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What lies beneath?



Daniel Morning seems perfect -- handsome, charismatic, intelligent. But living up to everyone's expectations has cost him the right to make his own decisions. The urge to shatter those expectations is beginning to gnaw at his insides.

Then Daniel meets Misty and her pack of outcasts: her twin brother Marc, her best friend Valentine, and brooding Eric. Finally, Misty lets Daniel in on their little secret: She and her friends have learned to shapeshift, and have been prowling the night as wolves.

Daniel falls in love with the primal sensation of shifting, just as he's falling in love with Misty. The freedom to follow his most basic instincts is like nothing he's ever felt. But Daniel will slowly realize that such freedom comes at a price...

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"Hot, wrenching, and wise, this book is fantastic!" - Holly Black, author of Tithe and Ironside

"This novel is sure to be a word-of-mouth favorite among older teens." - School Library Journal

Chapter 1



“I’m about to slap you if you don’t shut up.”
    
“Quit yapping, Keith,” Scotty said. “You can’t even lift your arm with that hunk of fake platinum strapped to it.”
    
“I bought a nicer watch at Burger King once,” Bwana added, covering his mouth with his fist as he laughed. “At least it had SpongeBob SquarePants on it.”
    
Napkins and empty plates littered the table. Getting in one more night of jaybird chatter before the end of winter break, Daniel sat with his friends and his cousin Keith, a small riot wedged into the diner’s corner booth. While his friends jostled one another, Angie curled her fingers through Daniel’s hair. “Tell them,” she whispered.  
    
Nudging Angie’s hand away, Daniel asked, “Seriously, Keith, why’d you buy that thing? You hope if you’ve got a watch with four dials, people might think you can tell time?”
    
“I can tell– Shut up!”
    
At the Galleria, Keith had spent his Christmas money on an aviator’s watch with sixty-second, sixty-minute, and twenty-four hour dials set into the face. Now, flustered, he stumbled over every joke they threw at him.
    
“We’re just messing with you. Relax. Let me see it.” Reaching across the table, Daniel grabbed Keith’s wrist.
    
Angie mouthed, “Tell. Them.”
    
“Man, the numbers go up to five hundred. What kind of Korean junk did you buy?”
    
Keith snatched his hand back. “That’s the tachymeter, idiot.”
    
“It’s tacky, all right.”
    
Before another swell of laughter could drown her out, Angie blurted, “Daniel got accepted to Cornell! He got in.”
    
The booth went silent. Everybody turned toward Daniel.
    
“He got in,” Angie said again.
    
Bwana stood up on the seat. He climbed over Geneva and Spence, then dropped back down to give Daniel a bear hug. Squeezing Angie out of the booth, both Bwana and Daniel spilled to the grimy tiles.
    
“When did you find out?” Bwana punched him. “Why didn’t you tell anybody?”
    
“I found out a couple days ago. I was going to tell– Will you get off me?”
    
Bwana got to his feet just in time to smile at the waitress and keep her from kicking them all out. After folding themselves back into the booth, Daniel said, “I was going to tell you. It just hasn’t, I don’t know, sunk in yet.”
    
“How do you already know even?” Geneva asked.
    
“I sent my application in October and got an early decision slot.”
    
“Aren’t you excited?”
    
Daniel shrugged. “Yeah.”
    
The table shook again as Scotty grabbed Daniel’s head. “You got into Cornell! The Ivy Leagues! Be excited,” he told him. “Be running around buck naked, smoking a blunt, and telling rat ass Birmingham it can kiss your ass on the way out.”   
    
Grinning, Daniel pried free of Scotty’s hands. “I’m excited. I promise. I’m excited.”
    
    
Claws scraped against asphalt. Vapor trailed from muzzles. All around the wolves, the city was an opal, cold-burning with a million flecks of light.
    
A white water of sound–tires and grumbling engines–rushed along the overpass above them. Val carried a can of spray paint in her jaws, but she couldn’t paint in wolf shape. Shifting into her human skin, she began slashing at the first pillar with black strokes of paint. Eric, still a wolf, brushed against Val’s legs as she worked.
    
Misty loped down Clairmont toward a diner’s parking lot. Hidden among mounds of dirty slush, she watched cars float past and kept a lookout for cruisers. Chunks of ice froze to the course outer coat of Misty’s pelt, but they didn’t bother her.
    
Val finished the first pillar and dashed to the second. Above, Misty’s twin brother Marc patrolled the expressway, padding ghostlike through the orange glow of the street lamps.
    
A homeless man trudged along the overpass’s narrow footpath. Seeing Marc, he stopped and held out a palm for him to sniff, cautious but not afraid, mistaking Marc for an ordinary dog. The man didn’t see that Marc’s rangy shape concealed more speed and strength than any pet. He didn’t realize a wolf could tear the flesh and tendons of his arm, shatter the bones, as easily as he could bite through an apple.
    
The man tried to scratch Marc’s head. Ducking, Marc pressed himself against the guardrail and let him pass.
    
Misty’s ears flicked toward giggling whispers. A couple stepped out of the diner. Strains of laughter and food smells, onions, sizzling oil, and meat wafted out the door with them. They hurried across the parking lot, the woman pressing against her lover for warmth. Before sliding into the passenger seat, she kissed him. Her voice dropped to a gentle hush.  
    
Misty listened from between the cars. She remembered the way Andre used to whisper to her, even though he was a jerk. Suddenly, the wind that had plucked harmlessly at Misty’s pelt stung her face cold enough to sear. She grunted, realizing she was a human again, the slush soaking through the knees of her jeans.  
    
They shifted into wolves from the inside out. Before their bodies changed, Misty’s pack had to let their minds sink to a primal, instinctive depth. Thinking about Andre and how good the woman looked in her red overcoat–thinking too human–yanked Misty back into her shivering human shape.
    
Closing her eyes, Misty imagined her wolf-self. She dropped her hands against the ground, but her fingers stayed thin and tipped with pearl white polish. Frustrated, she slapped the ground over and over until a speck of glass scraped the pad of her thumb. The ragged pain made Misty cuss. She sucked the cut, rocking back onto her haunches. From the overpass, Marc sent up an alarm of frantic barks.
    
Misty turned and saw the cruiser coming down Clairmont. Luckily, Marc had spotted it before the police spotted Val and Eric.
    
Eric answered Marc with more barking. Fangs bared, he twisted around, snapping at the air. Val dropped to all fours and turned back into a wolf. The pair ran east. Bounding down the embankment, Marc ran west. All of them were on the opposite side of the street from Misty.
    
She tried shifting one more time, but it was no use.  Giving up, she watched her pack scatter in different directions. Marc vanished behind a twenty-four-hour pharmacy. Eric decided to cross Clairmont and double back. Horns blared and the flow of traffic closed immediately behind him, leaving Val stranded on the far side. They were werewolves. They just weren’t competent werewolves.
    
The cruiser pulled into the diner parking lot just as the couple in love pulled out. Misty slipped behind the building. A single bulb burned above the rear door. Misty inspected her hurt thumb and stomped her tanker boots against the cold.
    
Listening to the Friday-night clamor, Misty waited. After a minute, she heard Marc’s howl. He was a couple blocks west. Zipping her jacket up above her mouth and stuffing her hands in her pockets, she trudged off to find her brother.  


Daniel’s friends wanted to know everything about Cornell. He gave them one- and two-word answers until the conversation finally drifted to their applications at different colleges. It was past midnight when they left, sidling past two policemen coming in.
    
Daniel drove Angie home. On the way, she asked, “Why didn’t you want to tell them about Cornell?”   
    
“I was going to tell them. I just... I don’t know.”
    
“Is it that SAT thing?”
    
“No.”
    
Angie sighed. “Daniel, You got into Cornell. So what if you had to hustle a little? I promise, everybody up there had to hustle somehow to get there. Including the teachers, probably.”
    
“Yeah. Maybe.”
    
“Everybody’s happy for you. Me, the guys, your parents. Just be happy too, okay?”
    
“Okay.”
    
“Promise?”
    
“I promise.” He pulled to the curb in front of her house. The porch light burned, but the windows were dark. Their goodnight kiss turned into open mouths and teasing tongues. “Let’s go up to your room,” Daniel whispered.  
    
Angie snorted. “My parents are asleep, not dead.”
    
“We’ll be real quiet.” He kissed her again. “Two little mousies.”  
    
They stole through the kitchen and down the hall one careful, creaking step at a time. Angie’s shoulders trembled with held-in laughter as they passed her parent’s closed door.
    
In her bedroom, she put on music to cover the squeak of mattress springs. While a woman crooned in a studio-polished voice, Daniel pulled Angie’s sweater and T-shirt up over her head. They had hushed, fumbling, giggling sex. Hands covered mouths and mouths tasted warm skin. Sweat filmed Daniel’s back in the cool January night. By the time the CD came to the last track, he was reaching for his jeans.
    
“Stay awhile,” Angie mumbled.
    
“I need to get home.”
    
“No. Just a few minutes.” Laying in bed, she reached for him.
    
Daniel kissed her fingertips, then her lips. “Sorry. I love you.”
    
Mad he wouldn’t stay, se answered, “Love you too, jerk.”
    
Daniel pulled on his shirt and didn’t say anything else. Stripey, Angie’s stuffed tiger, lay in the windowsill above her bed. She’d had him for years, the nap of his fur worn smooth. Picking him up, Daniel tucked him into bed beside Angie.
    
Angie watched him turn to leave. “Congratulations on Cornell.” The soft words dripped venom.
    
“Thanks. Goodnight.” Daniel gently shut her door and crept back downstairs. On his way through the kitchen, he noticed the box of raspberry strudel sitting on the counter. Cutting himself a piece, he slipped into the moaning cold and jogged to his car.
    
Daniel had been accepted by Cornell. The Ivy League. Everybody was happy for him, even if they weren’t surprised. Since he’d been seven, people had seen something special in Daniel. He was always the bright one, the determined one, the shooting star who could rise above Birmingham and go on to great things.
    
When Daniel was in eighth grade, though, his dad lost his job with Pfizer. Then Mack was born. With three kids and nearly broke, his parents realized it wasn’t enough to let Daniel’s destiny unfold on its own.
    
Once his dad was working again, they nickel-and-dimed together the fee for a professional college consultant. Through high school, Daniel took advanced placement courses, volunteered as a peer tutor and at church, played shooting guard on the basketball team, and was a student representative before he could drive himself to the functions. He busted his ass, and when it came time to pick a college, he could have walked into practically any school he wanted.
    
But the brochure from Cornell had a satiny finish. It didn’t feel like paper, almost like fabric. Inside were photographs of neoclassical buildings in far-off Ithaca, New York, their bluestone faces twisted up to spires and pierced by arches. The towers of Cornell seemed both somber and completely weightless.  
    
Daniel’s dad had never finished college. As a drug rep, he worked his natural charm to keep the family’s bellies full. The army had sent Daniel’s mom through nursing school. They paid the bills on time and had a little money left over for a few comforts, but Cornell lay beyond their dreams. Only shooting stars could ever reach it.  
    
Daniel’s standardized test scores might have weighed him down, though. After two rounds, they were okay but would hardly make anybody’s eyes bulge. Reading up on the tests, his parents learned that, if Daniel had attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, he could take them untimed, practically guaranteeing better scores. After working in Birmingham’s sprawling medical industry for years, they knew plenty of “candy men,” shady doctors who’d write prescriptions for Vicodin or OxyContin for anybody paying in cash. Getting a psychiatrist to say Daniel had ADHD was a phone call away.
    
“Well? You have trouble concentrating sometimes, don’t you?” his mom had asked one night after Daniel’s brothers were in bed. He and his parents sat in the living room, all three of them pretending to watch a Law & Order rerun.
    
“You’re a nurse, and you just figured out I have ADHD?”
    
She sighed. “I haven’t figured out anything. We just want to find out if you do.”
    
“C’mon.”
    
“It’s not cheating. You still have to answer the same questions, right? And even if it was, people go to doctors for a lot worse reasons than this.”
    
“I don’t care give a crap what other people do.”
    
“We can’t make you do this.” His dad glared at the TV. “But you’re not a kid anymore. And honesty counts for a lot less in the adult world than you seem to think.”
    
Daniel was about to snap back, but his dad stood up and walked out of the room. Daniel realized this was making his parents sick. They knew it was wrong, but they wanted him to escape the crumbling city he’d grown up in. They had worked even harder toward that dream than he had. He couldn’t let them down.
    
A week later, Daniel went to see a therapist. While his mom sat in the waiting room, the doctor asked him questions. Was it ever hard staying on task? Did he get frustrated easily? He gave the answers he was expected to. Thirty minutes later, he walked out with a sheet of paper declaring him a sufferer of ADHD.
    
When they got home, Daniel’s car was missing. His dad pulled it into the driveway that evening, and Daniel had a new sound system, MP3 compatible, 180-watt amplifier, and duel-coil, custom-fit subwoofers in the trunk. His parents wanted him to have something nice when he went off to college.
    
He retook the SATs, untimed this round, and did just as well as everybody knew he would. He mailed his application off to Cornell and got their answer a few days after Christmas. When he showed the acceptance letter to his parents, they went ecstatic. His mom found somebody to cover for her at work so they could go out and celebrate.
    
His dad had probably been right. Angie too. Nobody got anywhere without a little hustle. Still, the rush of pride Daniel had spent years working for never came. While everyone around him beamed, Daniel just felt exhausted and kind of pissed off.
    
Now, after a night filled with friends and laughter, the early morning quiet made the tangled thoughts worse. Finishing the raspberry strudel, Daniel worked the green-glowing controls of his new stereo until every rhyme Freetown spit made the steering wheel shudder under his hands.
    
Passing the diner again, Daniel crossed beneath the overpass on his way home. Below it, three of the support pillars bore the same graffiti tag, a stylized wolf’s head, tongue lolling, fangs displayed. Daniel gave the leering wolves a quick glance. Drawn in profile, they watched cars curving off the expressway onto Clairmont. Then Daniel started thinking about Cornell again and forgot them.  

Chapter 2



It was the last semester of their last year. An anxious energy electrified the whole senior class. They milled around the threshold of their lives, waiting to scatter off to wherever they would go, to become whatever they would become.  
    
Misty walked into the school lobby, Marc trailing behind her. She spotted Val standing alone beneath the frost-stippled windows. Looking up, Val gave her a sleepy smile.
    
“Hey.” Misty leaned against the wall beside her. “Where’s Eric?”
    
“Bed. Some dumb fuck college sent Andrew a brochure.”
    
Two years ago, marine officers had shown up at Eric’s house to tell his family Eric’s older brother had died. Since then, every few weeks , a college brochure or flyer from a Ford dealership where Andrew had gone to check out new trucks would appear in the mail, whispering about the man he might have been.
    
Misty sighed and wrapped an arm around Val. Exhausted from comforting her boyfriend all night, Val needed comfort herself now. Letting her head drop to Misty’s shoulder, Val yawned and said, “There should be a fine for keeping somebody on your mailing list after they die. Jackasses don’t know what they do to people. They don’t care.”
    
“Still, it’s cool she lets Eric skip whenever he wants,” Marc said.
    
Both girls looked at him, then at each other. “If you listen real close, you can actually hear the hamster wheel in his head spinning,” Misty said.
    
Marc punched her. Misty punched him back.
    
“Well? We’re fucking werewolves,” Marc growled. “And we still have to come to school every day? It’s retarded.”
    
“Marc, you’re just mad because you’re a werewolf and you still don’t have any chest hair, so just shut up,” Val said.
    
“Oh, hell.” Marc jerked up his T-shirt, displaying a downy streak of hair running down his stomach.
    
“Aw, it’s like dandelion fluff,” Val cooed. “If I blow it off, do I get a wish?”
    
“That’s the treasure map, baby. Leads all the way down to the pirate’s chest.” He started belly dancing. “It’s okay, Valentine. Your man’s not here. Give in to your desire.”
    
Val tried to shout, “You’re so stupid!” but was laughing too hard.
    
“Don’t make me show my nipples, Valentine. You know my nipples shoot love beams straight into your heart.”
    
Squealing, covering her face, Val retreated into the corner. Marc chased her with hip-swaying steps. “All right, I didn’t want to do this, but, pow! There’s one. Pow! There’s the–”  
    
“Hey! Put your shirt on. Now!”
    
Mr. Fine, the vice-principal, pushed through the crowd toward them. Marc let his shirt drop back into place.
    
“What’s the matter with you? Do you see anybody else ripping their clothes off?”
    
Marc fixed a bored expression on his face, staring off to the side through half-closed eyes.
    
“Well?”
    
“No.”
    
“Then cut it out, or you’re going to ISS. Clear?”
    
Marc shrugged.
    
Mr. Fine gave Misty and Val a warning glare, then stalked off. Once he’d walked away, the three pulled tighter together.
    
“Let’s maul him,” Misty said. “Rip his throat out.”
    
Grinning, Marc and Val watched Mr. Fine over their shoulders. Then Val turned back to Misty. “Oh. Remember Monday I was complaining about Geneva Jones being in my health class? Wondering why bother since she’s already got every crotch critter in the textbook?”
    
“Yeah?”
    
“Well, I should have kept my mouth shut, because the very next day Angie Walton transferred into that class too.”
    
Misty snorted. “There’s probably a couple crotch critters named after her.”
    
“I know. God, I hate both of them.”  
    

Daniel stood with his friends and lieutenants near the trophy cases, waiting for first bell. The lobby’s commotion swirling around them, Angie squeezed herself Daniel, her head nestled on his shoulder.
    
“Mr. Morning!”
    
Daniel stiffened at the sound of his name. Mr. Fine appeared, his right hand extended. “I heard you got some good news over the holidays.”
    
Daniel shook the vice-principal’s hand. “Yeah. I guess I did,” he said, glancing sideways at Keith.
    
“Congratulations, Daniel. I know how hard you’ve worked for this. I know you’re going to make us all proud.”
    
“Thanks. I’ll try.” Inside, Daniel squirmed, but he kept the grinning mask on as Mr. Fine slapped his back and rambled.
    
“Daniel Morning at Cornell. That’s just wonderful. We all knew you could do it.”
    
“Ew. That’s gross,” Geneva said.
    
They all looked up to see what she was talking about. Across the lobby, Marc Sandlin had his shirt hoisted to his chin, dancing around like a short bus kid off his Ritalin.
    
“Good job, Daniel,” Mr. Fine said, already weaving through the crowd. “Come by my office later today. Can’t wait to hear all about it.”
    
“I sure will.”
    
“Hey! Put your shirt on. Now!”
    
Daniel slumped back against the wall, watching Mr. Fine read Marc the riot act. Bwana mumbled, “I really didn’t need to see that.”  
    
“Val sits in front of us in health,” Angie said, motioning to herself and Geneva. “I wouldn’t have changed teachers if I knew I’d have to stare at her back-fat all day.”  
    
While everybody snickered, Daniel slapped his cousin in the back of the head. “What are you telling Mr. Fine my business for?”
    
“What?” Keith asked. “He asked if you’d heard anything yet. Didn’t know it was a big secret.”
    
“You’re such a suck up.” He noticed Keith wasn’t wearing his new watch.   
    
First bell rang a minute later. Angie and Daniel shared a quick kiss, then hurried to their homerooms. In trig, Daniel used the parallax method to calculate the distance from Earth to different stars. He scribbled down notes and thumbnail diagrams, copying step-by-step the examples Mrs. Schiff put on the whiteboard.
    
With winter break over, at least Daniel could keep his mind busy. Getting lost in double-angle identities and the Battle of Verdun, he didn’t have time to obsess over the bluestone towers of Cornell or the slimy therapist who’d gotten him there.    
    
He wouldn’t have been so moody lately if he was still playing ball. Heading to government class with Bwana, Daniel mulled over trying out for the Big Red once he got to Cornell. Bwana laughed out loud. “Cornell sucks.”
    
“It’s the Ivies,” Daniel said. “They’re supposed to suck.”
    
“They suck for the Ivies. Their last league championship was when? Like in eighty-five?”
    
“Eighty-eight. A mere twenty years ago. And they’re just waiting for a good shooting guard. They’re just waiting for me.”   
    
“You need to try out for rowing or something like that. Do they have squash up there?”
    
“Yeah, but–”
    
“They do? I was totally making that up. They really have a squash team? What about cricket? No, you’ve got to join the polo team.”
    
As they walked into government class, Daniel changed the subject. “Which one? Jessica or Emi?” he asked, nodding at the Orr twins gossiping.
    
Bwana puffed his cheeks with air and let it out slowly, considering the question. “Jessica’s ass. Emi’s tits.”
    
“How are you going to–” Somebody bumped into Daniel from behind. He stepped aside to let Misty Sandlin pass. They muttered, “Sorry,” at the same time.
    
“How are you going to do that?” Daniel finished his thought. “Saw them in half and stitch the best parts together?”
    
“It’s a hypothetical. So hypothetically, I can mix-and-match. Now, which one would I do, that’s not hypothetical, because I could get both of them down to their skivvies before you slapped on your cologne. That’s just reality.”  
    
They kept up the bored banter until Mrs. MacKaye appeared. After the class took their seats, she started passing out a list of different forms of government. Everybody had to choose one from the list and write a three-page paper detailing its pros and cons. The class gave up a collective groan.
    
“Don’t make it three pages, please?” Jessica begged. “That’s too long.”
    
Mrs. MacKaye sighed. “What do you want? To make a shoebox diorama? Make a little Stalin out of pipe cleaners and glitter?”
    
“Yes!” Jessica said, folding her arms across her chest.
    
“Come on, guys. When you get to college, three pages is the bare minimum you’ll be expected to write for every exam. If you think anybody’s going to hold your hand, you’ve got–”
    
Tires squealed outside, and an animal screamed. Twenty-three heads whipped around. At the bottom of the campus hill, a car drove down Nineteenth Avenue, leaving behind the dog it had hit.
    
The brown mutt tried to get out of the street. The class watched it struggle up, crumple, then struggle up again. Daniel could see one of its hind legs was crushed.
    
“Oh, Jesus,” Mrs. MacKaye said. “Oh, why do idiots let their pets just run around like that?”
    
“Should we call the police or something?” Emi asked. “I’ve got my phone.”
    
Mrs. MacKaye hesitated, then pulled her eyes away from the window. “The front office can handle it. We’ve got a lot to cover, okay? Come on, guys. The office can handle it.”
    
The dog kept whimpering, but with the windows closed, the sound was thin. They could ignore it.
    
“Let’s go over the instructions, okay? Zach, I’m not explaining this twice. Now, all these forms of government have been tried at one point or another. So when you write your pros and cons, I want actual– Pay attention, Misty.”
    
Misty Sandlin sat in the row of desks nearest the windows. Ignoring Mrs. MacKaye, she toyed with her lip ring and watched the dog.
    
“Misty!”
    
Rolling her eyes, Misty stood up. She walked past the teacher without a glance. Mrs. MacKaye yelled at her to sit down. Misty opened the door and vanished. The whole class sat stunned, listening to her boots thud down the empty hall as she broke into a run.
    
Suddenly, the spell of Mrs. MacKaye’s authority shattered. Chairs scraped the floor as every student crowded around the windows. Misty reappeared, crossing the frost-silvered campus.  
    
The dog had made it to the strip of dead grass between the curb and the sidewalk. Blood stained the snow. When it saw Misty approaching, it dragged itself toward her with its front legs. Misty pulled off her sweater. Kneeling on the ground in her T-shirt, she bundled the dog up and scooped it into her arms. Through the window, Daniel watched Misty rush the dog to her car while he, McCammon High’s shooting star, stood with the gutless, gawking rest.
    
It took a minute for Mrs. MacKaye to get the class back under control. She sent a discipline slip for Misty over to the front office. They talked about the assignment some more and then the three branches of the federal government.
    
After third period, the story began spreading to people who hadn’t seen it. When Daniel and Bwana told their friends they’d been in the same classroom as Misty, they wanted all the details, what she’d said and how she’d acted.
    
“She didn’t act any way,” Daniel told them. “She just walked out.”
    
But listening to the hurt dog whimper, Daniel had felt sorry for it. He’d wanted to do something and had seethed at Mrs. MacKaye because she wouldn’t. But Daniel had never considered going to help himself. All Misty did was walk out, but watching her, it had seemed as astonishing as if she’d swooped out the window and flown to the dog’s rescue.
    
Daniel mulled it over through lunch and the last half of the school day. By the time the three o’clock bell rang, Daniel could finally put into words what had been gnawing at him all week.
    
He hadn’t wanted to cheat. Daniel had blamed his parents for pushing him into it, but he could have refused. He could have answered the therapist’s questions honestly. Walking into the testing room, he could have just not handed the proctor the form saying he had ADHD. Instead, hating every minute of it, he’d done exactly what they wanted him to do.
    
He’d gotten into Cornell, his dream school. But in the end, it hadn’t been because he was bright or determined. Daniel was going to Cornell because he was obedient. Because he had never, not once he could remember, stood up for himself the way Misty had stood up for a mongrel.     
    
There was a student rep meeting after class. Daniel was headed there when he remembered Mr. Fine had asked him to stop by. He really didn’t feel like chatting with the vice-principal today, but he turned around, anyway.
    
Keith worked in the main office as a student aide. When Daniel pushed through the glass doors, his cousin had an elbow propped on the chest-high counter, scratching his head over some geometry problems. He glanced up when Daniel walked in. “Hey. What’s up?” Looking back down, he started erasing an answer.
    
“Mr. Fine wanted to see me.”
    
“Oh, yeah. It’ll be a minute, though.” Keith leaned over the counter grinning. “Misty Sandlin’s in there now.”
    
Daniel glanced at the vice-principal’s closed office door. “Really?”
    
“Batshit crazy,” Keith whispered so the secretary wouldn’t overhear.
    
Suddenly, the door jerked open and Misty stepped out. Scowling at the floor, she walked around the counter, almost bumping into Daniel a second time that day.
    
Misty and her brother were both nasty little things with personalities like battery acid. The last person to cross Misty had been her boyfriend, Andre Swoopes, last October. She’d locked him out of his house naked, then burned his clothes. But even though Misty was a vicious thug princess, but she’d done something Daniel hadn’t had the courage to do. Maybe never could, if he wanted to be a shooting star.
    
“So, uh, is that dog okay?”
    
“What?” She shot him a look as beguiling as a brick thrown at his head. Misty was half-black, her skin a sallow, almost sickly, yellow. Thick eyeliner enhanced the impression of a permanent flu. Daniel guessed her lip ring was fairly new; the hole seemed infected.  
    
“That dog,” Daniel said again. “Is it okay?”
    
She gave a tiny shrug. “Drove him to a vet. They said he’d probably live, but they’ll have to amputate one of his legs.”
    
“That’s good. That–that he’ll live. Too bad about his leg, though.”
    
“Yeah. He had a collar on, so they called his owners. Told them where he was.”
    
“Good. That’s good.”
    
“Yeah.”
    
They stared at each other. When Daniel couldn’t think of anything else to say, Misty shrugged again. “Well, see you.” She walked out of the office.   
    
“I’ll tell Mr. Fine you’re here,” Keith said, heading toward the vice-principal’s office.
    
“Hold up a second.” Daniel followed Misty into the lobby. Her brother and her friend Val lingered outside the main office. Daniel had passed them a minute earlier without noticing them.
    
“ISS?”  
    
Misty nodded. “Five days.”
    
“Mom’s gonna whip your ass,” Marc laughed. “Gonna take off her belt.”
    
“Don’t tell her. I’ll tell her when I get back from work tonight.” Misty sighed. “Jesus. All this, and I’ve still got to be at the deli at five.”
    
“You were right, we should have–” Val saw Daniel walking up behind Misty. Her eyes narrowed.
    
“It was just really cool,” Daniel said. “I mean, everybody saw what happened and felt sorry for that dog, but nobody did anything. Except you. Too afraid to stick their necks out or whatever.” Watching him, Misty’s hard expression softened into something closer to bafflement. Daniel heard himself rambling but couldn’t shut up. “I mean, it was just really... dashing.”
    
That made the corner of her mouth twist upward into a smirk. “Thanks.”
    
“Wow.” Val tilted her head to one side. “You’re very sensitive for a dumb jock.”
    
Daniel nodded. “I can be. It gives me migraines, but I can be.”
    
Misty had a gentle laugh. “Well, see you around.”
    
“Yeah.”
    
Misty, Val, and Marc headed outside. Marc held the door open for the girls like a butler, giving an elaborate bow as they stepped through. Val whispered a few words to Misty, then Misty glanced over her shoulder. She met Daniel’s gaze and held it for a just moment before the door swung closed.    


Excerpted from Unleashed. Copyright © 2007 by Kristopher Reisz.
Published by Simon Pulse, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.