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The Captive (Chapter One)

Fire, Cassie thought. All around her she saw blazing autumn colors. The yellow-orange of sugar maple, the brilliant red of sassafras, the crimson of sumac bushes. It was as if the entire world was flaming with Faye's element.

And I'm trapped in the middle of it.

The sick feeling in the pit of Cassie's stomach got worse with every step she took down Crowhaven Road.

The yellow Victorian house at the bottom of the road looked as pretty as ever. Sunlight was striking rainbow sparks off a prism that hung in the highest tower window. A girl with long, light-brown hair called out from the porch.

"Hurry up, Cassie! You're late!"

"Sorry," Cassie called back, trying to hurry when what she really wanted to do was turn around and run the other way. She had the sudden, inexplicable conviction that her private thoughts must show in her face. Laurel would take one look at her and know all about what had happened with Adam last night, and all about the bargain with Faye.

But Laurel just grabbed her by the waist and hustled her inside and upstairs to Diana's bedroom. Diana was standing in front of the large walnut cabinet; Melanie was sitting on the bed. Sean was perched uneasily in the window seat, rubbing his knees with his palms.

Adam was standing beside him.

He looked up as Cassie came in.

Cassie met those blue-gray eyes for only an instant, but it was long enough. They were the color of the ocean at its most mysterious, sunlit on the surface but with incomprehensible depths underneath. The rest of his face was the same as ever: arresting and intriguing, pride showing in the high cheekbones and determined mouth, but sensitivity and humor showing there too. His face looked different only because last night Cassie had seen those eyes midnight blue with passion, and had felt that mouth…

Not by word or look or deed, she told herself fiercely, staring down at the ground because she didn't dare look up again. But her heart was pounding so hard she expected to see the front of her sweater fluttering. Oh, God, how was she ever going to be able to carry this off and keep her vow? It took an incredible amount of energy to sit down by Melanie and not look at him, to block the charismatic heat of his presence out of her mind.

You'd better get used to it, she told herself. Because you're going to be doing a lot of it from now on.

"Good; we're all here," Diana said. She went over and shut the door. "This is a closed meeting," she went on, turning back to the group. "The others weren't invited because I'm not sure they have the same interests at heart as we do."

"That's putting it mildly," Laurel said under her breath.

"They're going to be upset if they find out," Sean said, his black eyes darting between Adam and Diana.

"Then let them be," Melanie said unemotionally. Her own cool gray eyes fixed on Sean and he flushed. "This is much more important than any fit Faye can throw. We have to find out what happened to that dark energy… and now."

"I think I know a way," said Diana. Out of a white velvet pouch she took a delicate green stone on a silver chain.

"A pendulum," Melanie said at once.

"Yes. This is peridot," Diana said to Cassie. "It's a visionary stone-right, Melanie? Usually we use clear quartz as a pendulum, but this time I think the peridot is better-more likely to pick up traces of the dark energy. We'll take it down to the place where the dark energy escaped and it'll align itself in the direction the energy went and start swinging."

"We hope," Laurel murmured.

"Well, that's the theory," Melanie said.

Diana looked at Adam, who had been unusually quiet. "What do you think?"

"I think it's worth a try. It'll take a lot of mental power to back it up, though. We'll all have to concentrate-especially since we're not a full Circle." His voice was calm and even, and Cassie admired him for it. She kept her face turned in Diana's direction, though as a matter of fact her eyes were fixed on the walnut cabinet.

Diana turned to Cassie. "What about you?" "Me?" Cassie said, startled, tearing her eyes away from the cabinet door. She hadn't expected to be asked; she didn't know anything about pendulums or peridot. To her horror, she felt her face redden.

"Yes, you. You might be new to the methods we use, but a lot of the time you have feelings about things."

"Oh. Well…" Cassie tried to search her feelings, scrabbling to get beyond the guilt and terror that were uppermost. "I think… it's a good idea," she said finally, knowing how lame that sounded. "It seems fine to me."

Melanie rolled her eyes, but Diana nodded as seriously as she had at Adam. "All right, then, the only thing to do is try," she said, dropping the peridot and its silver chain into the palm of her left hand and clasping it tightly. "Let's go." Cassie couldn't breathe; she was still reeling from the impact of Diana's clear green eyes, slightly darker than the peridot, but with that same delicate transparency, as if there were light shining behind them.

I can't do it, she thought. She was surprised at how stark and simple everything was now that she had actually looked Diana in the eyes.

I can't do it. I'll have to tell Faye-no, I'll tell Diana. That's it. I'll tell Diana myself before Faye can, and I'll make her believe me. She'll understand; Diana is so good, she'll have to understand.

Everyone had gotten up. Cassie got up too, turning toward the door to hide her agitation- should I tell her right now? Ask her to stay back a minute?-when the door flew open in her face.

Faye was standing in the doorway.

Suzan and Deborah were behind her. The strawberry-blonde looked mean, and the biker's habitual scowl was even darker than usual. Behind them were the Henderson brothers, Chris frowning and Doug grinning in a wild way that was disturbing.

"Going somewhere without us?" Faye said. She was speaking to Diana, but her eyes remained fixed on Cassie.

"Not now," Laurel muttered.

Diana let out a deep breath. "I didn't think you'd be interested," she said. "We're going to trace the dark energy."

"Not interested? When all the rest of you are so busy? Of course, I can only speak for myself, but I'm interested in everything the Circle does. What about you, Deborah?"

The biker girl's scowl changed briefly into a malicious grin. "I'm interested," she said.

"And what about you, Suzan?"

"I'm interested," Suzan chimed in.

"And what about you, Chris?"

"I'm-"

"All right," Diana said. Her cheeks were flushed; Adam had come to stand at her side. "We get the point. We're better off with a full Circle, anyway-but where's Nick?"

"I have no idea," Faye said coolly. "He's not at home."

Diana hesitated, then shrugged. "We'll do our best with what we have," she said. "Let's go down to the garage."

She gestured at Melanie and Laurel and they went first, elbowing past Faye's group, who looked as if they wanted to stay and argue some more. Adam took charge of Sean and got him out the door, then began herding- the Hendersons. Deborah and Suzan looked at Faye, then followed the guys.

Cassie had been hanging back, hoping for the chance to speak to Diana alone. But Diana seemed to have forgotten her; she was engaged in a staredown with Faye. Finally, head high, she walked past the tall girl who was still semiblocking the doorway.

"Diana…" Faye called. Diana didn't look back, but her shoulders tensed: she was listening.

"You're going to lose them all," Faye said, and she chuckled her lazy chuckle as Diana went on to the staircase.

Biting her lip, Cassie stepped forward furiously. One good shove in Faye's middle, she was thinking. But Faye rounded smoothly on her, blocking the doorway completely.

"Oh, no, you don't. We need to talk," she said.

"I don't want to talk to you."

Faye ignored her. "Is it in here?" She moved quickly to the walnut cabinet and pulled at a handle, but the drawer was locked. They all were. "Damn. But you can find out where she keeps the key. I want it as soon as possible, do you understand?"

"Faye, you're not listening to me! I've changed my mind. I'm not going to do it after all."

Faye, who had been prowling around the room like a panther, taking advantage of this unique opportunity to examine Diana's things, stopped in her tracks. Then she turned slowly to Cassie, and smiled.

"Oh, Cassie," she said. "You really kill me."

"I'm serious. I've changed my mind." Faye just smiled at her, leaning back against the wall and shaking her head. Her heavy-lidded golden eyes were glowing with amusement, her mane of pitch-black hair fell across her shoulders as her head moved. She had never looked more beautiful-or more dangerous.

"Cassie, come here." Faye's voice was just slightly edged with impatience, like a teacher who's put up with a lot from a backward student. "Let me show you something," Faye went on, catching Cassie's elbow and dragging her to the window. "Now, look down there. What do you see?"

Cassie stopped fighting and looked. She saw the Club, the in-crowd at New Salem high school, the kids who awed-and terrorized- students and teachers alike. She saw them gathered in Diana's driveway, their heads gleaming in the first rays of sunset: Suzan's strawberry blond turned to red, Deborah's dark curls touched with ruby, Laurel's long, light-brown hair and Melanie's short auburn and the Henderson brothers' disheveled yellow all highlighted by the ruddy glow in the sky.

And she saw Adam and Diana, standing close, Diana's silvery head drooping to Adam's shoulder. He was holding her protectively, his own hair dark as wine.

Faye's voice came from behind Cassie. "If you tell her, you'll kill her. You'll destroy her faith in everything she's ever believed in. And you'll take away the only thing she has to trust, to rely on. Is that what you want?"

"Faye…" Cassie seethed.

"And, incidentally, you'll get yourself banished from the Club. You know that, don't you? How do you think Melanie and Laurel are going to feel when they hear that you messed around with Diana's boyfriend? None of them will ever speak to you again, not even to make a full Circle. The coven will be destroyed too."

Cassie's teeth were clenched. She wanted to hit Faye, but it wouldn't do any good. Because Faye was right. And Cassie thought she could stand being blackballed, being a pariah at school again; she even thought she could stand to destroy the coven. But the picture of Diana's face…

It would kill Diana. By the time Faye got finished telling it her way, it would. Cassie's fantasy of confessing to Diana and having Diana understand vanished like a pricked soap bubble.

"And what I want is so reasonable," Faye was going on, almost crooning. "I just want to look at the skull for a little while. I know what I'm doing. You'll get it for me, won't you, Cassie? Won't you? Today?"

Cassie shut her eyes. Against her closed eyelids the light was red as fire.

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