then I became aware of what he was staring at. With my hair pulled back, my neck was visible. I hadn’t expected anyone to stop by. Conscious of the ugly bruises that were mostly hidden when my hair was down, I reached up to take out my hair tie, but like a snake striking, he moved before I saw him.

Jensen caught my wrist and lowered my hand. “You don’t have to do that.”

Heat rushed across my cheeks and then zinged through my veins as his hand slid up my arm, his long fingers reaching the sensitive skin on the inside of my elbow. My mouth dried as a shiver of responsiveness danced across my skin.