Series: All Saints High #3
Release Date: February 16, 2020
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They call him an angry god.
To me, he is nothing but a heartless prince.
His parents rule this town, its police, every citizen and boutique on Main Street.
All I own is a nice, juicy grudge against him for that time he almost killed me.
Between hooking up with a different girl every weekend, breaking hearts, noses and rules, Vaughn also finds the time to bully little ole’ me.
I fight back, tooth and nail, never expecting him to chase me across the ocean after we graduate high school.
But here he is, living with me in a dark, looming castle on the outskirts of London.
A fellow intern. A prodigal sculptor. A bloody genius.
They say this place is haunted, and it is.
Carlisle Castle hides two of our most awful secrets.
Vaughn thinks he can kill the ghosts of his past, but what he doesn’t know? It’s my heart he’s slaying.
Lenora, 12; Vaughn, 13
You didn’t see anything.
He is not coming for you.
He didn’t even see your face.
Every bone in my body shivered as I tried to bleach the image I’d just seen from my brain.
I squeezed my eyes shut and rocked back and forth, curled like a shrimp on the hard mattress. The rusty metal legs of the bed whined as they scraped against the floor.
I’d always been a bit wary of Carlisle Castle, but up until ten minutes ago, I thought it was the ghosts that terrified me, not the students.
Not a thirteen-year-old boy with a face like The Sleeping Faun sculpture—lazily beautiful, impossibly imperial.
Not Vaughn Spencer.
I grew up here and had yet to encounter anything as scary as that brash American boy.
People said Carlisle was one of the most haunted castles in Britain. The 17th-century fort was supposedly the home of two ghosts. The first had been spotted by a footman who’d been locked in the cellar some decades ago. He swore he saw the ghost of Madame Tindall clawing at the walls, begging for water, claiming she’d been poisoned by her husband. The second ghost—that of said husband, Lord Tindall—had evidently been seen roaming the hallways at night, sometimes reaching to fix an off-kilter picture, though not moving it an inch.
They said Madame Tindall had pierced Lord’s heart with a steak knife, twisting it for good measure, the moment she realized he’d poisoned her. According to the tale, he’d wanted to marry the young maid he’d impregnated after decades of childless marriage to Madame. The knife, people swore, could still be seen in the ghost’s chest, rattling whenever he laughed.
We’d moved in when Papa had opened Carlisle Prep, a prestigious art school, a decade ago. He’d invited the most talented, gifted students in Europe.
They all came. He was the Edgar Astalis, after all. The man whose life-sized sculpture of Napoleon, “The Emperor,” stood in the middle of the Champs-Élysées.
But they were all scared of the rumored ghosts, too.
Everything about this place was spooky.
The castle loomed from a foggy Berkshire valley, its silhouette curling upward like tangled black swords. Ivy and wild rosebushes crawled across the stone exterior of the courtyard, hiding secret paths students often snuck through at night. The hallways were a labyrinth that seemed to circle back to the sculpting studio.
The heart of the castle.
Students strolled the foyers with straight backs, ruddy cheeks stung by the seemingly endless winter, and taut expressions. Carlisle Preparatory School for the Gifted frowned upon other public schools like Eton and Craigclowan. Papa said ordinary prep schools encouraged weak-minded, silver-spooned, middle-weighters, not true leaders. Our uniform consisted of black capes with Carlisle’s motto sewn in bright gold across the left breast pocket:
Ars Longa, Vita Brevis.
Art is long, life is short. The message was clear: the only way to immortality was through art. Mediocrity was profanity. It was a dog-eat-dog world, and we were leashed upon each other, hungry, desperate, and blindly idealistic.
I was only twelve years old the day I saw what I shouldn’t have. I was the youngest student at the summer session Carlisle Prep had opened, followed by Vaughn Spencer.
At first I was jealous of the boy with the two slits of penetrating frosty stone instead of eyes. At thirteen, he already worked with marble. He would not wear his black cape, acted like he hadn’t the same mandate as other students, and breezed past the teachers without bowing—unheard of in this school.
My father was the headmaster, and even I bowed.
Come to think of it, I bent the lowest.
We were told we were a cut above the rest, the future of artists all over the world. We had the talent, the status, the money, and the opportunity. But if we were silver, Vaughn Spencer was gold. If we were good, he was brilliant. And when we shone? He gleamed with the force of a thousand suns, charring everything around him.
It was like God had carved him differently, paid extra attention to detail while creating him. His cheekbones were sharper than scalpel blades, his eyes the palest shade of blue in nature, his hair the inkiest black. He was so white I could see the veins under his skin, but his mouth was red as fresh blood—warm, alive, and deceiving.
He fascinated and infuriated me. But just like everyone else, I kept my distance from him. He wasn’t here to make friends. He’d made that clear by never attending the food hall or any of the social functions.
Another thing Vaughn had and I didn’t? My father’s admiration. I didn’t know why the great Edgar Astalis fawned over some boy from California, but he did, nonetheless.
Papa said Vaughn was going to do something special. That one day, he would be Michelangelo big.
I believed him.
And so, I hated Vaughn.
Actually, I’d hated Vaughn until exactly fifteen minutes ago, when I walked into the darkroom to develop the photos I’d taken yesterday. Photography was something I did as a hobby, not as art. My art focused on assemblage, making sculptures out of garbage. I liked to take ugly things and make them beautiful.
To turn the flawed into something flawless.
It gave me hope. I wanted it to give everything that wasn’t perfect hope.
Anyway, I was supposed to wait for one of the tutors to accompany me into the darkroom. Those were the rules. But I had a feeling the pictures I’d taken were going to be horribly bland. I didn’t want anyone to see them before I’d had the chance to retake them.
It was the middle of the night. No one was supposed to be there.
And so, because I was acutely, achingly jealous of Vaughn Spencer, I’d walked in on something that made me feel confused and oddly furious with him.
In bed, I smacked my forehead as I recalled my silly behavior in the darkroom. I’d mumbled “Pardon,” slammed the door, and run back to my room.
I’d descended the stairs to the second floor, taking two at a time, bumped into a statue of a warrior, let out a yelp, and rounded the corridor to the girls’ dorms. All the doors looked alike, and my vision was too clouded by panic to find my room. I threw doors open, poking my head in to search for the familiar white quilt Mum had crocheted for me when I was a baby. By the time I got to my room, nearly every girl in the wing was cursing me for interrupting her sleep.
I dove into my bed, and that’s where I stayed, hiding under my quilt.
He can’t find you.
He can’t enter the girls’ dorms.
Papa would kick him out if he did, genius or not.
Then the clank of smart shoes pacing the corridor made my heart jump to my throat. A guard whistled a lullaby in the dark. I heard a violent, loud thud. A guttural moan rose from the ground outside my room. I curled into a smaller ball, the air rattling in my lungs like a penny in an empty jar.
My door creaked open. I felt a gust of wind from its direction, raising the hair on my arms wherever it touched. My body tensed like a piece of dried clay, hard but fragile.
“Pale face. Black heart. Golden legacy.”
That’s how I’d once heard Uncle Harry—also known as Professor Fairhurst inside these walls—describe Vaughn to one of his colleagues.
There was no mistaking the energy Vaughn Spencer brought into a room, because it sucked up everything else like a Hoover. The air in my room was suddenly thick with danger. It was like trying to breathe under water.
I felt my knees knocking together under my quilt as I pretended to be asleep. Summers in Carlisle Castle were unbearably humid, and I wore a tank top and shorts.
He moved in the dark, but I couldn’t hear him, which scared me even more. The thought that he might kill me—actually, literally strangle me to death—crossed my mind. I had no doubt he’d knocked out the guard who walked our hall at night to make sure nobody broke curfew or made silly ghost-like noises to scare the other students. No fire was as big and burning as one born of humiliation, and what I’d witnessed tonight had embarrassed Vaughn. Even in my haste to leave, I’d seen it on his face.
Vaughn was never uncomfortable. He wore his skin with arrogance, like a crown.
I felt my quilt rolling down my body, from my shoulders to my ankles in one precise movement. My two Brussel sprouts of breasts—as my older sister Poppy called them—poked through my shirt without my sports bra, and he could see them. I squeezed my eyes tighter.
God. Why did I have to open the bloody door? Why did I have to see him? Why did I have to put myself on the radar of one of the most gifted boys in the world?
He was destined for greatness, and I was destined to whatever purpose he’d see fit for me.
I felt his finger touching the side of my neck. It was cold and dry from sculpting. He brushed it down along my spine, standing over me, watching what we both pathetically pretended was my sleeping figure. But I was wide awake, and I felt everything—the threat wafting from his touch and his scent of shaved stone, rain, and the sweet, faint trail I’d find out later was a blunt. Through the narrow slit of my closed eyes, I could make out the way he tilted his head as he watched me.
Please. I will never tell a soul.
I wondered, if he was so formidable at thirteen, what he would be like as a grown man? I’d hoped to never find out, although chances were, this wouldn’t be our last encounter. There were only so many billionaire-spawns-to-famous-artists in this world, and our parents ran in the same social circles.
I’d met Vaughn once even before he came to school, when he was vacationing in the South of France with his family one summer. My parents had hosted a wine-tasting event for charity, and Baron and Emilia Spencer had attended. I was nine, Vaughn was ten. Mum slathered me in sunscreen, put an ugly hat on me, and made me swear I wouldn’t get into the sea because I couldn’t swim.
That’s how I’d ended up watching him on the beach under a canopy the entire vacation, in between flipping pages of the fantasy book I was reading. Vaughn broke waves with his scrawny body—running straight into them with the ferocity of a hungry warrior—and dragged jellyfish from the Mediterranean Sea back to shore, holding them by their tops, so they couldn’t sting him. One day he’d poked ice lolly sticks into them until he was sure they were dead and then cut them, mumbling to himself that jellyfish always cut into perfect halves, no matter which way you sliced.
He was odd. Cruel and different. I’d had no intention of talking to him.
Then, during one of the many grand events that week, he’d snuck behind the fountain I sat leaning against, reading a book, and split a chocolate brownie he must’ve stolen before dinner. He handed me half, unsmiling.
I’d groaned as I accepted it, because I had the silly notion that now I owed him something. “Mummy will have a heart attack if she finds out,” I told him. “She never lets me eat sugar.”
I’d then shoved the entire thing in my mouth, fighting the sticky goo on my tongue, the rich nougat coating my teeth.
His mouth, a slash of disapproval, had cut his otherwise stoic features. “Your mom sucks.”
“My mum is the best!” I exclaimed hotly. “Besides, I saw you poking sticks at jellyfish. You don’t know anything. You’re nothing but a bad boy.”
“Jellyfish don’t have hearts,” he drawled, as if that made it okay.
“Just like you.” I’d been unable to stop myself from licking my fingers, eyeing the untouched brownie half in his hand.
He’d scowled, but for some reason, he didn’t seem upset by my insult. “They also don’t have brains. Just like you.”
I stared ahead, ignoring him. I didn’t want to argue and make a scene. Papa would be mad if I raised my voice. Mum would be disappointed, which was somehow even worse.
“Such a good girl,” Vaughn had taunted, his eyes gleaming with mischief. Instead of taking a bite of his brownie, he’d passed the second piece to me.
I took it, hating myself for caving in.
“Such a good, proper, boring girl.”
“You’re ugly.” I shrugged. He wasn’t, really. But I wanted him to be.
“Ugly or not, I could still kiss you if I wanted to, and you’d let me.”
I choked on the rich cocoa in my mouth, my book dropping to the ground and closing without a bookmark. Shoot.
“Why would you ever think that?” I’d turned to him, scandalized.
He’d leaned close, one flat chest to another. He’d smelled of something foreign and dangerous and wild. Of golden California beaches, maybe.
“Because my dad told me good girls like bad boys, and I’m bad. Really bad.”
And now, here we were. Facing off again. He was, tragically, nowhere near ugly, and he seemed to be contemplating what to do with our newly shared secret.
“Kill you? Hurt you? Scare you off?” he pondered, exuding ruthless power.
My throat worked around a lump that refused to wash down.
“What should I do with you, Good Girl?”
He remembered my pet name from that day at the beach. It made everything worse, somehow. Up until now, we’d acted like we didn’t know each other at all.
Vaughn lowered himself so his face was aligned with mine. I could feel his hot breath—the only thing warm about him—sliding against my neck. My throat went dry, each breath passing through it like a blade. Still, I kept up the charade. Maybe if he thought I was dream-walking, he would spare me his wrath.
“How good are you at keeping secrets, Lenora Astalis?” His voice wrapped around my neck like a noose.
I wanted to cough. I needed to cough. He terrified me. I hated him with the heat and passion of a thousand blazing suns. He made me feel like a scaredy cat and a snitch.
“Oh, yes. If you’re coward enough to pretend you’re asleep, you’re good enough to keep a secret. That’s the thing about you, Astalis. I can smash you into dust and watch your grains dance at my feet. My little circus monkey.”
I might’ve hated Vaughn, but I hated myself more for not standing up to him. For not opening my eyes and spitting in his face. Clawing his unnaturally blue eyes out. Taunting him back for all the times he’d taunted all of us at Carlisle Prep.
“By the way, your eyelids are moving,” he said drily, chuckling.
He straightened up, his finger making a brief stop at the base of my spine. He snapped his fingers, making a breaking sound, and I nearly jumped out of my skin, letting out a gasp. I squeezed my eyes tighter, still pretending to sleep.
The bastard laughed.
Was he sparing me for the time being? Was he going to check in on me from now on? Retaliate if I opened my mouth? He was so unpredictable. I wasn’t sure what my life would look like in the morning.
That’s when I realized I might be a good girl, but Vaughn had underestimated himself three years ago.
He wasn’t a boy at all. He was a deity.
Shortly after what happened during summer session at Carlisle Castle, I lost Mum. The woman who was so scared of me ever getting a sunburn or scraping my knee went to sleep and never woke up. Cardiac arrest. We found her lying in bed like a cursed Disney princess, her eyes closed, the smile on her face still small and pink and full of plans for the morning.
We were supposed to board a yacht to Thessaloniki that day, a trip chasing historical treasures that never came.
That was the second time I’d wanted to pretend I was asleep while my life took a terrible turn for the worse—for no other reason than because it could. Diving headfirst into self-pity was tempting as hell, but I held back.
I had two options: break or build a stronger version of myself.
I chose the latter.
By the time Papa took a job in Todos Santos a couple years later, I wasn’t the same girl who’d pretended to be asleep when confronted.
Poppy, my older sister, joined him in California, but I asked him to let me stay at Carlisle.
I stayed where my art was and avoided Vaughn Spencer, who attended All Saints High across the ocean. Win-win, right?
But now, Papa was insisting I spend my senior year with him and Poppy in southern California.
Thing was, the new Lenny didn’t turn a blind eye to Vaughn Spencer.
I was no longer fearful.
I’d suffered the greatest loss and survived it. Nothing scared me anymore.
Not even an angry god.
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