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When a handsome boy named Jude falls off a pier and into the ocean, Celia and Lo work together to rescue him from the waves. The two form a friendship, but soon they find themselves competing for Jude’s affection. Lo wants more than that, though. According to the ocean girls, there’s only one way for Lo to earn back her humanity. She must persuade a mortal to love her . . . and steal his soul.
Table of Contents
A Preview of Cold Spell
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My sisters love this place.
It smells like sand and cigarettes and cotton candy, like sunscreen and salt. The scent builds up all summer, and now, at the height of tourist season, it's so thick that I think I could wave an empty bottle around and it would fill with liquid perfume.
We cut through the Skee-Ball parlor and emerge on the main drag of the Pavilion, lights and sounds everywhere, crowds of people with terrible sunburns. My sisters giggle to each other, the two of them perfectly in step ahead of me. We are triplets, but they are the twins, a perfectly matched set with high eyebrows and pretty lips. To most people, we look identical; to one another, my features are a little different. A little off, a not-quite-right replica of Anne and Jane.
"Let's go to the coaster," Anne says, tossing her hair over her shoulders as she looks back at me. "The arcade is dead." The arcade looks anything but dead, lights and alarms and children weaving between adults' legs, but that's not what she means—she means no guys are there.
We approach the roller coaster, a giant wooden monster that creaks and sways a little every time a car zips along the track. A car at the top of the starter hill pauses. The riders point ahead—the first hill sits snugly against the rickety pier's steps and allows for a spectacular view of the ocean. The riders are watching the waves so intently, so wondrously, that they aren't prepared for the drop. They scream.
I know who my sisters are going to pick before they say it aloud. A group of guys, probably early college or so, leaning on the queue railings. They have tans and are wearing T-shirts that are new but distressed to look old. Jane goes first, brushes by them casually, just enough that her bare arm touches theirs. She smiles, apologizes, and looks to Anne, giving a hardly noticeable tilt of her head. That one.
"Hi," Anne says, smiling. She sidles up to the railing, leans over. "Where are you guys from?"
"Raleigh," the target answers, smiling back. "What about you?"
"Here," Anne answers. "We go to Milton's. The boarding school? You pass it when you come in."
"Catholic schoolgirls?" one of the target's friends jokes, making his voice sound fake-sexy, and the others laugh. The target is staring at Anne, though, then Jane, and even lets his eyes flit on me for a moment.
"Not Catholic. Just schoolgirls," Jane says in a way that makes the boys shut up yet entices them at the same time.
"Do you want to get out of here?" Anne says to the target. She leans forward, drums his arm with her fingers. The boy glances at her manicured nails—he knows something is strange about this. But Anne knows exactly what to do. She leans forward, laughs in a way that's less seductive and more girl-next-door.
"Come on. Only the tourists ride this thing," she says to him, teasing the other boys. The target seems to open up a little—he likes the way her voice sounds, you can tell. The way she's pretty and casual and the way she smiles. He thinks she seems fun, interesting.
He doesn't realize they're just using him. Not only for the money he'll spend on us, the compliments he'll throw our way—especially Anne's way. He's just, as Jane puts it, "practice." How will we know what all we can do with these powers if we don't practice?
"I can't leave them," the boy says, motioning to his friends.
"Sure you can," Anne says, then, eyes glimmering, teasing, "And you will."
She's right—she's always right. You can't hide your future from Anne.
The powers are our greatest secret. The secret we never told anyone, not even our parents, not even our brothers.
Jane's skill developed first. People called her a perceptive child, but there was much more to it. Then Anne, who knew when I'd fall out of the tree house our brother Lucas made. Mine took longer. I thought maybe I didn't have one, even, when I'd turned seven and still nothing had developed. Anne and Jane pushed me, assured me that mine would be the most impressive of the three of them.
But then it wasn't.
Jane can know a person's present. Anne can know their future. And I can know their past.
Anyone can know a person's past, though. All you have to do is ask them. Anne's and Jane's disappointment was almost palpable, but it was nothing compared with mine. I touch someone, I know what they ate for breakfast yesterday, or what their childhood pet was called—how long ago in the past it was doesn't seem to matter. When I hugged my mother, I knew what she felt like right before her wedding, and that our youngest uncle was secretly her out-of-wedlock first son, yet sometimes I'd hold Anne's hand and see the secret she told Jane twenty minutes before. If I could control what parts of their pasts I see, maybe my power would be useful, maybe I'd think playing with the minds of boys was fun, too—and honestly, I bet I could control it if I practiced the way Anne and Jane do. But I won't risk seeing people's darkest memories just to better play games with my power. It's not worth it.
"Come on," Anne says, laughing. The sound is somehow brighter than all the bells and whistles of the carnival games nearby. "Buy me an ice cream."
"Um…" The boy looks at his friends, who snicker. "Okay."
The boy ducks out of the roller-coaster line and follows us back through the crowd to a stand where a bored-looking girl is dishing out scoops of homemade ice cream. Anne orders, looks expectantly at Jane and me.
"You don't mind, do you?" Anne asks the boy, reaching down to touch his arm—skin on skin, that's all it takes for our powers to work. She flashes a smile, tilts her head, all the things that she knows the boy wants, if only because at that angle he can see down her shirt a little. He doesn't mind. They rarely mind, even if it's dinner or movie tickets or letting Jane drive their fancy sports cars. I think that's Anne's favorite part: She knows just what to do and say to make them not care.
The boy buys us ice cream, banana-pudding-flavored, and then pays for a few rounds at the arcade. Jane finally shakes her head, though—he's starting to think less of us, to suspect we're just using him. So we drop him like a broken toy, sending him back to his friends pissed off that the anticipated hookup isn't happening. We don't care. After all, he was just practice.
I don't really know what we're practicing for, nor do I know how scamming boys out of money helps us understand our powers. I don't think Anne and Jane know, either—they just like playing the game and want to justify it. They like being in control. Their powers give them that.
All my power does is weigh me down with everyone's sorrow, everyone's tragedies, things that can't be changed or altered or fixed. It makes me afraid to talk to people for too long, worried I'll reveal things about them I know yet shouldn't know. It's easier just to keep everyone away. Never touch them. Never read them.
My sisters' powers are gifts. My power is a curse.
The three of us crash onto a bench in front of the Haunted Hotel ride, where rickety cars squeal through a darkened building. The drunker the tourists get, the more they love it, even though it smells like a basement and the fake corpses have twenty years of dust on them.
"This is boring," Jane sighs. "All the good ones were here earlier in the season."
"We could go home and watch that movie," I suggest.
"Ugh, no, it's Friday night! What about him?" Jane says, pointing to a handsome guy who's holding a girl's hand, in line to ride the carousel.
"He's with her," Anne answers.
"Yeah…" Jane sighs. Their rule is, they don't use their powers to trick boys who are in love. Maybe it's too many romantic comedies and sappy novels, maybe it makes them feel like what they do is perfectly okay, but they've held their ground on that one, Anne more easily than Jane.
Anne begins to roll her eyes, but before she's finished, Jane reaches over and grabs her hand. Anne yanks it away, irritated.
"Don't do that!" she snaps. We don't use our powers on one another, and thus we try to avoid touching—but it's a rule Jane has always found more flexible than Anne or me.
"Come on, it's easier than wandering around all night. What did you see?" Jane asks.
Anne glares at her for a moment but finally reveals what she saw in Jane's future. "There's a tall guy somewhere, green shirt, I think. He'll take us to that fondue place, if you want to go."
"I hate that place," I say, and the truth is, I think Anne and Jane do, too—they just like that it's expensive. I'd be happier with a three-dollar hot dog from the street vendor.
"Everyone loves that place," Anne argues. "Come on, let's find him."
"I'll catch up later," I say. Anne and Jane look at me, then each other, like I'm turning up my nose at an amazing adventure. When we were little, we were interlocked, like the three strands of a braid—pull one, and the others fall apart. But now, even though Anne is always reminding me that "we're stronger together," I can't help but feel differently. They're stronger without me. Sure, maybe I'm weak, maybe I'm nothing without them, but to be honest, I'm pretty sure I'm nothing with them, too.
"Fine," Anne sighs. "We'll see you at home, I guess."
I'll give it to my sisters—they want me to be one of them. The third piece to their matching set. But wanting is not enough, so while they wander off in search of a target in green, I weave through a row of food carts and toward the coaster, toward the pier.
The pier juts off a short cliff and is eerily dark compared with the Pavilion—its old lights can't conquer the enormous blackness of both the sky and the nighttime ocean. A few lovers look out over the sea, a guitarist with an open case for tips sings a song I don't recognize, and a handful of fishermen tend to their lines. I look down at the water. The tide is massive tonight, the perigean tide, if my memories from astronomy class are correct. As I go farther and farther toward the pier's end, the sound of the Pavilion fades, replaced by the powerful noise of the ocean.
We're from the middle of Georgia, a tiny landlocked town and a house full of siblings—all brothers, save me, Anne, and Jane. It doesn't make sense that I feel most myself when I'm alone by the ocean. Maybe it's because I think the ocean is like me. It knows the past. It's seen yachts and ships and pirates and a time before people. It has secrets, secrets you don't know just by watching the surface.
I look down the beach, which is illuminated only by moonlight and the glow of the Pavilion. This isn't a swimming section—it's too rocky. Most of the houses at the bottom of the little cliff, right on the sea, were abandoned a year or so ago when a hurricane battered them beyond repair. There's an old church, a single-room building with faded graffiti—cheap spray paint doesn't last long against the ocean's spray, so it looks like the church has a pastel hue.
The guitar player wanders near me, still playing and singing under his breath. He's wearing a shirt that's real vintage—it has a few tiny holes, and the sleeves are stretched out. I can't tell if he's handsome or not, but I want to keep looking at his face, thin lips and deep-set eyes. I don't have any money and hate to give him false hope for tips, so I turn away, back to the water. I wonder how deep it is. I wonder how deep it is everywhere.
The guitarist stops playing, I hear something like running or stomping. I turn around, eyebrows raised, just in time to see it happen.
He trips on an uneven plank. He tries to catch himself but throws his weight backward to keep from falling forward on the guitar. Everyone is watching, no one is moving. It happens so fast—he's off balance, hits the railing of the pier at just the right angle. The right angle to fall into the blackness, into the ocean.
We don't want to go to the surface.
We linger under the water, down deep, where it's cold; it makes us feel the most alive. Only the new girl wants to go up. Her skin is still a little pink, like it remembers the sun, whereas most of ours are pale, with places tinted the light purples, blues, or greens of seashells.
It's nice that we look the same, that we are the same. It means we are safe, because there are dozens and dozens of me. When they move, I move; when I move, they move. It has long stopped surprising me, the speed at which new girls forget their first names. You don't need a name when everyone is you and you are everyone.
I'm still on my second name, Lo, the sound the water makes during a thunderstorm when you're deep beneath the waves. But eventually, I'll forget this one, too. I'll move on to a third, maybe even a fourth, until I'll give up on names altogether, like the oldest of us have.
The pull of the tide gets stronger; the full moon is rising. The new girl looks up through the softened wooden planks of the Glasgow's deck, and the tiny bit of moonlight streaking to the depths illuminates her face. She looks sweet, kind, gentle. Human. She lifts, releases the rock she was holding on to, and starts toward the surface.
"I suppose it's time," Key says, lingering just outside the cracked ship's hull. She and I came to the ocean just a few months apart. Her name used to be Julia. I don't know why I can remember her old name but not my own. Key sighs and pushes off the ocean floor; sand blossoms around her bare feet as she swims upward. She never wants to surface. Whatever happened in her human life, she was more than happy to forget it long ago—I don't think she even tried to remember, to be honest.
But nonetheless, she'll still surface—we all will, because we are the same thing. My hair floats around my body like a cloak, then trails along behind me as I kick off the ground, dodge the caved-in bits of the ship. I follow Key, faster, faster; I can feel the others behind me as the Glasgow fades from sight. The water cradles us from every direction until we break the surface, and I feel so, so…
Exposed. Like I'm falling into the sky. The air hurts my skin, and I close my eyes to the pain. Around me, I hear the gentle splash of the others breaking the surface, winces or gasps as they remember what the shore looks like. I brace myself and open my eyes.
Light, so much light—from the moon, from the tiny pinprick stars, but mostly from the pier and the city beyond. It glows; it's beautiful in a way that nothing beneath the water is. I inhale even though it burns, brush a few strands of dark hair from my face.
The new girl—Molly, her name is Molly, I think—has tears running down her cheeks—they're somehow so different from the ocean water, so unusual that I notice them immediately.
"You won't miss it as much, eventually," Key reassures her. It's true—I don't miss my old life at all. I don't remember it, of course, but even if I did, I'm happy here. I have my sisters, the ocean….
"I don't want to stop missing it," the girl says. The words were clearly supposed to be sharp, but they're softened by her crying.
"Well," someone else says, "find your mortal boy, then."
A few girls chuckle, but inside we all feel the same twinge of pity for her hope. It's the cruelest thing, hope, the way it strings you along, the way it makes you believe. Only the old ones have ever seen a mortal's soul stolen, and they can barely remember it to tell us the story. They say she walked, though—she walked right out of the sea; her skin was pink again, her lungs made for air instead of water.
It's hard to believe sometimes, but hope never lets you truly stop believing. Our souls fade slowly, just like our human memories—I imagine mine is gone entirely now, though to be honest, I'm not sure. What does having a soul feel like, exactly? I still believe that drowning a human would get me a new soul, but it's not something I care to pursue anymore, and I'm somewhat relieved to feel that way, especially when I look at the tortured, desperate look on Molly's face. She must still feel her soul, feel it bleeding out of her. That's the only explanation for the pain in her eyes.
Music, we hear music bouncing across the water and audible only in the seconds between waves lapping at our shoulders. A light and airy song, and then beyond that, the buzz of a crowd. How many people are there that we can hear them from this far away?
I look at Key, at the others. They stare, either at the moon, the pier, or the tiny little houses on the shore. Do people still live in them? They look different than when I saw them last, more chipped and faded, like the ocean has punished them. I wonder where the people who lived there went. Someplace far away from the water?
I don't even know what that sort of place would look like, I think, shivering a little.
There's a bang somewhere ahead, a shout. It's coming from the pier—we stare as a dark form falls over its railing, into the water. There's a horrible slapping sound when the thing hits, splashing, screams from those above.
We are silent. We don't move, staring, like one creature with dozens of heads, dozens of eyes watching curiously. We see a thousand times better than we did as humans, but the waves block our line of sight. Then, in one motion, we dive forward, slipping through the water toward the pier.
It's splashing—he's splashing desperately. The waves are unusually harsh tonight, and his clothes weigh him down.
We watch. Oldest in the back, apathetic, here only because the rest of us are. Youngest closest to him, intrigued, wondering how long before he'll slip under the water and die. Me, somewhere between the two groups. It's so strange to watch the boy struggle, fight against something that's so natural for us.
But the new girl is watching with a different sort of intensity than the rest of us. She inhales, draws closer to him. She's shaking; he's thrashing, trying to swim, but every time he gets his head up, a wave knocks him down again. There's something strapped around his shoulders that's pulling him beneath. The new girl turns back to look at us as the boy's flails slow; he begins to go under more often….
"How do I make him love me?" the new girl asks.
"That's the tricky part," Key says, eyes flickering like this is a brilliant game—most things are to her. "It's hard to make someone love you when they're dying."
Key's words seem to both scare and embolden the new girl. She presses her lips together hard, sinks under the water, and emerges beside the boy. He grabs hold of her arm to try to keep his head up. It works; he stops fighting the waves, but when he breathes, I can hear the water in his lungs.
"My name is Molly," the new girl says. He doesn't hear her, but her voice is delicate, rainlike. The boy turns his shaky eyes toward her, but I don't think he really sees her face—he looks unfocused, dazed.
"Yes, there, see," Molly says, grinning so wide the moonlight glints off her teeth. His eyes begin to drift shut. She shakes him awake, says her name again, tries to talk to him. When it doesn't work, she begins to sing. Her voice is pure, lovely, just enough humanity in it to remind me how she was a human girl less than a year ago. The song is one of ours, but it seems foreign on her tongue.
I look away from her, toward the pier the boy came from. People stare in our direction, but they can't see us in the darkness. But then there's a rustle from the shore, and something comes down the road by the beaten-looking buildings, bright flashing red lights that bounce across the water.
"They're coming for him," one of the girls says. Molly stops singing, looks up.
"Leave him," another girl tells Molly. "There's no time. And no point."
"There's time—there has to be time," Molly says, voice rough and dangerous. She positions herself in front of the boy's face, water dripping off her eyelashes. His eyes drift shut. "No, look at me. Look at me. Do you love me?"
"It's too fast," I tell her, grimacing as a breeze touches my shoulders. I lean back so they're wet again.
"Was it like this for the other girl? Or did it take longer?" Key asks one of the oldest ones; she doesn't answer. Key shrugs. "I remember human stories about love at first sight."
"Those were stories," I say. Lights, bright white and big like the moon, shine at the waves from the shore farther down the beach. They're making their way toward us, rolling steadily along. We can't stay. We don't want them to see us. We don't want to see humans, really; the oldest girls are finding it difficult to even look at the human boy, his head cradled against Molly's shoulder.
There's a quiet sound, like raindrops—we're leaving. My sisters slip underneath the water delicately, more and more with every moment. When I look back to Molly, the boy's eyes are open again. They aren't trained on her, though—he's looking at us—no, at me, I think. Not in the dizzy, confused way he was watching Molly earlier, but like he knows me, like we're in the middle of a conversation. His eyes are light gray pools that remind me of the ice that forms by the ocean farther north. His gaze startles me, and I back up, my lips part.
"Go with them if you want. I'm not leaving till he says he loves me," Molly sniffs. She's crying, so humanlike that she and the boy actually seem a perfect match. She looks down at the boy's face and follows his gaze to me. She frowns and turns him around, so he can't see me. I swallow hard; it feels like his eyes are still boring into me. I realize that in the long moment of the boy's gaze, my sisters have left. I'm alone with Molly.
"Leave him. He doesn't need to die like this. He doesn't love you."
"No, Molly," I say, and grimace as I remember the boy I killed. The way his body rocked with the currents, dead and lifeless on the floor. I don't want to imagine the boy with the gray eyes like that. Hope forces me to believe getting his soul is possible—I don't know how, exactly, but I believe it's possible—but something deeper makes me believe it isn't right. And it certainly isn't right like this, when I know there's no chance Molly will walk out of the ocean tonight.
Yet I know what Molly feels. I may not remember my human name like she does, but I remember being her. I remember needing to believe the fairy tale, in thinking of hope as a real thing instead of a pretty idea. I swim closer to her.
"Let him go," I say, trying to sound gentle, comforting. "His people will find him. We need to leave. We don't belong here." I feel unsettled without the others on the surface, like I've lost a part of myself.
Molly's fingers are wrapped so tightly around him that I can see his skin starting to bruise. The lights on the beach are moving, growing closer, little by little. A puttering noise bounces toward us—a boat coming from somewhere, probably more searchers. The thing weighing the boy down brushes against my legs, the strings sharp like sea urchin spines, some sort of instrument, I think.
I reach forward and take Molly's arm, try to pull her away. She struggles, hugs the boy against her chest like she suspects I'm trying to steal him from her. I find myself wishing he'd look at me again, fighting Molly harder and harder, trying to get her away from him.
Still holding the boy.
Let her go. We all have to try this for ourselves once. It's the only way Molly will stop fighting and embrace the ocean, embrace our sisters. She needs to kill the boy to love the ocean the way we do.
But the boy's eyes, I keep thinking about the boy's eyes. He doesn't need to die like this.
I sink into the water and swim after her. She's swimming fast, pulling him to the bottom with such force that the instrument comes loose and drifts to the ocean floor on its own.
"Molly!" I call out. "Let him go! There's no point! You'll just kill him!"
"That's what I'm supposed to do—that's how I'll get my soul back!" she snarls. We're getting deeper, to the part where it's cold. The boy's limbs flail back uselessly. His eyes are closed; he's not even fighting. I think he's already dead.
Molly slams his head against the sea bottom, frustrated; a little blood curls like smoke in the water. His clothes and hair float around his body as she bows her head and presses her lips against his. Nothing happens, nothing changes, and so she tries again, again, until it looks less like a kiss and more like she's trying to pull his soul up and out through his lips.
She screams, a curdling, agonizing sound that ripples through the ocean. Molly tightens her fingers on the boy's clothes—
Enough. I dart forward and grab his arm, yank him away from her. Molly hisses at me, grabs at his sleeve. His shirt rips, but I'm older and stronger than she is. I jettison him to the surface, hold his head up as the air tastes my skin. There has to be a boat nearby now. They'll find him; they'll take him back to his own kind, and I can go back to mine. That's the way of things; it's what should happen. He's so limp that he feels fake, like he's a clump of seaweed instead of a boy.
Molly breaks out of the water beside me. I release him just long enough to shove her away. Her teeth flicker, sharp like an animal's. Where's the boat?
They've passed us. They're searching farther from the pier now; I can't get him there with Molly like this. The shore, it's the only way. Get him close enough, and the waves will wash him up, someone will find him, he might survive. Molly tries to pull me back; I dodge her and kick her in the back. She spirals off in the water. I'll have just a moment before she slows herself and returns. I clutch the boy under the arms and drag him toward the dry sand.
The waves help, pushing us over the sandbar—closer to land than I've been since I joined my sisters. But there's someone on the shore; he'll be found. I hiss in Molly's direction and grab the boy's wrist, diving forward, letting the waves throw me closer and closer to the shore with each step. The person on the beach sees me. A girl, running. Take him. Take him and keep him away from us.
Shallow water. I turn back to look for Molly—she's stopped, waiting for me right where the water becomes deep again, where the waves begin. The girl runs into the water, awkward and clumsy as it splashes around her calves. There's not enough force behind the waves to pull him forward here. My feet find the sandy bottom, and I rise—
Something stings, something hurts. We haven't walked on land in so long; did it always feel like this? One step forward, another, another, it feels like something is sticking into the center of my foot. Never mind, the salt water will heal it fast enough. Just get him to her; then I can leave….
She's near me now, breathing heavily, hair stuck to her cheeks and chest. She smells strange, but I'm not sure what the scent is, exactly—the scent of land? She grabs one of the boy's arms, and I release him, move to dive back into the ocean. I want to be submerged. I want to go back down deep where it's cold.
- "Fresh, modern, and creepy...Pearce's innovative twists and brisk pacing make for a quick and deliciously suspenseful read that will appeal to those who enjoy their paranormal romance with a side of murder."—Booklist
- "Pearce writes some stunningly poignant dialogue for adolescent girls, and here she offers up her most complicated portrayal yet, giving readers two protagonists who are a blend of selfish, giving, and vulnerable and to whom teen readers will readily relate."—The Bulletin
- On Sale
- Sep 4, 2012
- Page Count
- 320 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers