Home > Chosen (House of Night #3)(4)

Chosen (House of Night #3)(4)
Author: P. C. Cast


 “No indeedy. Plain old black leather stiletto boots would never do,” I said, feeling like crying.

 “Hey, there’s another present left.”

 Erik’s voice pulled me out of the black hole of my birthmas-present depression. “Oh, something else?” I hoped it was only to my ears that my tone said, “Oh, yet another tragic non-present present?”

 “Yeah, one more something else.” Almost shyly, he handed me a very small rectangular shaped box. “I really hope you like it.”

 I glanced down at the box before I took it and almost squeed in happy surprise. Erik was holding a silver and gold wrapped present with a Moody’s Fine Jewelry sticker plastered classify in the middle of it. (I swear I heard the “Hallelujah Chorus” crescendo somewhere in the background.)

 “It’s from Moody’s!” I sounded breathless, but I couldn’t help myself.

 “I hope you like it,” Erik repeated, lifting his hand and offering the little silver and gold box like a shining treasure.

 I ripped through the lovely wrapping to expose a black velvet box. Velvet. I swear. Real velvet. I bit my lip to keep from giggling, held my breath, and opened it.

 The first thing I saw was the gleaming platinum chain. Speechless with happiness my eyes followed the chain down to the beautiful pearls that were nestled into the plush velvet. Velvet! Platinum! Pearls! I sucked in air so that I could begin my gushing ohmygodthankyouErikyou’rethebestboyfriendever when I realized that the pearls were oddly shaped. Were they defective? Had the fabulously exclusive and amazingly expensive Moody’s Fine Jewelry Store ripped off my boyfriend? And then I realized what I was seeing.

 The pearls were shaped into a snowman.

 “Do you like it?” Erik asked. “When I saw it, it just screamed Zoey’s birthday at me, and I had to get it for you.”

 “Yeah. I like it. It’s, uh, unique.” I managed.

 “It’s Erik who came up with the snowman theme!” Jack cried happily.

 “Well, it wasn’t really a theme,” Erik said, his cheeks getting a little pink. “I just thought it was different, not like those typical hearts and such that everyone gets.”

 “Yep, hearts and such would be so ordinarily birthday-fied. Who would want that?” I said.

 “Let me put it on you,” Erik said.

 There was nothing else to do but pull my hair out of the way and let Erik step back to clasp the delicate chain around my throat. I could feel the snowman hanging heavy and disgustingly festive just above my cleavage.

 “It’s cute,” Shaunee said.

 “And very expensive,” Erin said. Both Twins gave mirrored nods of approval.

 “It matches my scarf perfectly,” Damien said.

 “And my snow globe!” Jack added.

 “It’s definitely a Christmas birthday theme,” Erik said, giving the Twins a sheepish look, which they responded to with forgiving grins.

 “Yes, yes, it certainly is a Christmas birthday theme,” I said, fingering the pearl snowman. Then I beamed to everyone a very bright, very painted-on smile. “Thanks, you guys. I really appreciate all the time and effort it took y’all to find such special gifts. I mean it.” And I did mean it. I may loathe the gifts, but the thoughts behind them were a totally different thing.

 My absolutely clueless friends came together and we all did a kinda awkward group hug that left us laughing. Just then the door swung open and the light from the hall glistened on very blond, very big hair.

 “Here.”

 Thankfully, my turning-into-vampyre reflexes were pretty good, and I caught the box she tossed at me.

 “Mail call came for you while you were back here with your nerd herd,” she sneered.

 “Go away, Aphrodite, ya hag,” Shaunee said.

 “Before we throw some water on you and you melt,” Erin added.

 “Whatever,” Aphrodite said. She started to turn away, but paused and gave me a wide, innocent smile before saying, “Nice snowman necklace.” Our eyes met and I swear she winked at me before tossing her hair and flitting away, her laughter floating in the air after her like mist.

 “She’s such a total bitch,” Damien said.

 “You’d think she would have learned her lesson when you took the Dark Daughters from her, and Neferet proclaimed that the Goddess has withdrawn her gifts from Aphrodite,” Erik said. “But that girl will never change.”

 I looked sharply at him. So says Erik Night, her ex-boyfriend. I didn’t need to say the words aloud. I knew by the way Erik looked hastily away from me that they were easy enough to read in my eyes.

 “Don’t let her mess up your birthday, Z,” Shaunee said.

 “Ignore the hateful hag. Everyone else does,” Erin said.

 Erin was right. Since Aphrodite’s selfishness had caused her to be publicly kicked out of leadership of the Dark Daughters, the school’s most prestigious student group, and the position of Lead Dark Daughter as well as priestess in training had been given to me, she had lost her standing as most popular and powerful fledgling. Our High Priestess, Neferet, who was also my mentor, had made it clear that our goddess, Nyx, has withdrawn her favor from Aphrodite. Basically, Aphrodite was shunned where she was once put on a big ol’ popularity pedestal and worshipped.

 Unfortunately, I knew there was more to the story than what everyone else believed. Aphrodite had used her visions, which had clearly not been taken away from her, to save my grandma as well as Heath, my human boyfriend. Sure, she’d been bitchy and selfish during the saving, but still. Heath and Grandma were alive, and a good part of the credit for that goes to Aphrodite.

 Plus, recently I’d found out that Neferet, our High Priestess— my mentor, the vamp most looked up to at the school—was also not what she appeared to be. Actually, I was coming to believe that Neferet was probably as evil as she was powerful.

 Darkness does not always equate to evil, just as light does not always bring good. The words that Nyx had said to me the day I was Marked flitted through my mind, summarizing the problem with Neferet. She wasn’t what she appeared to be.

 And I couldn’t tell anyone—or at least not anyone who was alive (which left me with my undead best friend who I hadn’t managed to talk to during the entire past month). Thankfully, I also hadn’t talked to Neferet for the past month. She’d left for a winter retreat in Europe and wasn’t scheduled to be back until the New Year. I figured I’d come up with a plan about how to deal with her when she returned. So far my plan consisted of just that: coming up with a plan. Which was no plan at all. Crap.

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