"Jane, I wasn't going to tell you this, but there's a guy who's been drawing you for the past half hour or so."

I glanced up from my potions homework and gave Lindy a quizzical look. "What are you talking about?" I asked.

She sifted slightly in her seat across from me and leaned forward over the picnic table where we had taken up for. Her own homework, astrology, lay open and unfinished before her. Curiously, I leaned forward, wondering if I was going to be bequeathed with some deep, dark secret.

"He's sitting on the third table to your left, sketchbook out, pencil scratching, and glancing up at you every few moments, as he's been doing for the past hour," she told me in low tones.

I thought this slightly alarming – and odd. Given, there were many odd people that attended our school (and even odder where those who taught us), but I was somewhat mystified as to why someone who I didn't know would be drawing me. Curious, I decided to look over, but Lindy stopped me.

"Jane! Don't look at him, it would be obvious!" she whispered harshly.

I gave her a critical look. "And it isn't obvious that he's drawing me?" I queried, and put down my pencil. "Why would anyone be drawing me, anyway?"

"I don't know. That's what I've been pondering the past half hour or so."

I frowned at her. "And why didn't you tell me earlier?" I demanded.

She huffed. "What would that have accomplished?"

"Well, at least I would have known!" I declared. "And I would have walked right up to him and demanded why he was drawing me – if I'd known!"

Lindy laughed at me. "Well, why don't you go now?"

I thought about that question for a moment. What on earth would I say to a boy whom I knew had been drawing me – without my permission? What does anyone say to that? Does one simply stroll up unannounced and casually ask, "Say, the likeness of that drawing to me is astounding? Have you perhaps been sketching me without my knowing?" That would be, in the least, quite awkward, and I wasn't sure if I could do something so forward.

"Well?" Lindy prompted, grinning.

"I don't know," I replied cleverly, and from the corner of my eye I attempted to see this boy without turning my head. All I did was strain my eyes and earn another fit of giggles from my best friend.

"You know what...?" she began deviously, "I dare you to go up to him and ask why he's drawing you." She gave me a wily grin, her eyes prompting me.

"I—no! What would that accomplish?" I demanded. The mere thought of approaching this strange boy gave me nervous wiggles in my stomach.

"Well, he would reply – and you would know if he is simply an astute art student or a creepy, deranged boy who will commit nefarious deeds with your likeliness on parchment," she told me, grinning in a familiar way that both irked me and made me want to smile back.

"I'd rather not think about it," I told her swiftly. "In fact, I will ignore it." I mentally applauded my own decision and took up my pencil to continue on my potion for eradicating hiccups.

Lindy scoffed at me, a true scoff where there was doubtful laughter coupled with a knowing look. "And what if I said he was studying you very astutely right now, a contemplating look on his face, chewing his lower lip, pencil tapping, concentrating entirely–"

I couldn't resist, of course, and I suppose Lindy knew that. Setting down my pencil, I turned resolutely on the bench and sought out this boy with narrowed eyes.

I found him perched atop the third table over, a sketchbook on his knees and a pencil twirling effortlessly in his fingers. He had discarded his suit jacket and had the sleeves of his shirt rolled up to his elbows and the first few buttons at his neck undone. He was focused on me, a look of concentration engraved on somewhat elfin features.

Lindy had failed to mention the boy's elfin features. I studied them now, with an increased thump to my pulse. The angles of his face were sharp; his skin was pale, a startling contrast to his thick, dark hair, which held the appearance being purposefully mussed. His focused eyes stared at me from under dark, stern brows.

He stared at me.

This realization sent a sudden flush to my face. His gaze was so intent that I could almost feel it poking and prodding at me, and my cheeks burned at this realization. I turned swiftly back to Lindy, who was regarding me with a grin.

"He was staring at me," I told her dumbly.

Lindy's eyes flickered to the side. "He's still staring."

We regarded each other for a moment.

"Well, what are you waiting for?" Lindy demanded suddenly. "Go! I'm just as curious as you are!"

I gave her a look of helplessness. "I'm not curious! I'm terrified!"

Lindy merely rolled her eyes and folded her arms on the table. "I was just making that stuff up before, you idiot. He's just a boy. You know, the type that makes funny noises and dumb jokes? You're not scared of a boy, are you?" she asked sardonically.

"This boy happens to be rather intimidating, I'll have you know!" I protested.

Lindy sighed. "As having the most experience with the opposite and rather inferior sex, I feel that it is my duty to inform you that boys are probably just as scared of you as you are of them," she told me in a matter of fact tone that I found ridiculous.

"Yes, they also say that about bears. 'They're just as scared of you as you are of them,' and yet the bear is the one that's most likely to attack!" I retaliated.

"Oh my god," Lindy groaned. "He's not going to attack you, Jane. Now get up and go over there and talk to him! Or do you want me to get him myself and bring him over here??"

Feeling as though her second suggestion would somehow prove more disastrous than the first, I rose stiffly from my seat. My insides squirmed unpleasantly, yet I found my feet moving mechanically, taking me away from the safety of my picnic table. I didn't dare look at him until I was a few feet away, because I was sure he was watching my every movement.

He was, I found out as I looked up at him while walking at my turtle's pace. My heart thudded heavily in my chest as we locked eyes. I suddenly found myself frozen, standing mere feet away. His gaze, analytical and piercing, glided over my form with a languidness that caused twin patches of red to blossom in my cheeks and butterflies to burst into life in my stomach. His eyes were a dark brown, I noticed. Up close, his fey features looked more dangerous that beautiful, his gaze more stern than curious.

Neither of us made a move – he seemed to be in no hurry to introduce himself, but watched me instead. His pencil twirled in his fingers. I bit my cheek. He raised an eyebrow. I opened my mouth. He looked expectant. I frowned.

"M-may I see?" I choked out finally, thought how I managed to form the words as my whole body had broken out into a sweat, my cheeks were flushed, my knees weak, and my stomach tumbling about like a merry go round.

His dark, clear eyes regarded me openly for a moment, his face impassive.

"See what?" he said finally, in a low voice that felt like honey to my ears, and my ears turned red (if they hadn't already been red before).

But wait. I was confused for a moment by his words, and then bothered. Did he mean to imply that he had not, in fact, been sitting in that same spot for a half hour casually drawing me without my knowledge? I refused to believe it.

So I replied: "You're drawing, of course."

This was a particularly bold move for me. I rarely spoke to boys, and when I did the typical occurred: red cheeks. My fair skin made it very apparent when I was blushing, as well. I think most boys noticed, as well, which made it even worse. Every boy I talked to probably thought I had some sort of crush on them, which wasn't true at all. Not at all.

The boy in front of my chewed his bottom lip for a moment. I watched for a moment, noticing how nice his lips really were. I was distracted from them, however, when he shifted slightly, picked up his sketchpad and held it out to me. I was forced to move closer in order to take it, and I did so with much caution.

I glanced up at him once more before turning my eyes to the sketch. It was me, alright, done in great detail and in a very life-like manner. I was sitting at a picnic table, only one side of me visible, and looked very intent on finishing my potions homework. He had managed to catch the sunlight on my hair, the concentration on my face. Even my tight grip on my pencil.

I had never seen anyone draw as well as he could.

"It's very good," I said finally, feeling as though I had to say something. "It looks like a photograph." I hoped he took it as a compliment, and I forced myself to stare at the picture a moment longer to avoid seeing his reaction.

He moved suddenly, hopping down from his spot on the picnic table, and plucked the sketchpad from my hands.

"Did you know," he began conversationally, "In some cultures, taking a photo of someone or drawing their picture is taboo. It's considered to be a way of stealing their soul." He regarded his own drawing with a critical eye.

I wasn't sure what to say to that.

He took a moment to compare me to his drawing, his eyes darting between me and paper me before a faint smile touched his lips.

"Yeah, I think it'll do," he announced finally.

I was beginning to think that this boy was very strange, but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. "What'll do?" I asked, predictably.

I'm sure he was waiting for that question as well, because he turned his small half smile on me. It suddenly seemed more sly than anything. In his dark eyes was a twinkle of something I wasn't sure I liked, and I was again struck by the dangerous beauty of the boy before me. Regarding him warily, I waited (too) patiently for my answer.

"My drawing," he said, "It captures your soul quite nicely."

A jolt shot through my nerve endings at his words. I glared up at him, crossing my arms. "What – wait a minute! What are you going on about?"

His dark eyes seemed especially clear as he responded. "It will go very nicely with my collection – I've acquired quite a few, you see." He motioned to the drawing.

I looked at him as though he was crazy, which I was beginning to think he was. "You can't do that! It's impossible! And anyways, its not like I gave you permission to draw me, now did I? Therefore, I demand that you stop acting like complete nutter, and…and…" I trailed off, not quite sure what to say to this strange boy.

He was smiling at me as though I was amusing, and I was not impressed.

"If you can find who can prove stealing souls is impossible and introduce them to me, I'd be very happy to listen to their side of the argument. However, I don't have time for little girls and their demands, so if you'll excuse me…" He went to slide around me, closing his sketchbook as he did so.

I was by this time so irked, confused and intimidated by this boy and his odd antics that I spluttered a moment before finding any words to choke out at him, to stop him from leaving without a full explanation. And even when I did, my words weren't much more than a nervous blather of stutters.

"W-wait! Who – I mean what…what's your name?"

My question didn't hold him long. He didn't even stop as he answered.

"Connor Rafferty."

I was left standing there, feeling flushed and more confused than ever. Furthermore, underneath it all was a tingling, lingering sensation of doubt and alarm. My soul? Surely he had been joking – or meant something completely different than what I thought he meant, because the idea of someone trying to steal my soul was preposterous in itself without adding his drawing into the mix. Although it had been very realistic. And he had seemed very serious, earnest even – though disinterested in my concern over the whole matter. What gave him the right to go around drawing people and then declaring that he was adding their souls to his…collection?

I felt ill, and turned to stomp back over to my friend. This was all her fault, I decided.


That night, I found I couldn't sleep. My dorm room, which I shared with three other girls, including Lindy, was filled with the sound of light snoring and deep breathing. It was silent, yet loud to my ears. I was fully and completely awake, yet my eyes felt heavy, though no matter how I laid and how tired I felt, sleep would not come to me.

Thoughts of the day came back to me as I lay there.

I had returned to Lindy after Conner had left me, and shared my odd experience with her. She laughed, of course, and apologized for goading me into talking with a crazy boy. I explained his reason for drawing me, mentioned that he collected souls, and made it very clear that I was concerned with the whole ordeal, but Lindy merely shook her head. At their school, there was bound to be a few oddities hanging around. It was inevitable.

I realized the truth of her words but they didn't comfort me.

Why was I the one chosen to be the focus of some crazy boy's delusions? What had I done to deserve such a fate?

I wondered about this as I lay in my bed. I felt restless. There was an itching, hollow ache in my chest that I had been ignoring, but now it worried me.

I wondered what it was like to be without a soul.

Did it hurt? Did it feel like nothing – because one without a soul couldn't really feel, could they?

Did people without souls need to sleep?

I pulled the covers up to my chin and forced my eyes shut, trying not to think about it. I tried to think about my potions homework I had never finished and how Professor Dilworth was going to give me extra as a punishment. Or maybe he would make me brew a purple wart-remover potion in front of the whole class, as he had made Veronica Little do the week before. He'd also made her try it out on the wart protruding from her arm, and she'd immediately broken out into a red rash with purple hives. I shuddered at the thought.

My mind wandered back to the current state of my soul, however, and I couldn't help but wonder if it was still with me; was I soulless?

I wondered what Connor Rafferty could possibly want with my soul. I wondered why he collected them – what a terrible thing to do.

I wondered what I could possibly do to get mine back.

I suppose I worried myself to sleep, because I woke to the sound of my roommates getting up and stumbling around the room. In my lingering haze of sleep I realized I had dreamt of Connor Rafferty. He'd had horns protruding from his forehead and a forked tail, and had held his picture of me above his head – just out of my reach, and I had been jumping up for it like a dog for a bone. But, no matter how I pleaded and cried, he only laughed and taunted me further, with flames dancing in his clear dark eyes.

Dazedly, I got up with the rest of my roommates, and prepared myself for another day – soulless and miserable.


It didn't take long for me to worry myself into a wreck, and I confronted Lindy about my lack of soul after Numerology, which was our spare period and we were well out of earshot of other students.

"Are you crazy?" Lindy exclaimed, of course.

I was beginning to wonder that myself.

Then again, "Do I sound like I'm crazy?" I demanded. "I'm perfectly serious – I'm very concerned that some boy has stolen my soul!"

Lindy shook her head. "How could he have stolen your soul?" she asked sceptically, "And furthermore, how could he have stolen your soul by drawing a picture of you? Just think about it, Jane. It's absurd."

I frowned at her. "I don't feel absurd. I feel like someone without a soul."

"It's impossible," she reiterated.

Sighing, I grabbed her arm, halting us both just as we stepped out into the courtyard. "How can you say that when performing a charm on flowers in order to make them speak Spanish is perfectly normal around here? And…and brewing potions to counteract the effects of pixie dust is relatively common, because there's a family of pixies living just outside the school grounds in an old willow tree??" I counteracted.

Lindy rolled her eyes at me. "What did you say his name was?"

I could have laughed with relief. "Connor Rafferty," I told her.

She considered the name for a moment. "He sounds familiar…is he graduating this year?"

"How would I know that?" I asked her, crossing my arms.

She made a vague sound of agreement before glancing around. "There's James, he'd know – hey James!" she called out across the courtyard to a gangly young man I may have seen before. I wasn't sure, however, as I didn't pay much attention to boy.

James approached us with a curious look on his freckled face, and stared at me for a moment before turning to Lindy. He wore the school's vest over his short and had the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. He also had a tie, which I thought was odd – not many boys wore ties, as they weren't required.

"What?" he asked bluntly, not kindly.

Lindy answered back just as rudely. "Do you know Connor Rafferty?"

James's eyes lingered on me for another moment before he nodded. "Aye, he's in Honours Spells with me. Why?"

One of Lindy's eyebrows arched. "Is he very good with spells?" she inquired, sounding genuinely curious.

I waited for an answer just as curiously.

"Top of the class," James muttered. "Never seen someone wield a wand like he does." He said the last part with a grudging respect. "Why do you wanna know?" he asked the next moment, crossing his arms and narrowing his eyes.

Lindy shrugged. "Curious."

"Huh," James grunted, eyeing us both now.

"Ah – one more thing, James…" Lindy started. "You know where we can find him?"

James was silent for a moment before responding. "He hangs around with Ben Ling, Hannah Stewart, Andy Planter, you know – over in the west wing." A look of impatience crossed his face quite suddenly. "You done asking questions?"

Nodding, Lindy gave him a charming smile. "Thank you ever so much for your information, James. I owe you."

James shook his head in disbelief before abruptly turning away. I watched him make his way back to his friends before turning to Lindy.

"Impressive," I commented.

She mock bowed. "Thank you." Then, straightening, she gave me a grin. "There, now you can go find this Rafferty boy and demand that he return your soul." The look on her face told me that she still thought I was being ridiculous.

"You heard what James said," I protested. "The best in his class."

"Jane, you seem quite fine to me – I'm sure your soul as just where it should be. In you…somewhere…" she trailed off, pursing her lips.

Though feeling somewhat deflated, I refused to be put off my mission. Now that I knew exactly where I could find Connor Rafferty, I was determined to do just that – find him. So determined I was, in fact, that I told Lindy just that.

"Good luck, Jane," she grinned at me. "Hopefully he doesn't think you're completely off your rocker."

I scowled at her. "He was the one who started it! If anything, I should think he's off his rocker!" And, with those words I turned and began to march away. I was on a mission, after all.

"See you in Potions, Jane!" Lindy called out to me in a sing-song voice. I didn't grace her with an answer, but continued on my way back into the school.

Coinercoven Academy was a fairly large old building, with winding staircases and large classrooms with stone walls and odd portraits dotting the walls. It usually took me a good five minutes to get from class to class, as mine were spread out across the school. The west wing was where my Spells class was, so I was familiar with the area, though I couldn't ever recall seeing Conner Rafferty hanging around there.

As I trudged up the last set of stairs, I suddenly began to worry about what I was going to say to the strange boy. Would he be offended by my asking for my soul back – was this just some cruel practical joke that he did to other students? Or, even worse, was it real?

Would he get angry and curse me?

As I reached the top, I realized it was too late to turn around. At the end of the hallway a short distance from me a group of kids lounged around a bench and large windowsill. They had spotted me before I had them, and Connor Rafferty was among them.

My feet froze to the ground, and I stood, unwillingly pinned by his gaze.

My mouth felt very dry, and my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth. I don't think I could have said anything if I'd tried – and I didn't try.

I didn't need to, because Connor had cast a quick glance at his friends before walking towards me. I'm sure there was a look of dread on my face as he approached, and I wondered what he thought of me.

There was a familiar half-smile on his lips; his dark eyes were clear and his hair was as dishevelled as it had been yesterday. I managed to swallow, moistening my dry throat and tongue.

He stopped a few feet from me and stuffed his hands in his pockets – not in a bashful way, but as though he was trying to keep them still. My gaze flickered rapidly between his face and his shoes, noting their scuffed appearance.

"So…Jane Delaurier," he spoke at last. He already knew who I was – that fact made me more wary of him.

I took me a moment to find my tongue. "Connor Rafferty," I stated with as much confidence as he had said my name.

His smile flickered into something bigger, something charming, and I felt my aforementioned confidence crumble like crackers in chicken noodle soup.

Thus: "I…I-err…I wanted…wanted to-um…to-aaahh…to talk to you about that-uh…that drawing you did…?"

Fortunately, Connor humoured my eloquent speech with an amused smile only before guessing my real intent. "You want your soul back, is that it?"

Hearing it stated so simply made the terrible reality of my situation even worse. My poor soul was in the hands of this fiendish character whose lips were really to die for…

"Ahh—yes! I do want my soul back," I responded loudly, nodding my head and attempting to look rather miffed.

One of his hands slinked out of his pocket to fiddle absently with the hair behind his ear. He looked thoughtful for a moment, his eyes straying away from me before they swung back with an intent focus.

"And, what would you say if I don't want to give you back your soul?" he asked very frankly.

I frowned at the floor very pensively. "Well…I didn't sleep very well last night without it…so I would appreciate having it back," I told him very sincerely.

He peered at me for a moment, chewing his lower lip. I would have thought he was nervous but he had no reason to be. I was the one without the soul, and he had all the power to dangle it tauntingly over my head. He continued to fidget with his hair, a considering look on his face.

"I would be willing to make a trade," he said finally.

I brightened somewhat at his words, feeling a flutter of hope inside me. "Really? What for? Because, if you haven't noticed, I'm feeling a bit off without my soul – I imagined I wouldn't feel much of anything but that's not true. I'm worrying more than usual, and becoming restless. I could barely make it through Numerology, I was twitching in my seat so much. And Mr. Dottlebock had the nerve to ask if I had to go to the toilet – I think I'm old enough by now to decide for myself when I need to use the toilet!" I stopped talking because I noticed Connor was smiling at me again, faintly, as though he'd glimpsed a fairy or a wood elf and was under one of those strange spells that they tend to cast on mortals who catch a glimpse of them. I recalled that they give a feeling of fleeting euphoria, and I'd never felt euphoria before so I decided to ask him if he was alright.

He blinked at me, his smile fading into seriousness. "I've thought of a trade," he said as a way of explanation.

"Yeah?" I waited eagerly.

"A kiss," he said simply, looking very serious.

"A what?" I wondered if I'd heard wrong. A quiche, maybe? A fish?

"A kiss," he said again. "I'll give you back your soul if you give me a kiss."

I thought about that for a moment. "Well, I'm not sure if I could get you a kiss so easily, but if you tell me who from I'll try my best." Truthfully, I wasn't sure I knew a spell that could get me a kiss so I could give it to him.

Connor burst out laughing just then, as I stood worrying.

"I don't think you understand, Jane," he said between chuckles, his dark eyes alight with humour. "I want a kiss from you."

The implication of his words was sudden and stunning. "F-from me?" I squeaked out, a thrill shooting down my body that immobilized my feet. I began to tingle.

Connor was staring at me with an intent in his eyes that I didn't know what to think of. It occurred to me again how attractive this boy was and that didn't help matters at all.

"I—I…" I stuttered lamely.

There was a sudden shout from his group of friends.

"Oi, Raff! Hurry up and get your damned kiss and get over 'ere! Benny's gonna turn this ant into a frog!" This loud declaration was followed by a chorus of laughs and giggles and inappropriate kissing sounds.

My face turned beet red and I'm sure my eyes were wide as saucers. Feeling rushed back into my feet and legs as a heavy humiliation fell into my stomach. My eyes darted to the group several feet away, taking in their amusement at the situation, before I reluctantly looked up at Connor. He opened his mouth to say something, but I cut him off quickly.

"I-I have to go…" Already, I was backing away from him.

"Wait, Janie –"

Janie. The name from his lips tingled pleasantly in my ears, but it didn't stop me. I turned and fled, running from the sounds of hoots and laughter behind me.


Lindy looked both sympathetic and amused.

Why was she amused? Did she not understand what humiliation I had gone through? Did she not realize how humiliated I still felt? In fact, I was sure there was no end to my humiliation and I was quite sure that it would never go away. It would always be there inside me, cackling as Connor Rafferty's friends had done.

Connor Rafferty. What a mean, cruel-hearted boy. I suppose it had been a big joke to him – a pathetic junior begging the big bad wizard for her soul back. I suppose he never intended to give it back to me. He must have just wanted to toy with me a bit more, add insult to injury…

But then why hadn't he looked so pleased when his friends had been laughing at me?

"I say, just do it," Lindy proclaimed, leaning back on her bunk, which faced mine in the dormitory. Most everyone was outside until the sun set, which was an hour or two away yet. Classes were over, and I was hiding on my bed.

I stared at her incredulously. "Just do it?"

She nodded empathetically. "Yeah, just kiss the bloke."

The full meaning of her words dawned on me then, and I floundered for a moment trying to form a sentence to rebuke her statement.

"No!" I cried, giving her a look of betrayal. I felt betrayed. Wounded. Scarred. Humiliated. And now irritated.

"Why not?" she asked very plainly. "He's not exactly an ogre. I bet he's good with his lips." A sly smile lit up her face. "And tongue."

I felt my face burn. "Why would I do that? I was so embarrassed, Lindy, I don't want to show my face near him. Not to mention it's stupid! I don't even like him!"

Lindy sighed heavily. "If he has your soul, Jane," she emphasized, " just kiss the boy and be done with it. And sod his friends, they sound like complete freaks if you ask me."

I recalled that they had been about to change an ant into a frog.

"You do want your soul back, right?" Lindy asked. "I mean, you've been complaining all day about how funny you feel."

I did feel funny. And humiliated.

I wasn't sure I could gather my tattered bits of courage and face Connor once more.

"Imagine a life without a soul," Lindy went on. "Doesn't sound like much fun…"

I swallowed, indecision welling up in my throat.

"Fine then…I dare you to do it," Lindy said.

I gave her a flat look. "You tried that already yesterday."

"And I got my way, didn't I?" She looked smug, and it made my irritation worse.

As a result, my irritation with the whole situation grew – including my irritation with Connor Rafferty and his stealing of my soul. Pursing my lips, I stood up from my bunk. Lindy arched a neatly plucked eyebrow at me.

"I'll go find him, then," I told her irritably, and stood. "But when I do I'm not going to bloody well kiss him – I'm going to give him a piece of my mind!" And with that, I stalked out of the room and stormed out into the hallway.

I was expecting the dormitory halls to be relatively quiet, as it was supper and most the students were in the cafeteria. I had skipped going to supper for obvious reasons, and had no desire to go searching out Connor Rafferty with his friends looking on in amusement. It was my intention, then, to creep up to the west wing and wait – hopefully said boy would pass by that way before curfew set in.

As I said, that had been my original intention. However, as I exited the girls' dormitories, that changed quite abruptly, because I found Connor Rafferty pacing the width of the hallway.

I froze in my spot, perhaps emitting a squeak or squawk, because the next moment Connor had stopped and whirled about, and we were facing each other.

"Connor," I said stupidly, as my feet had begun to tingle.

He hesitated, took a step forward, and then hesitated again.

"Janie," he said faintly, and immediately shoved his hands into his pockets and began chewing his lip quite earnestly.

That nickname again – Janie. My feet tingled tenfold and the sensation spread up my legs to my stomach.

"Janie," he said again, easing forward somewhat jerkily, hands stuffed his pockets. He approached me as though approaching a wild squirrel – moving slowly so as not to startle and attempting to look non-threatening.

"About today…I'm, uh, sorry…" he finally blurted out, but seemed hesitant to say anything more.

I realized somewhat vaguely that this boy wasn't acting the way he had the day before when he'd stolen my soul. His fey-like handsomeness was more impish to me now. He was more sheepish and hesitant than mysterious or dangerous. Perhaps he was regretting stealing my soul? Was he here to return it?

And if he wasn't?

It was then that realized what I had to do. And, upon that realization, my stomach no longer felt tingly. Instead, it was full of writhing snakes.

Yet I acted, and forced myself to approach Connor as slowly as I could. He was studiously avoiding my gaze while chewing his bottom lip, and I was licking mine nervously while attempting to draw his attention.

I took a deep breath, and: "Connor."

That did it, and he glanced at me.

Then, I launched myself at him.

He certainly hadn't been expecting it, and I saw a flash of honest surprise in his dark eyes the same moment he jerked backwards. I had caught him too unawares, however - as had been my plan - and grasped him by the shoulders. Then, still under the influence of temporary insanity, I screwed my eyes shut, arched up, and pressed my lips firmly onto his.

There was nothing remotely romantic about it. He was frozen rigid with shock and my fingers were digging into his shoulders. My lips were rigid as well – though his were warm and soft against mine. Yet unresponsive.

I broke away quickly, releasing his shoulders and stumbling backwards. I was breathing heavily and my face was hot, though it had been anything but a make-out session. My whole body was tingling, and my lips felt branded. I could still feel his on my own.

I could have mistaken Connor for a statue at that moment, he was so still. His eyes were closed, and he looked perfectly peaceful: no longer shocked and not the least disgusted.

I broke the silence.

"There, you got your kiss," I all but spat at him. "Now I would like my soul back, please and thank you!"

A sudden smile curled Connor's lips, and he opened his eyes. He then proceeded to stare at me as though I were some entertaining kitten or other silly animal. I could feel my face burning up again. I'm sure I looked like a splotchy tomato.

But I was quite done with this foolish boy, and I scowled at him. "Give it up," I demanded.

He ginned and shrugged. "You have it," he told me.

His words created a bubbled of confusion in me, and I even looked down at my hands. I didn't have anything. I looked back up to tell him this, and found he was suddenly very close. He towered over me and I noticed that his smile seemed to have faded somewhat. Instead, he was looking down at me with those dark eyes under stern brows.

I swallowed.

"I never had your soul, Janie," were his solemn words. "It's perfectly impossible to steal someone's soul by drawing a picture of them."

My bubble of confusion burst, igniting a fusion of alarm and fury.

"So you mean to tell me that you duped me!" I accused angrily. "You never had my soul and I've been worrying out of my mind all this—"

I didn't have the chance to finish my angry thought, though, because he cut me off quite effectively by swooping down and pressing his lips to mine.

I stiffened, shocked and frozen, my hands pressed against his chest between us. My first instinct was to shove this boy off and deck him, before it occurred to me once more how soft his lips were, and how warm. And when I felt his hands caress my face, my cheeks – weave into my hair, I melted. Instead of trying to push him away, I anchored my fingers into the soft material of his shirt.

Feeling my decision, Connor deepened the kiss. His lips became more persistence against mine and I was forced to respond. When I did, his fingers tangled into the hair at the nape of my neck, holding me in place. He pressed closer to me, wrapping his other arm around my waist – a good thing because my knees were wobbling.

I clutched at him as his tongue swiped my lips, teasingly and fleetingly. My lips parted of their own accord, and Connor took full advantage. His tongue darted into my mouth, and I met his shyly, a mouse-like squeak emitting from somewhere deep in my throat. He gave a groan of his own in response, kissing me with force that made me shiver before breaking away just as quickly.

We were both panting, but my hands clutching his shirt stopped him from moving away. Anyway, he didn't look as though he wanted to.

It occurred to me then that this boy had just thoroughly kissed me in the corridor by the girl's dormitory, and I had the sense to blush madly. Suddenly, I couldn't look into his eyes.

I swallowed a lump in my throat and licked my lips nervously. "But, why?" I croaked out, referring to my earlier question.

Connor actually laughed then. I felt the vibrations in his chest through his shirt. I let go of him hastily.

"Because I like you."

His response jolted through me, and I glanced up to see him grinning at me. His clear dark eyes were alight with something that sent a warm rushing through my veins.

"Oh," I said quite dumbly, my tongue momentarily unable to form a coherent response.

That didn't really matter, though, because Connor already had already leaned down to kiss me again, and I uttered some silly little sigh while enjoying the feeling of his lips against mine.