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CHAPTER ONE

Meg

 

The eyes had no soul.

Megan Farrell flung down her brush with a curse. The eyes refused to shine for her. No matter how she sketched them, no matter what colors she used to fill them, they sat on her canvas, dull. Dead. She couldn’t even get the color right and probably never would, unless she asked Chase Gallagher to sit for her, and she could never do that.

Chase Gallagher wasn’t part of her plan.

She stretched, cracking her neck, and stared out her window into the backyard that butted against hers. He was out there now, running around with his little brothers, trying to fix the snowman they’d built during a late-season snowstorm that hit Long Island three days earlier. Temperatures had risen to the fifties since then, but Chase would never tell the boys Frosty couldn’t be saved. The Gallagher brothers scooped up every inch of snow that hadn’t melted and brought it to Chase, who had an unlimited supply of patience from what Meg could see. Even through the closed window, she could hear the boys’ belly laughs and screeches of pure glee. “My turn, Chase! My turn!” And Chase would pick up another brother, lift him high enough to pat their handfuls of snow into place. Suddenly, he lifted his head and stared right at her.

She jumped back, her face on fire. Not smart, letting him catch her with her face pressed to her window.

She turned back to her canvas and with a charcoal pencil, crossed out the color mix she’d noted. It was too dark out to fix it now. The master bedroom was already striped in shadows. After her father died, her mother had refused to sleep here so Meg moved in, loving that she didn’t need to ‘clean up that mess!’ when she was done painting. The room was large enough for art supplies and her stuff, not that she had much. Just a twin bed shoved against one wall, a garage sale bookcase and desk for homework, an ancient laptop whose E button had long since disappeared, and a meager wardrobe that hardly filled one rod in the walk-in closet otherwise devoted to art supplies.

The way the light shining through the huge palladium window illuminated the paintings on her easel and the paint splatters on the wood floor made her feel like a real artist in a studio.

Usually.

Today, it only emphasized her failures.

On stiff legs, she took her brushes and palette knife to the bathroom that adjoined the bedroom to wash them. A drop of crimson paint hit the tile floor and spread, seeping into the grout.

Her throat tightened. Her breaths got shallow, her stomach pitched and rolled and when her legs buckled, she slid to the floor in a boneless heap, whimpering the way she had all those years ago when it had been blood on the floor instead of paint. He’d been gone for ten years now, but she could still hear his voice.

“The future, Megan!” he’d always said. “Focus on the future. Set goals and don’t let anything — or anyone — ever make you lose focus.” Her father’s plan. But he’d failed. So now it was hers — a promise she had to keep.

Minutes passed, or maybe they were hours. She sat on the hard floor until she was able to pull herself together. How long it had taken this time, she wasn’t sure. She grabbed a towel and rubbed furiously at the spot on the floor until it squeaked. Then she pulled out the tie that held her hair back in a messy knot, wincing when a few rooted strands came away with it. She dragged herself to her feet and ran the shower.

Piece by piece, she shed her paint-spattered clothes. She stood under the stream of water as hot as she could take it. She really wished hot water could melt away all the anxiety that seemed to cover her like a thick coat of ice. The panic attack, the SAT scores that still hadn’t arrived, the job she was about to lose when the movie theater closed its doors in a few weeks, and the bills — the endless pile of bills her mom cried over when she thought Meg was asleep. When the water went cold, she stepped out, wrapped herself in a towel and stood in front of the mirror, scowling at the look in her eyes.

Bailey would notice.

She always did…