Authors: Vivian Marie Aubin du Paris
This is a work of fiction. The events and characters described here are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or living persons. The opinions expressed in this manuscript are solely the opinions of the author.
The Wrong Path
All Rights Reserved
Copyright © 2011 Vivian Marie Aubin du Paris
Cover Image © Allmond – purchased through iStockphotos.com
All Rights Reserved.
This book may not be reproduced, transmitted, or stored in whole or in part by any means, including graphic, electronic, or mechanical without the express written consent of the author except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Vivian Marie Aubin du Paris
To my husband, for endless encouragement and support. Thank you for discussing each chapter and scene with me, at length, no matter how tiresome I became going around in circles. You are the reason this book is here.
editors, Amanda and Jane, who pointed out all of my plot holes, grammar errors, and spelling mistakes. This book is absolutely dedicated to you. Thank you!
To my daddy. You’ll always be my number one.
To my mama, for always supporting me and being enthusiastic about everything I do. Even when it’s stupid.
To my sister, who is the best sister anyone could ask for. Thank you for always looking out for me.
To my shiny new Orrik-crafted belt!
Table of Contents
There were strange noises outside the window.
Annabelle Priestly slowly set down her book as she sat up from her reclining position on the bed, reaching over to silence the dull hum of her clock radio. She stared through her open window into the darkness beyond.
As she waited in trepidation for another sound, she silently cursed her parents for stealing all of the fans in the house to keep their own room cool in the stifling heat. It was an unusually warm autumn, and the only way to get any air into the stuffy second-floor bedroom was to leave her window open and the curtains drawn to let in the late-night breeze—a decision she hadn’t considered as dangerous until she heard the scuffling outside.
A cold sweat broke out over her body as she heard a loud scraping noise reverberate its way into her room. It wasn’t a familiar sound, but she recognized it immediately.
Someone was climbing up the tree outside.
Slowly, as if cautious movements would somehow change her fate, she crept over to the window, leaning out to see into the darkness. It was stupid, of course. Screaming for her mom or dad would have been the wiser decision. But morbid curiosity drew her to the unknown, peering out to see who was making their way up the tree.
And there, in the filtered moonlight streaming in through the branches, she recognized her next-door neighbor Will, reaching for the branch that led to his window, directly across from hers. For a moment she was relieved, a feeling that quickly morphed into painful fury.
“Will,” she breathed, trying to calm the frantic pounding in her heart. His head snapped behind him, his body spinning with the deftness of a cat as he turned to look at her. For a moment she was taken aback by his gracefulness, then decided with a bit of annoyance it was no wonder he was so graceful if he was climbing trees at all hours of the night. “What on earth are you doing? You scared me to death!”
His boyish features were shadowed by the tree branches, but she could still see the charming, impish grin he offered. “Sorry,” he apologized, his voice as soft as the night around them. She watched as he swung himself fluidly around the tree, perching on the branch that led to her window. Up close, with the aid of the dull yellow light of her bedside lamp, she could see he wasn’t in great condition—his hair was mussed, there was a scratch along his cheek, and his clothes looked rumpled and slightly skewed.
“What happened to you?” she asked, shocked. His mother used to talk to her mom about Will, and his troubles, at length at the country club while Annabelle had been forced to stand there and listen, but Annabelle had never really witnessed any of it herself. She and Will hung out with very different groups at school, and with him being a year younger, they didn’t share any classes, so she rarely saw him except for when they passed each other outside their houses or in the halls at school.
Will almost instinctively touched the scratch on his cheek, and again offered an impish smile. “Nothing,” he assured her. “What are you doing up so late?”
She frowned at his change of subject. “You’re going to ask me that?” she returned, refusing to be swayed. “When your mother sees you—“
“Why do you think I’m using the window?” he interrupted smoothly.
“How are you going to hide that?” she countered, nodding at his cut. Mrs. Scarlett had been diagnosed with cancer almost nine months earlier, and since then, her body had continued to grow weaker. Even the slightest things that upset her could leave her nearly incapacitated for hours. How was she going to handle seeing the wound on her son’s face?
Will shrugged slightly. “Dodge her until it goes away?” he suggested.
She sighed. “Will—“
“Belle,” he returned, in a mock-scolding tone. She straightened at the bastardization of her name, startled. She didn’t think anyone had ever called her ‘Belle’ before. “Seriously, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it.” He swung himself over to the branch to his room, waving a quick goodbye at her before disappearing into his window. A moment later the window shut and the blinds closed, shutting off further communication.
Aggravated, she ran a hand through her hair before returning to her bed, picking up her discarded book and turning her radio volume back up. She was grateful she had never gotten mixed up with Will or his crowd. They were trouble makers and bad students, and Will Scarlett—who reportedly still held a grudge against his parents for the name—was infamous around their school for being wild and out of control. He was completely different from his older brother Trevor, who was a senior, straight-A student, and quarterback who everyone loved… including her.
Trevor ran with the popular crowd at school—the jocks and the cheerleaders and the country club members. She remembered waiting for him to come home from practice when she went to her private school, watching longingly through the window as his long legs carried him up to his house and out of sight. She had never been able to gather the courage to approach him, until she had found herself at his school and a member of his elite group of friends.
She hadn’t always been so lucky, though. She had been in private schools until her parents decided she needed to expand her horizons during her last few years of high school—transferring her to the local public school for her sophomore year. When her parents suddenly joined the country club where all the popular kids were members, she couldn’t help feeling like her parents were trying to help her fit in at her new school, giving her a chance to meet some kids her age before the year had even started.
And, she mused thoughtfully, with a dull ache in her heart, she had been alone for a long time. She had spent every weekend at home her entire freshman year.
Not wanting to disappoint her parents, she had dutifully gone along with her mother to Sunday tea at the country club, astonished when the girls her age began to talk to her. Her parents had been delighted she had made friends and was finally coming out of her shell, and Annabelle had been overjoyed to discover every weekend filled with exciting plans and parties.
It had been over a year ago, but sometimes it all still felt brand new. Too good to be true. There was nothing she wouldn’t do for the adopted family who had made her one of them, not only rescuing her from loneliness, but guaranteeing the last three years of high school would be filled with parties, attention, and friends.
…including waking up at unearthly hours on a Saturday morning. The five core girls in the group all had hair appointments at the most expensive salon in town starting at six the next morning, and if she didn’t get to bed soon, she would be too tired to hear her alarm clock go off.
She reached over and clicked off her bedside lamp, sliding down in her bed to get comfortable. As she rested against her large, plush pillows, she couldn’t help but wonder if she’d get to see Trevor tomorrow after she had her hair done.
“Parker is way hotter this year,” Claudia was saying as Annabelle joined her friends in the cluster of chairs in the salon’s waiting area. With her long, waist-length black hair, olive skin, stunning features, and model-like body, Claudia was the girl’s second-in-command. She was also the resident expert on all-things boys, often having at least two boyfriends at the same time, and another three or four chasing her. Claudia was constantly showing off some new piece of jewelry from a desperate admirer.
“Definitely,” Erin agreed quickly. Erin, a petite, mouse-brown haired girl with tiny features, was the most agreeable person Annabelle had ever met. She was sweet and friendly, and always eager to please. She had started hanging out with the group late last year, when she and Claudia had shared a history class together, and had quickly ingratiated herself into its inner ranks. “He’s totally hotter this year.”
“Are you going to ask him to drive you to Rainstorm?” Mary asked. Mary had been part of the circle of friends since before Annabelle, having grown up with the others. She had long, dark brown hair, large brown eyes, and perfectly bronzed skin that gave her an exotic, eye-catching appearance. She was also the hardest partier out of all of them, always the first to suggest the latest hot spot or house party location for a weekend night.