Chapter 1

I was in a grumpy mood even before I woke up that morning. My dreams dove at me, sticking their icy nails into my conscience. Each one of them bore an image of a dark-haired girl with a hurt expression and a pointing finger. It was Tish, my best friend. Or maybe she wasn't my best friend anymore. She was more than a little angry with me. Okay, it was kind of my fault. I sort of tipped Dave off about the fact that she had a majorly huge crush on him. So sue me. I was punch drunk and couldn't exactly be responsible for my actions. So now I was feeling like crap because my best friend hates me. Add that to the fact that I have the hugest hangover and you'll see why my life can't get that much worse.

My grumpy mood wasn't getting much better with my alarm clock buzzing in my ear like a super large mosquito. I stretched out my arm and punched the thing off. Oops! Hope I didn't break it. Or, take that back. I hope I did. I couldn't get enough of that blessed silence. If I could only fall back into oblivion I wouldn't have to feel my throbbing temples.

Let me tell you, this rebellious teenager stage has really killed the wake up fresh feeling. My mouth tasted of stale beer and that corroded pukey aftertaste. I had a vague memory of tipping over Jay's back deck and plummeting to the ground. Maybe that was why my body felt as though it had been pummeled with battering rams. I groaned and sat up, feeling every single aching nerve. But if I didn't get up soon, my mom would come pounding on the door, making a ruckus so loud that my head really would wish it was in oblivion.

I rolled out of bed and welcomed myself into another day as a self-absorbed sixteen-year-old brat. As far as teenagers come I was your worst nightmare.

I pulled myself into a snug pair of grungies. That's what my mom calls them anyway. To me they're just jeans. Albeit ugly jeans that looked ready for the trash, but jeans just the same. The cuffs were worn into ragged stringy patches and my favorite part were the gaping holes in the knees. I only wore them when I wanted my mom to wring her hair out. She absolutely hated them.

Okay, so I could still be a jerk after a night like last, but can you blame me? My mom just got a new boyfriend. The first one since my dad died. And he's fifteen years younger than she is! He could practically be my boyfriend! Well, he's thirty and I'm sixteen, but you get the point. And get this: he works with a traveling circus. My sensible get-an-education-or-I'll-lock-you-in-your-room-until-you're-thirty mother is dating a traveling acrobat! I'll admit he's definitely hot looking. His name's Nabil and he could totally be that Arab guy off the Mummy.

Here's the one thing I'd never tell my mother: Nabil is kind of cool. Except for the fact that he was teaching my mother incantations yesterday. Incantations with my name in them! What are they trying to do anyway; Voodoo me into nonexistence? I'm sure my mom would like to get rid of me, but talk about creepy! And they didn't mention a word about Tate. They just kept chanting in Moroccan with my name randomly interspersed between words.

I slipped into a small yellow tee with the words BAD GIRL emblazoned across the front and hurried into the personal bathroom connected to my room. I brushed my teeth vigorously, trying to take away that awful aftertaste. I heard my mother's faint voice, muffled from its journey up the stairs and down the hall.

"Bri! Tate! I made breakfast! Are you coming down to eat?"

Great. My mother never makes breakfast. It was a fend-for-yourself kind of home in the mornings. Whenever mom made breakfast that meant she I were about to have a heart to heart. That meant she was feeling guilty about the whole creepy incantation thing.

I spit into the sink and washed my mouth with copious amounts of water. I couldn't help the groan that escaped my lips. Sure, I wanted her to feel bad, but that didn't mean I wanted to have one of those mushy mother-daughter discussions. Call me heartless, but they made me feel a little uncomfortable. Well, I couldn't come straight out and diss an apology because then I'd get that guilty conscience thing. And I didn't like it either—the way it roiled through my guts like a snake just waiting to strike. But I could annoy the heck out of her—starting with the grungies. Mom was getting a little tired of my bad girl stage. But hey, I was getting tired of my screwed up life—the one she so graciously brought me into.

Don't get me wrong, it's not like I'm suicidal or anything. Or depressed either. Just a little mad at the world at times.

Right now I would have been glad to trade places with anyone. Even snotty Lena Watson. Who am I kidding? I'd love to trade places with Lena any day. Her boyfriend, Jay, is like the hottest guy I've ever seen in my life. I just can't get enough of that rusty blond hair and those well-shaped abs. And as a plus: he's a biker dude. I could just imagine if he came to pick me up for a date. That would really get my mom biting her nails. She hates motorcycles.

I slouched down the stairs, rubbing my eyes. I was the image of indifference. Inwardly, I reveled at the fact that my mother had a full view of me and decked out in grungies and all.

My mother stood at the table, taking in my outfit with an "oh dear" expression she likes to use. She ran her fingers through her hair. "Aren't those a little grungy?" she asked, trying to sound calm and cool.

"Hence their name," I replied. "You're the one who started calling them that."

Then I pulled the father card. "They were my favorite pair when daddy was alive. I can't just chuck them."

She gave me a pained look. "Well, do you at least want to do something with your hair?"

"I brushed it. That's something."

I slid into my chair, knowing she'd relent. Mom doesn't do a good job at the stern mother act. It just doesn't work for her. That's why it's so easy to get away with things. But even she had her limits, and I had crossed them last night. It was only a matter of time before she confronted me on the issue.

Rule #1 in the Gabrielle Taylor handbook: If at all possible, break the rules. But never go too far.

Well, guess what folks? Even I break my rules sometimes. Especially when choice people try to voodoo me out of existence.

My mother sat down, giving in on the clothes issue.

"Hey freak," my brother Tate remarked, his mouth full of half-chewed toast and eggs. "I heard all about last night."

Great way to break the ice. I just glowered at him and smothered my fried potatoes with a ton of ketchup.

"That's something we need to discuss," my mother said quietly, her face strained.

I stabbed a potato with my fork and eyed her carefully, weighing the situation.

"Now Gabrielle," my mother almost never used my full name. She did now. "You know that I don't approve of wild parties. And I especially don't approve of drinking and heaven knows what other drugs you were doing. While you are living in this house, you will obey the rules. I won't have you messing up your future."

"I only drank," I decided to go for the truth. "And it sucked. Don't worry mom, with the hangover I have, I'll never want to drink again."

My mother wasn't pacified with this information. She shook her head and countered. "You say that now. But the next time I turn my back you'll be at it again."

The phone rang. "I'll get it!" Tate jumped up.

There was no point in explaining to my mom that for once I was actually serious.

Tate came running back. "It's Tish," he said disappointedly.

My mom snatched the phone away. "Hi, Tish. I'm sorry, but you'll have to speak to Bri at school. We have something important to discuss."

"Mom!" I protested.

My mom had already turned off the phone. She ignored my protest with a sigh. "Look," she said finally. "I know you may be angry with me, but you're only hurting yourself. Why are you so angry? Is it because of Nabil? Is it because I'm not around enough?

I just glared.

"You know, Bri, I really feel we've been getting distant lately. And you've been getting into all this trouble. You're doing poorly in school. And you never talk to me anymore." She ticked her fingers off as she spoke. "It's just not healthy."

"You want to talk about secrets?" I asked, my voice deadly calm. My insides boiled. "What about you? What's with the Moroccan incantations? Are you trying to curse me into nonexistence? I suppose that would make things easier for you, with me out of the picture."

"Gabrielle!" She shouted, shocked. "What's gotten into you lately? I'll not have you speak to me that way!"

I took a deep breath. The faster I agreed with her, the faster this conversation would be over. I needed to hurry to school and apologize to Tish. The likelihood that she would ever forgive me after last night was about nil. It worsened with every moment.

I pushed down my pride and looked up at her. "I'm sorry, mom," I said. "I'm out of line. I know you wouldn't curse me away."

I hoped not, anyway.

Her expression remained suspicious for a moment and then it fell away. She moved around the table and gave me a tight squeeze. I wasn't particularly comfortable with being hugged, but I let her anyway.

Tate made gagging noises. I ignore him.

"Oh, honey," my mom said, pulling back. "I want you to know what Nabil and I were doing yesterday. It's just that I've been so happy, finding love again. I wanted you to be happy too. You never date, Bri, and I thought maybe you could find a fling. To get you out of this rut."

I frowned. "What's that got to do with incantations?"
"Well," my mother looked embarrassed. "Don't laugh. I know this is silly, but it's a Moroccan poem that's said to summon Cupid."

I laughed incredulously. "Mom!" I breathed finally. "Cupids like a Greek or Roman god. Not Moroccan!"

My mother stood and brought me a large old book from the mantle. I flipped through the pages. Some of it was in English and some in Moroccan. The pages were old and weathered. It had the distinct smell of mildew.

"There's an old Moroccan legend. It's not very well known. It talks about Cupid," she explained. "Most Moroccans who know of it think it's a load of crock. But it actually is an interesting tale. Migrators from Europe must have brought it to Morocco."

I snorted. "And you actually believed you could summon Cupid?"

She shrugged sheepishly. "Wishful thinking."

I laughed. "The sensible professor is finally going nutty."

Mom's expression turned blissful and she laughed right along with me. She responded dreamily. "Maybe it's love."

I gagged.

My mom lunged for me, catching me by the hem of my grungies and tickling my feet furiously. I giggled and twisted and squealed. I used the leverage of a table leg to free me from her grasp. Jumping to my feet I ran for the door.

My mom called after me.

I turned around, slinging my backpack over one shoulder as I looked at her enquiringly. "Yeah?" I asked.

"Would you give Nabil a chance?" She asked seriously, clasping her hands together. There was pleading in her expression as she spoke. "Would you at least try? For me?"

"Maybe," I said slowly, contemplating. The truth was, I didn't know if I wanted to like Nabil yet. Cool or not cool, his presence was changing the whole structure of our family. I wasn't sure yet if I could handle those changes. I wasn't sure if I could handle having a new father take charge of the family and of me. The rules would be different. My life would be different. "The jury's still open."

"Will you tell me when you make that decision?" my mother asked.

I shrugged noncommittally and turned to leave.

She stopped me again. "Bri," she said. "We never finished the summoning. We decided not to because it upset you so much."

I laughed. "As if it would have worked."

I snorted and headed out the door. It was a good thing Cupid didn't exist. I didn't want someone messing around with my love life. Or lack thereof.