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Juliet Dove, Queen of Love
Chapter One
Killer Strikes Again

“Hey, Killer! How’s your boyfriend?”

Juliet Dove felt her cheeks begin to burn. Why couldn’t Bambi Quilp just leave her alone? Why couldn’t everyone just leave her alone?

“I don’t have a boyfriend,” she said softly.

“Oh, we’ve seen you walking with Arturo,” said Bambi knowingly.

“Yeah, we’ve seen you walking with Arturo!” repeated Samantha Foster, who was sort of Bambi’s official leech.

That Bambi and Samantha had seen Juliet and Arturo walking together was no surprise. Arturo Perez was Juliet’s across- the-backyard neighbor and they had been walking to school together since first grade.

“Artureo and Juliet, the love story of the century!” cried Bambi. Clasping her hands she placed them against her cheek and fluttered her eyelids. “How Juliet does luh-uve that may-unn!”

Juliet flared. “Look who’s talking, you pea-brained metal-mouthed boy-chaser! Did you ever see anything in pants that you didn’t want? You’ll probably have to wait to get the tin off your teeth, though. I hear boys don’t like the taste of stainless steel!”

Juliet knew she’d made a mistake the moment the words left her mouth. Bambi had only been wearing braces since Monday and she was still sensitive about them. But Juliet had been desperate to turn the attention away from herself, and the blistering comments had escaped her lips before she even had a chance to think about them.

Explosions like this were what had earned her the ridiculous nickname “Killer” to begin with-ridiculous because, in truth, Juliet was the most painfully shy person in the entire Venus Harbor Middle school. Or the entire state, by her father’s calculation. But Mr. Dove was given to poetic exaggeration.

Juliet hated the nickname, especially because the ferocious comments that earned it for her had never been spoken out of anger. It was just that the minute someone started teasing her about personal matters she felt such an acute panic that she would say anything-anything-to get them to leave her alone. Unfortunately, whenever she tried to explain that she did this because she was shy, people laughed.

“It’s because you’re so good at it,” Arturo had told her once. “I mean, when you set your tongue on slice and dice, it’s like you’ve got a Ginsu knife between your teeth.”

Juliet might not have lashed out at Bambi quite so horribly if she hadn’t already been upset over their language arts teacher’s announcement that they were going to do oral reports at the end of the month. As far as Juliet was concerned, doing an oral report was not much different from being slowly ground up in a sausage machine-except that, given a choice, she probably would have opted for the sausage machine. She could not think of anything more excruciating than having to stand up in front of people and speak.

All this was going through Juliet’s mind later that afternoon as she pressed herself against the brick wall of the alley, just around the corner from the Venus Harbor Cinema. She had ducked into the alley when she saw Bambi and Samantha coming toward her. Though she kept telling herself that the simplest way to deal with the situation would be to walk up to Bambi and apologize, Juliet found the very idea terrifying. So she remained tight against the wall, barely breathing, wishing she could melt right into it until the girls had gone by.

Unfortunately, Bambi and Samantha—did either of them ever go anywhere alone? Juliet wondered—did not keep walking. Instead, they stopped to examine the poster for the weekend’s big event, The Third Annual Venus Harbor Valentine’s Day Poetry Jam.

Go away, thought Juliet desperately. Go away!

The mental command didn’t work. Bambi and Samantha stayed right where they were.

“My pathetic mother is totally jazzed because Scott Willis is coming in for this,” said Bambi.

“Who cares about a fat weatherman?” scoffed Samantha. “Corey Willis is the one I’m excited about!”

“Just because you’ve got fifteen pictures of him on your wall?” teased Bambi.

“You think he’s hot, too!” protested Samantha. “Besides, did you ever read any of his poems? He’s not just a great actor. He’s got a beautiful soul!”

Juliet tried hard not to betray her hiding spot by making puking noises. The whole Poetry Jam was her father’s idea, and he had been grumbling for months about having to bring in “fake poets” like Scott Willis and Corey Falcon in order to get more people to come to the event. She felt a twitch of irritation at Bambi and Samantha for even looking at the poster.

“So are you going to go?” asked Samantha, after a few minutes.

“Are you kidding?” said Bambi. “And miss a chance to see Corey Falcon in person? Besides, it’s going to be fun. People are coming from all over. They even did a thing about it on FOX News last night.” Suddenly she laughed.

“What’s so funny?” asked Samantha.

“Remember what happened with Juliet the first year they did this?”

Samantha snorted. “That was so pathetic!”

Juliet’s cheeks blazed nearly as red as the brick wall behind her as the unwanted memory swept over her. More than ever she wished she could just disappear.

“So—what are you going to do about her?” asked Samantha.

“About who?” said Bambi, sounding genuinely puzzled.

“Juliet!”

“Why should I do anything? Everyone knows what a jerk she is. I’ve got more important things to do than worry about getting back at Killer.”

“I can’t believe you’re going to let her get away with saying those things to you,” said Samantha angrily. “In fact, when I see her, I’m going to slap her face for you!”

A horrible panic, too powerful to resist, seized Juliet, and she turned to flee. She did not run because she was afraid of being slapped by Samantha. She ran simply because she was afraid of being seen by either of them.

The back end of the alley opened into the parking lot behind Cosgrove’s grocery. Juliet raced across the lot, ignoring the hello called to her by Suzy Cosgrove. She shot behind the teddy bear store, turned up Dell Street, then turned right, thinking that she was running toward the beach. But somehow she must have gotten turned around, because the beach was only two blocks away, and she kept running, and running. To her surprise, she found herself on a street she did not recognize-which seemed impossible, since she had lived in Venus Harbor all her life, and it wasn’t that big a town.

Juliet slowed to a walk, pressing her hand against her side, where a sharp pain had blossomed. She noticed that a mist had started to rise. Early fogs were not unknown in Venus Harbor, but this was thicker than usual, and the tendrils of it seemed to cling to her feet.

She pulled her drab sweater tighter and looked around.

The street was lined with old-fashioned looking shops. Like the fog, this was not unusual for Venus Harbor, where quaint was the official town style and nine-tenths of the stores-half of them selling either fudge, or sea shells-were designed to catch the eye of tourists. But the shop at the end of the street was even more old-fashioned looking than the others. Its curved front window, divided into many panes, said in bold letters:

ELIVES’ MAGIC SUPPLIES
S. H. Elives, Prop.

Where did that come from? wondered Juliet, finding it hard to believe Venus Harbor could possibly contain such a cool store-or that she had been unaware of it until now. Forgetting Bambi and Samantha, she waded through the fog, which was swirling around her knees now and seemed to get thicker as she approached the shop.

The shop’s door was made of carved wood instead of metal and glass like those in most of the stores in town. Juliet pressed on it.

It swung open without a sound. She stepped forward. A small bell tinkled overhead as she crossed the threshold.

She looked around for a clerk.

No one in sight.

“Anyone here?” she called.

No answer.

Juliet thought about leaving, but figured if the door was unlocked it must mean the store was open for business. Maybe whoever ran the place was in the bathroom. She actually preferred it this way, since she wouldn’t have to talk to anyone. Juliet hated the way people who worked in stores were always asking if you wanted something; most of the time what she wanted was to be left alone.

She gazed around the shop. It was filled with all sorts of things that magicians-professional magicians-might use in their acts. To the right was a wall filled with cages. She saw rabbits, which she figured were for pulling out of hats. But there were also toads, lizards, bats, and a spider the size of a dinner plate. She shuddered, and turned her attention elsewhere.

In the center of the room stood a tall, glossy black cabinet with brilliantly colored Asian dragons painted on its sides. Swords had been thrust through the cabinet from all directions.

Beside the cabinet was a bin filled with a rainbow’s worth of silk scarves.

A glass-topped counter ran against the wall to the left, its shelves filled with Chinese rings, big decks of cards, and other magicians’ paraphernalia. On top of the counter was a rack of magic wands.

At the back of the shop was another counter. This one, made of wood, had a dragon carved on its front. On top of this counter sat an old-fashioned brass cash register. Juliet thought it was quite beautiful, but she was even more impressed by the stuffed owl perched on top of it. At least, Juliet assumed the owl was stuffed, until it turned its head, looked right at her, blinked twice, then uttered a low hoot.

“Peace, Uwila!” cried a sharp voice from the back of the shop. “I know she’s there.”

The owl looked startled.

A moment later a woman strode through the beaded curtain that covered the door behind the counter. She was attractive, or would have been if not for a leanness in her features that made what beauty she had seem harsh and forbidding. She wore black pants and a high-necked white shirt, with a long overshirt made of red fabric and covered in designs so sharp and pointed they seemed to jab your eyes.

Juliet wondered if she was the owner of the shop. If so, was she Mrs. Elives, Miss Elives, or Ms. Elives? She hated trying to figure out what to call an adult woman. Why couldn’t it be as simple as it was for men, where there was just one choice?

The owl swiveled its head toward the woman, then ruffled its feathers and hooted questioningly.

“Peace, Uwila!” said the woman again.

The owl returned to its motionless state. But Juliet could not help but notice that its eyes seemed to be filled with terror. She felt a surge of anger. Did this woman mistreat the poor thing? How could you have something as wonderful as an owl for a pet and be cruel to it?

“Welcome,” said the woman. Her voice was dry and husky, as if she had not used it in some time. “My name is . . . Iris. How can I help you?”

Juliet stared at her for a moment, before she was able to say in a small voice, “I just came in to look around. I hadn’t seen the store before. I thought I knew all the shops in town.”

“We’re a little off the beaten path,” said the woman. She stared at Juliet for a moment, then nodded in satisfaction. “Let me show you something.” Reaching into the pocket of her overshirt, the woman extracted a gold chain from which hung a small, delicately carved pendant-ivory, by the look of it.

“Cupid’s choice,” murmured the woman, her voice suddenly softer and more enticing than Juliet would have thought possible. “Here, take a closer look. Hold it for a moment!”

When Juliet took a step forward the woman grabbed her hand, pulled it toward her, and dropped the pendant into it.

Juliet was startled by the sudden action, and nearly turned to run out of the shop. But she was too fascinated to leave. Lifting the pendant so she could examine it more closely, she felt her heart captured by the strangely beautiful face carved into the ivory, found herself filled with a desire to own it. She noticed a tiny pair of golden hinges on one side, and a miniature keyhole, also made of gold, on the other. Her fingers moved toward them.

“Don’t!” said the woman urgently. Lowering her voice, she added, “Not that you could. The hinges don’t work. Still, best not to try. You might ruin everything.”

Juliet looked at the woman nervously. She was talking as if she were crazy. Juliet was tempted to put down the amulet and flee. But the thing was so lovely she couldn’t help looking at it again. She couldn’t remember ever wanting an object to desperately.“How much is it?” she asked, knowing full well that she could never afford such an exquisite item.

“How badly do you want it?” countered the woman.

“Not much,” replied Juliet. This was not true. However Juliet didn’t consider it a lie; her father had taught her about bargaining and this was just part of the process. You never let someone know how much you wanted something.

The woman laughed. “Fine. Just put it down and leave.”

Juliet did place the pendant on the counter. But she found that, somehow, she couldn’t bring herself to let go of it.

“How badly do you want it?” asked the woman again. Her face was tighter now, her eyes as steely gray as the ocean in midwinter.

“Where did it come from?” asked Juliet, partly to gain some time to think, partly because she was frightened. “Who made it?”

The woman stared directly into her eyes. “It is the key to the world’s desire.”

Juliet forced herself to open her fingers and let go of the amulet. She turned to go but had not walked more than three steps toward the door before she turned back. Though she was frightened by her desire for the amulet, she had to know more. Putting her hands firmly on either side of the ivory bauble, but refusing to allow herself to actually touch it, she asked again, “How much is it?”

“It’s not for sale,” said the woman, smiling for the first time.

Juliet stared at her, puzzled. What kind of gimmick was this?

The woman’s face grew solemn. “It’s not for sale,” she repeated. “Even so, if you want it enough, you can have it. But you must want it, Juliet-really want it. Otherwise it’s no deal.”

Juliet looked up at the woman. “How do you know my name?” she asked.

“That’s not the real question right now,” said the woman. “The question is, how much do you want the amulet?”

“I don’t understand.”

The woman shrugged. “No one does. That’s part of what makes life so interesting.” She gestured toward the chain. “Go ahead, pick it up again.”

Juliet hesitated, then reached for the amulet. To her surprise, she was not able to lift it off the counter. She felt a ripple of fear; what was going on here?

The woman shrugged again, looking disappointed. “I guess you don’t want it badly enough after all.” She put her own hand over the amulet and began to slide it toward her.

“Wait!” cried Juliet.

The woman stopped, lifted her hand.

Juliet reached out again. The amulet felt warm beneath her fingers. Suddenly a powerful longing swept over her, a strange and passionate need to possess the amulet. She closed her hand over it and, without the slightest effort, scooped it up.

The owl hooted ominously and ruffled its feathers. A gust of wind battered at the shop windows.

The woman, on the other hand, looked pleased. Giving Juliet a dazzling smile, she said, “I thought you might be the one. I was hoping-” She stopped and glanced over her shoulder, as if she had heard a sound. Quickly she turned back to Juliet. “You should go! Take the side door, it will get you home more quickly. Go. Go NOW!”

Terrified by the change in the woman’s tone, Juliet turned. But before she could leave the woman commanded, “Wait!”

Juliet turned back. The woman’s eyes were blazing.

“Speak of this to no one!” she commanded.

Juliet nodded, turned once more, and fled through the side door. To her astonishment, she found herself back on Main Street, not far from where she had started.

Had she made some sort of big circle when she ran from Bambi and Samantha? She didn’t think so-but if not, how had she arrived back here? She glanced around, and was relieved to find the two girls nowhere in sight. She spent no more time thinking about them, for something stronger and stranger and more frightening was occupying her mind.

It was what she had seen when she glanced back before she left the shop. The woman behind the counter had been smiling- a fierce, eager smile. And her eyes had been lit with a look that was both hungry, and triumphant.

The very memory of it made Juliet shudder.

She lifted her hand to stare at the amulet again. Reaching out with the forefinger of her left hand, she touched the beautifully carved ivory. A jolt of power, almost like an electric shock, stung her. Juliet stared at the amulet in astonishment, then crammed it into her pocket and ran for home.



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