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Secret Vampire (Night World #1)
Author: L.J. Smith

CHAPTER 1

It was on the first day of summer vacation that Poppy found out she was g oing to die.

It happened on Monday, the first real day of vacation (the weekend didn't count). Poppy woke up fe eling gloriously weightless and thought, No school. Sunlight was streaming in the window, turning the sheer hangings around her bed filmy gold. Poppy pushed them aside and jumped out of bed and winced.

Ouch. That pain in her stomach again.-Sort of a gnawing, as if something were eating its way toward her back. It helped a little if she bent over.

No, Poppy thought. I refuse to be sick during summer vacation. I refuse. A little power of positive thinking is what's needed here.

Grimly, doubled over-think positive, idiot!-she made her way down the hall to the turquoise-and gold-tiled bathroom. At first she thought she was going to throw up, but then the pain eased as suddenly as it had come. Poppy straightened and regarded her tousled reflection triumphantly.

"Stick with me, kid, and you'll be fine," she whispered to it, and gave a conspiratorial wink. Then she leaned forward, seeing her own green eyes narrow in suspicion. There on her nose were four freckles. Four and a half, if she were complete ly honest, which Poppy North usually was. How childish, how-cute! Poppy stuck her tongue out at herself and then turned away with great dignity, without bothering to comb the wild coppery curls that clustered over her head.

She maintained the dignity until she got to the kitchen, where Phillip, her twin brother, was eating Special K. Then she narrowed her eyes again, this time at him. It was bad enough to be small, slight, and curly-haired--to look, in fact, as much like an elf as anything she'd ever seen sitting on a buttercup in a children's picture book--hut to have a twin who was tall, Viking-blond, and classically handsome .. - well, that just showed a certain deliberate malice in the makeup of the universe, didn't it?

"Hello, Phillip," she said in a voice heavy with menace.

Phillip, who was used to his sister's moods, was unimpres sed.

H e lifted his gaze from the comic section of the L.A. Times for a moment. Poppy had to admit that he had nice eyes: questing green eyes with very dark lashes. They were the only thing the twins had in common.

Phillip said flatly, and went back to the comics. Not many kids Poppy knew read the newspaper, but that was Phil all over.

Like Poppy, he'd been a junior at El Camino High last year, and unlike Poppy, he'd made straight A's while starring on the football team, the hockey team, and the baseball team. Also serving as class president One of Poppy's greatest joys in life was teasing him. She thought he was too straitlaced.

Just now she giggled and shrugged, giving up the menacing look. "Where's Cliff and Mom?" Cliff Hilgard was their stepfather of three years and even straighter-laced than Phil.

"Cliff's at work. Mom's getting dressed. You'd better eat something or she'll get on your case."

"Yeah, yeah ..." Poppy went on tiptoe to rummage through a cupboard. Finding a box of Frosted Flakes, she thrust a hand in and delicately pulled out one flake. She ate it dry.

It wasn't all bad being short and elfin. She did a few dance steps to the refrigerator, shaking the cereal box in rhythm.

"I'm a ... sex pixie!" she sang, giving it a footstomping rhythm.

"No, you're not," Phillip said with devastating calm. "And why don't you put some clothes on?"

Holding the refrigerator door open, Poppy looked down at herself. She was wearing the oversize T-s hirt she'd slept in. It covered ' her like a , minidress. "This is clothes," she said serenely, taking a Diet Coke from the fridge.

There was a knock at the kitchen door. Poppy saw who it was through the screen.

"Hi, James! C'mon in."

James Rasmussen came in, taking off his wraparound Ray-Bans. Looking at him, Poppy felt a pang-as always. It didn't matter that she had seen him every day, practically, for the past ten years. She still felt a quick sharp throb in her chest, somewhere between sweetness and pain, when first confronted with him every morning.

It wasn't just his outlaw good looks, which always reminded her vaguely of James Dean. He had silky light brown hair, a subtle, intelligent face, and gray eyes that were alternately intense and cool. He was the handsomest boy at El Camino High, but that w asn't it, that wasn't what Poppy responded to.

It was something inside him, something mysterious and compelling and always just out of reach. It made her heart beat fast and her skin tingle.

Phillip felt differently. As soon as James came in, he stiffened and his face went cold. Electric dislike flashed between the two boys.

Then James smiled faintly, as if Phillip's reaction amused him.

"Hi."

"Hi," Phil said, not thawing in the least. Poppy had the strong sense that he'd like to bundle her up and rush her out of the room. Phillip always overdid the protective-brother bit when James was around. "So how's Jacklyn and Michaela?" he

added nastily.

James considered. "Well, I don't really know."

"You don't know? Oh, yeah, you always drop your girlfriends just before summer vacation. Leaves you free to maneuver, right?"

"Of course," James said blandly. He smiled.

Phillip glared at him with unabashed hatred.

Poppy, for her part, was seized by joy. Goodbye, Jacklyn; goodbye Michaela. Goodbye to Jacklyn's elegant long legs and Michaela's amazing pneumatic chest. This was going to be a wonderful summer.

Many people thought Poppy and James's relationship platonic.

This wasn't true. Poppy had known for years that she was going to marry him. It was one of her two great ambitions, the other being to see the world. She just hadn't gotten around to informing James yet. Right now he still thought he liked long-legged girls with salon fingernails and Italian pumps.

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