Page 3

Chapter 2

All the roads just outside of Petersburg looked the same to Bethany. Three times she missed the turnoff for her new home—an old farmhouse that had been converted into a livable space. The road was narrow, marked only by a minuscule white post, and surrounded by trees. Being used to suburban America, she was way out of her element. Even the GPS in her car had run screaming several miles back.


And thank God for snow chains. Her sedan would never make the trek up or down the gravel road to the old farmhouse otherwise. But the place was beautiful—the snow-capped mountains, thick elm trees, and rolling white hills. Her fingers itched to put it on canvas.

Just like her fingers were itching to do something else. Something she really shouldn’t do. Painting a boy’s face was obsessive on a stalkerish level, and good God, if her mom snuck through her paintings again? She’d have a stroke.

Freezing drizzle smacked Bethany’s face when she hopped out of the car and nearly busted her ass on the slick driveway as she skirted around her uncle’s Porsche. Doctors made good money. Childish giggles and the aroma of sugar cookies greeted Bethany as she dropped her messenger bag inside the door. She shook off the frozen rain and took one step forward.

“Bethany?” Her mom’s voice rang out like an alarm—a damn carpet alarm. “Take off those shoes!”

Rolling her eyes, Bethany kicked off the shoes and placed the tips of her soaked flats on the edge of the carpet. Ha. Take that, Mom. Happy with her lame attempt at rebellion, she followed the sweet smell to a kitchen worthy of the Food Network.

Mom liked to cook. Clean. Cook some more, and keep a near-fanatical eye on Bethany. One look and everyone knew why her mom was determined to keep a hawkish eye on her daughter’s virtue.

Jane Williams was young. Like in, partied a little too hard one night and at age sixteen, got knocked up young. Bethany never met her biological dad and really didn’t have the desire to search him out. Her real dad was the one who’d raised her—the only one who mattered.

Her mom was bound and determined to prevent Bethany from making the same mistake. In other words: she went private-eye on Beth’s social life like nothing else. But since Bethany turned sixteen last month, she figured she’d loosen up eventually.


Mom was at the kitchen table, mixing a bowl of dough while Beth’s two-year-old half brother watched. There was more sugary dough on Phillip’s face than in the bowl, but he seemed to be having a good time. He looked over at her, and the shock of his red hair and the splatter of freckles on his cheeks made him look so different from her. Brown eyes were the only thing they shared.

That and a love for raw cookie dough.

Darting around the table, Bethany scooped up a handful of dough. “Yum,” she said, widening her eyes comically at him.

Phillip giggled, clasping a mound of the dough. Chunks fell to the floor. Oh, no. Code Red in the kitchen.

Strands of dark hair fell out of her mom’s French twist as she sighed. “Look at what you’ve done, Elizabeth.”

Popping the sugary goodness in her mouth, Bethany grabbed paper towels off the stainless steel countertop. “It’s not going to rot the floor, Mom.”

As Bethany cleaned up the mess, Phillip reached for her with chubby arms. She tossed the trash, then pulled him out of the high chair. Cradling the little guy against her hip, she glided around the kitchen like she was dancing.

Pressing her forehead against his flushed one, she grinned. “What’s going on, little butt?”

He roared with laughter at that, but her mom sighed as she smacked a ball of dough on the cookie sheet. “I wish you wouldn’t call him that.”

“Why?” Bethany made faces as she twirled around the island. “Little butt likes being called little butt, because he has such a little butt.”

A smile cracked her mom’s face. “How was your first day?”

Bethany leaned back, avoiding a face full of dough that had probably been in Phillip’s mouth. Yuck. “It was okay. A much smaller school, but it has a kick-butt art class.”

“Language,” her mom admonished. “Were the kids nice?”

Kick butt, she mouthed at Phillip.

“Butt,” he repeated.

Bethany nodded as she dipped him over her arm. “Yeah, they seemed pretty cool.” One in particular seemed really cool, but she wasn’t going down that road. “Do you know what cool is, little butt?”

“Uh huh!” He nodded for extra effort.

Grinning, she stopped beside her mom and bumped her with her hip. A piece of dough hit the table. “Have you talked to Dad? Does he like the job in Fairfax?”

Her mom scooped at the piece of dough and placed it on the napkin. A clean house was a happy house—her mom’s official motto. Bethany loved to turn on the TV show Hoarders whenever her mom was in the room. She went apocalyptic.

“Your father would be happy anywhere, as long as there were ledgers and counting involved.” Love filled her smile. “But he hates the drive. Nearly three hours. He might get an apartment halfway, just to cut back on the time.”

Bethany frowned. “That blows.”

Her mom nodded and finished off the last row. She stood, making her way to the double ovens. “It is what it is.” Sliding the tray in, she closed the door and straightened. “Anyway, I’m glad your first day was good and you made friends.”

Made friends? Ah, not really. Bethany placed Phillip back in the high chair and grimaced at the feeling of sugar coating her hands. Slobber-covered sugar…gross. She went to the sink and scrubbed her hands like a surgeon preparing for an operation.

The only person she’d really talked to was Dawson. Her cheeks flushed. He’d made the empty seat beside her in art his home and proceeded to drill her with questions about Nevada and her old school. Gym was boys vs. girls ping-pong, so no talking there. But there was a lot of smiling and that—

The slow, uneven footsteps cut off her internal swoon-fest. Looking over her shoulder, she turned off the water. Her slim, frail uncle appeared in the doorway of the kitchen. Skin grayish and pasty, he was bald, and the flannel robe hung off his shoulders.

He looked like death.

And she felt like a tool for even thinking that. Drying off her hands, she hoped her face didn’t convey what she was thinking. But then he looked at her. Dark shadows surrounded bloodshot, pale eyes.

He knew. Sick people always knew.

Diverting her eyes, she went over to Phillip and pretended to be engrossed in whatever he was jabbering about. Honestly, she was still surprised her mom had packed up everything and moved out here. She’d never been close to her brother or her family, given that the whole teenage-pregnancy thing had been frowned upon. But that was her mom. Blood was thicker than water. Her brother—her perfect, MD-carrying brother was sick with some kind of blood disease, and she’d rushed to his side.

Her mother spun around and let out a startled gasp. Rushing over, she wrapped an arm around his shoulders and led him to the table. “Will, what are you doing out of bed? You know you’re not supposed to be walking around after one of your treatments.”

Uncle Will sat stiffly. “It’s chemo, not a bone marrow transplant. Moving around is good. It’s what I need to be doing instead of lying in a bed all day.”

“I know.” Her mom hovered over him. “But you look so…tired.”

His hairless brows shot down. Wrong words. Bethany shook her head. “You look better,” she said, and poked Phillip’s belly, loving the sound of his giggle. “The treatment helped?”

A brittle smile appeared. “It’s working like it should. I’m not terminal.”

Being a doctor and getting sick must suck. You’d know all the statistics, the treatments, the side effects, and prognoses inside and out. No escaping the truth behind the disease or cushioning what was to come.

And Bethany hated being around it. Did that make her a terrible person? Uncle Will was family. But death had never really touched her life. Neither had sickness outside of a cold or flu.

Uncle Will was staying with them while he went through his treatments. Once he was feeling better, he’d move back into his own house, but they’d still stay here. The close call with death had her mom yearning to make what was left of her family close-knit.

Mom buzzed around Uncle Will some more, making him a cup of hot tea while he asked about school. Bethany excused herself as soon as she could. Giving Phillip one last tickle, she bolted from the kitchen and headed upstairs.

The top floor had once been nothing but a loft. Now it had three bedrooms and two baths. She went down the narrow hall and nudged open her bedroom door.

It was a sad bedroom.

No posters. No real personal effects except the canvas and a small table full of paints by the large picture window in the corner. A desk was beside it, holding a laptop she rarely used. Internet was spotty at best here, and she’d rather be spending her time painting than lurking on the net. A TV sat on the dresser. Another thing she rarely messed with.

The fact that she wasn’t big on TV shows or movies usually made it hard for her to connect with other people her age. She couldn’t tell anyone who the hottest new singer was or the name of the teen heartthrob sweating up the silver screen.

Bethany didn’t really care.

Head in the clouds was what her mom always said.

Rolling her stool toward the easel, she tugged her hair up into a messy bun and sat down. An empty mind was always best to start with when she wanted to paint. Let whatever came to her flow to the paper. Except it wasn’t happening today. When she closed her eyes, she kept seeing one thing. Well, one person.


Bethany wasn’t boy crazy. Sure, she had her moments of wanting to skip around like a demented puppet when a cute guy showed interest, but guys didn’t really affect her. Not to the point that a name brought a flush to her cheeks. Even Daniel—ex-boyfriend extraordinaire—hadn’t made her feel this way, and they’d almost gone all the way.

Sorry, Mom.

But there was something about Dawson. More than just how good he looked. When he talked to her in art class, he seemed…in awe of her. Had to be her imagination, just like her reaction to him, because she didn’t know him and an attraction of that magnitude just didn’t happen. Not at first sight, and not in real life. Stress—it had to be stress.

Picking up a sharpened pencil, she shook out her shoulders. She wasn’t going to let herself get obsessed with a boy.

Without giving much thought to what she was doing, she stared at a blank piece of canvas, and then started to sketch the outline of a face. A face she would eventually fill in later. Glancing at the table of paints, she frowned, knowing there was no way she’d get that hue of green right.

Yep, not obsessed at all.

Chapter 3

He was obsessed.

Dawson stared up at his bedroom ceiling, flipping in and out of his true form like someone was throwing a switch. The room was dark…and then whitish-blue light bounced off the walls. On. Off. On. Off. Unable to keep form was a sure sign of agitation or a severe distraction.