** Reid **

It was a new term at Acorn Hills Academy and Reid Ashton was sitting with his friends at one of the rotting wooden benches in front of the looming, grey school building. Many of the girls who walked past in high heels wiggled their fingers in flirtatious waves at Reid. He ignored them. He was busy watching the new girl he'd spotted. New girl meant fresh flesh for his games. It had been a while since he'd had a new challenge and this girl looked just perfect for his intentions.

The light August wind blew stray strands of her fine hair around her face. The steely clouds above threatened rain, which would ruin the textbook she held. The tall, thin pine trees that surrounded the school campus rustled over the chatter and bustle of the milling students. The scent of wet earth, girls' perfumes and vibrant teenage vitality filled his nose with an exquisite fragrance.

The new girl wasn't Reid's usual type. His type were tall and busty, with a tendency to drink too much and a few too many bruised brain cells. But as soon as he saw this girl he knew he just had to mess with her, as he'd messed with almost every other girl on campus at one time or another. This girl was short and skinny, but she was quite pretty too with light freckles across pale cheeks and long, caramel-blonde hair tied up in a tight ponytail. He couldn't see properly from here, but he was sure she had blue eyes. Despite her small stature, there was something intriguing about her. Maybe it was because she seemed so out of place amongst the other students, like a mouse amidst a group of cats.

She walked quickly, hugging her biology textbook to her chest, and looking around like she was lost. Her oversized black hoodie and skinny jeans made it clear this girl was trying to be Goth, but that little freckled face just clashed with all the black. Sweet, innocent, little newcomer. He couldn't resist, he just had to corrupt that innocence.

He took this as his chance to get acquainted.

** Ember **

Ember Jennings was new at this school and she was looking for Sherry, her roommate and best friend of thirteen years. They'd both transferred here, only agreeing to it so long as they were together.

Sherry had said she'd meet her here in front of the school, but she couldn't see the blonde-haired, green-eyed girl anywhere. Ember absently admired - for the sixteenth time since she arrived at the school two days ago - the huge, castle-like building, with its towering, grey stonewalls and old, Gothic architecture. It was an imposing building, built from large blocks of unruly granite that sparkled like it had glitter embedded in it if it caught the light just right. All around the school were swaying, fragrant pine trees, encroaching on the campus with their wiry, needle-laden arms. As was usual in this part of the world, the sky was grey, just a few shades lighter than the granite rock, but the bright splashes of colour that were the students added liveliness to the dreary place. The school building was centred between the adjoining students' dorm building and the visitors' and teachers' dorm building, and the whole place was set in a remote, little, forest-swathed town called Acorn Hills - hence the uncreative name of the school. It was really quite beautiful in a way, even with the gravel expanse of the car park leading down to the single main road in and out of Acorn Hills.

Students loitered about in front of the school around her, girls in miniskirts chatting up guys who ought to have had 'sleazy' printed on their foreheads. A handful of kids in dark clothes, with dyed-black hair, lingered by the rustling trees on the edge of campus. A couple was seated on one of the mouldy benches, passionately kissing, in the open for all to see. It all made Ember want to crawl under a rock… or bang her head on one. And she still couldn't see Sherry.

Ember was just about to give up waiting and make her way back to the dorm room she was sharing with Sherry, when a tap on the shoulder made her jump.

"Hello there. Sorry, I didn't mean to scare you." There was a boy grinning down at her, not looking very apologetic at all. He was gorgeous with scruffy blonde hair and lovely blue eyes. He was dressed like a skater with a sleeveless hoodie zipped over a long-sleeved grey top and baggy jeans. But it was clear to her immediately that no matter how gorgeous he was, he was trouble. His smile was just full of mischief. She could see two guys at a table behind him snickering, while a third grimaced. His friends presumably. How lovely, she thought sarcastically. She tried not to scowl.

"Hi," she said shyly, forcing herself to smile politely. Even if he was trouble, she had manners; no need to go making enemies just yet.

"I'm Reid. And you are?" He shrugged one shoulder and waited expectantly, his eyes raking her over in a way that made her want to shudder.

"Ember," she answered, then quickly glanced off to the side, hoping to catch a glimpse of Sherry. No such luck. She wanted to get out of here. This guy was undoubtedly messing with her, judging by his friends' laughter, and she wasn't going to be made a fool of.

"You're new here, right? Maybe you'd like to come out tonight and I could show you around?" Reid asked, obviously trying to look innocent and helpful and failing miserably. The half-hidden smirk gave it away. This sort of thing had happened to her many times before and she'd learned never to trust a good-looking guy, or really, any guy for that matter.

"Thanks but no thanks. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go." She muttered briskly, though politely. She brushed past him, moving swiftly toward the familiar figure looking in her direction.

Perfect timing Sherz, she thought thankfully. She didn't turn back to see what the boy, Reid, had thought of her declining his mocking invitation. But she could hear whoops of laughter from his friends. She smirked to herself vindictively. Good. She was new here, but she wasn't a pushover.

"So, who was that boy you were talking to before? He was hot," Sherry asked teasingly as she slipped into their dorm room's en-suite bathroom to change into her pyjamas. The room was at least three times the size of Ember's room back home, and it was nicely decorated, with pale blue walls and cream carpeting. Pine furniture sat around the room including a wardrobe, bookcase, desk and dresser. There was one wide window that looked out over the front of the school where you could see the wooden benches on the green grass below, then the cold, black cement of the parking lot, and beyond that there was the slick river of tar that formed the main road. Past the road there were only more trees, as far as Ember could see. It wasn't the best view ever but it most certainly wasn't the worst she'd seen.

"His name's Reid, but he's obviously an asshole," Ember replied to Sherry with a sigh, folding herself on the end of her bed. The bedspreads on the wood-framed beds were cream and brown with splashes of blue to match the walls. Not very exciting, but at least there wasn't floral wallpaper.

"Really? But he looked so nice." Sherry's muffled voice came from behind the bathroom door. Ember rolled her eyes though Sherry couldn't see it – unless the other girl had developed x-ray vision and forgotten to mention it.

"You mean he looked sexy. If you want him, go for it. I'll be right here if he messes you about, waiting with a baseball bat," Ember laughed quietly. As small as she was, Ember had a fierce temper and she was very protective of her best friend. Nobody screwed with Sherry and got off with it lightly.

"Nah, you saw him first and you might change your mind. I'd settle for the dark-haired one that was at the table behind him. You know, the one that wasn't laughing." Sherry was grinning as she exited the bathroom in a set of brand new purple pyjamas with 'Kiss me, I'm dreaming' written across the front.

"Like the new jim-jams," Ember snickered, glancing down at her own pathetic ensemble which consisted of an oversized grey t-shirt and pink pyjama bottoms that hid her feet because they were too long. They both laughed quietly and got into their beds, wishing each other goodnight. Then Sherry turned out the light, plunging the room into darkness and signalling the end of their third day at Acorn Hills.

Chemistry the next day was awful. Ember enjoyed Chemistry on occasion, but she was hopeless at it. She hated working with chemicals in experiments unless they were doing titrations, and though she could understand most of the stuff she was taught in the classroom, she never remembered it in the exams. Also, she hated the calculations. Who really needed to know how many atoms were in two litres of hydrochloric acid? She sucked at maths.

Biology and Art went fine and she thought it would be an OK day until she was making her way back to her dorm room after the last class of the day. She was trying to remember the exact density of Mercury and what the second level in a fractional distillation tower was – she needed to know for the Chemistry homework - when she bumped into someone and dropped her textbooks.

"Oh, I'm sorry," she said automatically, bending down to get her books. A smooth, elegant hand reached out and picked up her Chemistry textbook for her, handing it to her. "Thanks," she muttered shyly, and looked up to see whom she was thanking.

"No problem." It was Reid, the boy from yesterday. She groaned internally. Annoying boys were not a top priority right now. He needed to get out of her way.

"Oh, hi," she mumbled, shifting her books in her hands. She didn't want to look at him; if she looked at him, she might forget why she'd declined his offer yesterday. Surely he was too pretty to really be an asshole?

"Hey. Have a good day?" he asked, his hands wrapped in black, fingerless gloves and shoved in his pockets. I was, until now, she thought, perhaps harshly. After all, he hadn't actually done anything outwardly mean yet. He just happened to come across as particularly arrogant.

"Yeah, it was alright," she replied quietly, flipping her ponytail impatiently. Hello, I have homework. Go away.

He didn't budge. The hallways were almost empty now, the fluorescent lights buzzing overhead. The wood panelling on the lower half of the walls was scuffed and stained, the dark wallpaper covered in graffiti. Various proclamations of love and creative insults drawn in coloured marker pen made for interesting reading on the way to and from class. Reid didn't seem to realise she wasn't paying attention to him anymore. "So, any chance you might want to re-consider my offer?" He sounded confident as she lifted her gaze to his. His eyes really were lovely, but then again, she had a weakness for blue eyes. And damn, he was persistent.

Ember began to shut him down again. "Actually, I… ," she started and stopped, an idea suddenly hitting her like lightning, "Sure, why not? But only if my roommate can come too." She smiled sweetly, looking as innocent as possible. Well, she might as well have some fun, and her plots were always more fun when Sherry was around to witness her genius.

Reid grinned like the cat that'd had the cream. "Sure. That'd be great. What dorm room are you?"

Ember repressed a giggle, "2-10".

Reid smirked and said he'd be there to pick them up at half eight, then sauntered off down the hall. This was going to be an interesting evening.

Later that evening, Ember got the chance to inform Sherry of their plans.

"Guess what? We've got a date tonight." Ember sang as she stepped out of the bathroom, drying her hair with a towel, and saw Sherry was finally back from the library. She was scribbling away on her notepad, curled on her bed by the window.

"What?" Sherry's green eyes lit up with surprise. She dropped her pen onto her bed, shoving aside the maths homework she'd been doing. Ember dumped her towel onto her dresser, nearly knocking over the bottles of perfume that rested there, and flung open the doors to the pine wardrobe.

She explained what had happened earlier while she dug around for nice clothes. "Yeah, Reid asked if I'd reconsider his offer, and I said only if you could come too. He's going to pick us up here at half eight. Better get ready." Ember smirked, pulling out a selection of clothes from the wardrobe and tossing them across her bed. Sherry grinned excitedly.

When there was a knock on their door at twenty-five to nine, they glanced up at each other from their books and choked on silent laughter. Something fluttered in Ember's stomach and she ignored it. This wasn't a real date. She had no reason to get all giddy.

"Do you think it's really him?" Sherry breathed excitedly.

"Only one way to find out," Ember whispered back and went to the door. She pulled it open and just about bent double with laughter.

Reid was indeed standing at the door, his blonde hair tamped down by a black beanie and a charming smile on his face. Ember felt suddenly a little nervous, seeing the way Reid's eyes appraised her outfit like an artist admiring a particularly fine painting. She was dressed in her favourite skinny jeans, black three-inch heels and a stylish red top that set off her eyes. Sherry was dressed in a pretty, aqua-green top and boot-cut jeans with cute black boots.

Once he was done eyeing her over, Reid gave a wicked half-smile to show his approval. "Ready to go?" he asked, gesturing with one gloved hand. She had to turn away, biting down on her lower lip to keep from laughing, and nodded toward Sherry.

They followed Reid, the hot blonde, out to his car in the parking lot - a sleek black Aston Martin DB9 - Ember's all-time favourite car. "Wow! That's your car?" she breathed reverently, looking over the expensive, sexy car.

"Yup. Who wants shotgun?" Reid smiled a smile that looked almost genuine, but at the same time just a little creepy.

Ember turned to Sherry with pleading eyes. "Do you mind?" she asked softly. Sherry shook her head. "Of course not. I know it's your dream car."

Ember gave her friend's hand a quick squeeze and rushed round to the passenger's seat while Sherry slid in the back and Reid got in the driver's seat.

The car journey to the club was amazing - she was sure she was in love with that car - but the club itself wasn't so much fun. Ember really wasn't a party girl. Big crowds made her uneasy, and drunken teenagers didn't amuse her.

"This is Santos. One of the hottest clubs in town," Reid announced proudly, getting out of the car. Ember lingered for a moment, trying to memorise the fresh smell of the leather seats, and then stepped out, feeling like a movie star stepping out of a limo at a big Hollywood event. Sherry was right beside her as they followed Reid into the club.

The inside of the club was dim, the air filled with the cloying heat of dozens of sweating bodies. The perimeter of the room was lined with cosy booths, while the centre of the room sported a massive dance floor. Girls wearing practically nothing writhed around sensually, guys with Mohawks and leather jackets nodded their heads to the fast techno beat, gaggles of people swung their hips and laughed at nothing. Flashes of neon colours from tutus and headbands were caught in the erratic strobe lights. Ember and Sherry selected a booth near the door, declining Reid's offers to dance until he got bored and finally wandered off somewhere.

They'd been at the club for a little over half an hour, when Ember decided it was time to leave. "So, I say it's time to run. What do you think?" Ember snickered. They hadn't driven far to this club, and Ember was sure walking in these shoes back to the dorms wouldn't be a problem. Hopefully, Reid would leave her alone if he thought they'd ditched him.

"Do you think he'll even notice we're gone?" Sherry muttered over the pulsing music. Ember shrugged and looked about. No sign of tall, blonde and mischievous. She jerked her head toward the door and they headed out discreetly.

They couldn't help but laugh as they jogged down the road to the school, Ember's heels clicking on the rough pavement. The chilly breeze lifted her hair and raised goosebumps on her skin, but she was satisfied that Reid would get the message that she wasn't going to be messed around by some guy. Even if that guy was totally cute.