First Look: Chapter 4 through 6 of Sweet Nightmare by Tracy Wolff!

“The moment our gazes collide, it’s as if everything inside me freezes and burns all at the same time.”

Welcome back to Calder Academy! Today is the day. You will finally get to meet the incomparable Jude Abernathy-Lee – his introduction is just fantastic. We hope you enjoy this glimpse into daily life at Calder! 


Come back on Friday at 12pm EST to see how Clementine handles the devastating news she receives…




  Lightning flashes outside the room’s lone Queen Anne–style window, slicing through the sudden, unnatural darkness of the early afternoon sky.

  As if to underscore the seriousness of the upcoming storm—not to mention the current atmosphere in this classroom—thunder booms seconds later. It’s loud enough to rattle that same window and shake the ground around us. Half the class gasps as the lights flicker, but instead of breaking the tension in the room, Mother Nature’s temper tantrum only ratchets it up higher.

  Maybe we’ll get lucky and lightning will strike a Jean-Jerk. Right now, fae flambй really doesn’t sound so bad.

  Ms. Aguilar glances uneasily out the window. “With all this lightning, I certainly hope someone remembered to check the fire extinguishers.” 

  Thunder booms again, and more students shift uneasily. Normally the threat of a September storm wouldn’t so much as get a second look. They’re a way of life here on this Gulf Coast island—especially during hurricane season.

  But this one didn’t grow and build the way they usually do. It pretty much came out of nowhere, and its intensity seems to mimic the explosive energy in the room even before Jean-Paul and his band of not-so-merry losers shift forward in their desks like they’ve been waiting for this moment their whole lives.

  My stomach tightens, and I slide my legs out from beneath my desktop, preparing for the worst.

  “Don’t even think about getting in the middle of that,” the new girl behind me—Izzy, I think her name is—hisses. “I’ve been waiting for them to get their asses kicked from the first day. Yours, not so much.”

  “Thanks?” I whisper back even as I tell myself to listen to her. 

  But before Izzy can say anything else, Jean-Luc half coughs, half laughs as he runs a hand through his long blond hair. “You got a problem, Abernathy-Lee?”

  Jude doesn’t answer, just raises one dark, slashing brow as he continues to stare Jean-Luc and the others down. Jean-Luc doesn’t look away, but there’s a sudden glimmer of doubt in his eyes.

  The glimmer grows into a whole lot of concern as Jude continues to watch them, the unease in the room becoming so palpable it hangs in the air along with the humidity. But Jean-Jacques must be too self-absorbed to notice as he sneers, “Yeah, that’s what we thought. You’re fucking wi—”

  He breaks off as—out of nowhere—Jean-Luc’s hand flashes out, slamming into the back of Jean-Jacques’s head and shoving his face straight into his desk before he can spew any more vitriol.

  “What did you do that for?” Jean-Jacques whines as he wipes one dark hand across the small trickle of blood now coming from his nose.

  “Shut the fuck up,” Jean-Luc snarls back, but his eyes continue to stay locked on Jude, who still hasn’t moved more than that one, lone eyebrow. But his stillness doesn’t seem to matter to Jean-Luc, at least not judging by the belligerent look on his face. “We were just fucking around, man. We don’t have a problem here.”

  Jude’s second brow goes up, as if to query, Don’t we?

  When no one else answers—or so much as breathes, to be fair—his gaze shifts from Jean-Luc to Jean-Claude, who is squirming uneasily in his seat. The moment their eyes meet, Jean-Claude suddenly develops a deep and abiding fascination with his phone—one the other three Jean-Jerks mimic with their own phones in short order. 

  Suddenly, none of them will look Jude in the eye.

  And just like that, the danger passes, tension leaking out of the air like helium from an old balloon. At least for now.

  Ms. Aguilar must sense it, too, because she lets out a relieved puff of air before pointing to the flowery quote she wrote across the board in bright-pink Expo marker. “‘The only means of strengthening one’s intellect is to make up one’s mind about nothing.’” Her voice rises and falls with the words, like she’s singing a song. She then gestures to the line written below it in teal blue. “‘To let the mind be a thoroughfare for all thoughts.’”

  Looks like we’re just skipping straight over the elephant-sized fae problem in the room and going with a quote from a dead white guy. Then again, at the moment I don’t actually hate that decision.

  After she’s given what I assume must be a dramatic pause, Ms. Aguilar continues. “That, my friends, is a quote from my favorite Romantic poet. Can any of you hazard a guess who it is?”

  No one immediately volunteers the answer. In fact, we all just kind of sit there, staring at her in a combination of disbelief and surprise.

  Her face falls as she looks around the room. “No one even has a guess?”

  Still no response.

  When she lets out a heartbroken sigh, one of the witches in the second to last row ventures, “Lord Byron?” in a tentative voice.

  “Byron?” Somehow Ms. Aguilar looks even more disappointed. “Certainly not. He’s much more wicked, Veronica.

  “Still no guesses?” She shakes her head sadly. “I suppose I could give another quote.”

  She taps one cotton candy–colored fingernail against her chin. “Now, which one should I use? Maybe…”

  “For fuck’s sake,” Izzy bursts out from behind me. “It’s John fucking Keats.”

  Ms. Aguilar jerks back in surprise, but it quickly turns to joy. “You know him!” she crows, clapping her hands.

  “Of course I bloody well know him. I’m from bloody Britain, aren’t I?” Izzy snaps.

  “That. Is. Wonderful!” Ms. Aguilar practically dances over to her desk to retrieve a pile of packets. “I’m so glad you’ve read him before! Isn’t he just divine? ‘Heard melodies are—’”

  “He’s an egotistical blowhard,” Izzy interrupts before the teacher can once again flit from one end of the room to the other. “Just like the rest of the Romantic poets.”

  Ms. Aguilar pauses mid-flounder in horror. “Isadora! John Keats is one of the most brilliant poets—nay, one of the most brilliant people—to ever walk the face of the Earth, which I am sure you will all come to understand as we study him for our next unit.”

  Oh, sure. Him she stands up for. Maybe if the Jean-Jerks threw Skittles at the pictures of the poets she has up all over the walls, she could actually talk back to them, too.

  She walks over to me and dumps the stack of packets on my desk. “Clementine, be a darling and pass these out for me, will you?”

  I say, “Sure,” even though my abused body would much rather go with, “Hell, no.”

  The Jean-Jerks barely look up when I toss a packet on each of their desks. I expect Jude to do the same when I get to him—but instead he looks straight at me.

  The moment our gazes collide, it’s as if everything inside me freezes and burns all at the same time. My heart speeds up, my brain slows down, and my lungs tighten until it hurts to breathe.

  It’s the first time he’s looked directly at me—the first time we’ve looked at each other—since freshman year, and I don’t know what to do…or how to feel.

  But then his disgustingly gorgeous face goes dark right in front of me.

  His razor-sharp jaw tightens.

  His light-brown skin pulls taut over slashing cheekbones.

  And his eyes—one so brown it’s nearly black and the other a swirling, silvery green—go completely blank.

   I’ve spent three years building a wall inside me just for this very moment, and one glance from him takes a stick of dynamite to it. I’ve never felt more pathetic in my life.

  Determined to get away as fast as possible, I all but throw his packet at him.

  The rest of the class passes in a blur as I beat myself up, furious that I wasn’t the one to shut it down first. That, even after everything that happened between us, he was the one who got to ice me out instead of the other way around.

  But as the bell is about to ring and we all start packing up, Ms. Aguilar claps her hands to get our attention. “There’s never enough time, is there?” she laments. “But to combat that problem for next class, I’m going to assign your partners now.”

  “Partners?” one of the dragon shifters calls out. “For what?”

  “For your Keats project, silly. I’ll assign each of you a partner today, and when you come into class tomorrow, you can start on your projects right away.”

  Instead of going down a pre-planned list based on proximity or even alphabetical order like a normal teacher would, she starts looking around the room and pairing people up according to “the vibe she’s currently feeling from them.”

  I don’t know what kind of vibe I’m giving off, and honestly, I couldn’t care less. Now that the adrenaline from the chrickler cage has worn off, the pain is kicking in. Add that to the weird shit that just went down with Jude, and I just want to get through my next class so I can head to the dorm to take some painkillers.

  Not to mention a hot shower.

  I tune Ms. Aguilar out and spend the next couple of minutes daydreaming about copious amounts of hot water, but I jerk back to attention the moment she calls out my name…followed by Jude’s.

  Oh, fuck no.






  Ms. Aguilar continues pairing people up until everyone has a partner, completely oblivious to the fact that she’s just blown my shit straight up.

  The bell finally rings less than a minute later. “You are on the right path for you. Stay the course.” 

  Geez, Aunt Claudia. On the nose much?

  The rest of the class heads for the door, but I hang back. Once everyone has cleared out, I head toward Ms. Aguilar, who is watching me expectantly.

  “No need to thank me, Clementine,” she says with a conspiratorial grin.

  “Huh?” I ask, bewildered.

  “For pairing you up with Jude. I could tell there’s something going on between you two.”

  “There is nothing going on between me and Jude—”

  “Oh, come now, you don’t have to hide it. I do have a poet’s soul, after all.”

  “I’m not hiding anything. Jude and I have a…very strong mutual dislike of each other.” Or at least that’s the vibe he’s been throwing my way since he ditched me with no warning and absolutely no explanation.

  “Oh.” She looks startled. “Well, then, maybe you can use this time to mend fences—”

  Mend fences? There’s no mending fences with Jude Abernathy-Lee. How can there be when he obliterated the fence and the entire plot of land it was built on a long time ago? “Actually, I was hoping I could swap partners.”

  “Swap partners?” Her eyes go wide, and she bats her naturally sparkly eyelashes like the idea of changing out of her assigned groups has never occurred to her. “Oh, I don’t think that’s a very good idea, do you?”

  “I absolutely do!” I give her my most winning smile. Or at least I try to. But judging by the way she rears back, I’m certain the day’s trauma has turned it into a frightening grimace. “That’s why I brought it up.”

  “Yes, well, I can’t very well swap your partner around, Clementine. If I do that, then everyone will expect a change as well. And if I don’t do it for them, then I’ll be accused of favoritism toward the headmaster’s daughter, and I can’t afford that. I just got here.”

  “No one has to know!”

  “I assigned the groups in front of the whole class. Everyone will know.” She shakes her head. “You’ll just have to make the best of it. And maybe you’ll find out the two of you have more in common than you think. Now get to class. You’ll be late.”

  She pivots to her computer to let me know the conversation is over. I give her a half-hearted goodbye and slink, defeated, out of the classroom.

  I make it to my last class of the day, Anger Management with Danson the Dick, just as the affirmation bell sounds. I spend a miserable hour listening to him explain to us how much we suck and how we’ll never amount to anything if we don’t get our powers under control. I’m tempted to ask how anyone can be expected to learn how to control their magic if the school locks down every student’s powers from the second they land on this damn island to the second the graduation boat leaves, but I don’t have the fight in me today.

  After class, I race for the stairs. This afternoon is Calder Conclave, and showing up in anything but a dress uniform is “completely unacceptable.” Only being late is worse—well, that and missing it completely. But I’m pretty sure you’d have to be dead for that to happen—although I’m not certain that would stop my mother from requiring my attendance.

  Thunder booms overhead as I book it toward the dorms, but the rain that has been threatening all day still doesn’t fall. That only makes the heat and humidity worse—September in Texas is just another word for Hell—and by the time I reach the huge fence that separates the classroom buildings from the dorms, my uniform shirt is sticking to my back. Built by Giant blacksmiths, the two fences that surround the whole island and separate the academic buildings from the dorms ensure that every Calder Academy student is powerless with a combination of magic-dampening spells and paranormal technology. Eva and I like to call it the lack of honor system.

  And I’m subjected to the same draconian rules. 

  Even if I didn’t philosophically disagree with my mother on absolutely everything, I’d be angry with her for that alone. She grew up with her magic. My aunts and uncles grew up with theirs. A special spell keeps them exempt from the dampening and lets the adults access their power while on the island. They even renew the spell every year, whenever it’s weakened. But, when it comes to my cousins and me, we can’t be trusted to have access to ours.

  It’s what makes Danson the Dick’s lecture so infuriating and unfair. I’ve never abused my power, never lost control of my magic, never hurt anyone—how could I when I’ve never, even for a second, known what it’s like to have magic? 

  I’m in pain and annoyed as I head down the buckled sidewalk that leads to the dorms. On either side of the path, haphazardly placed live oak trees cast eerie shadows while the Spanish moss hanging from their branches rustles and chatters as it blows wildly in the wind. I speed up as I pass beneath them, their nefarious conversation sending chills down my spine until I can finally turn onto the long center mall that leads to the senior “cottages.”

  Freshmen through juniors have to stay in the primary dorm, which was once the resort’s main accommodations—while the seniors get the privilege of staying in the now run-down guest cottages. The little New Orleans–style bungalows have front porches, storm shutters, and gingerbreading, though the pastel paint is now faded and peeling.

  Eva’s and mine has two cracked windows and a family of mice in the pantry, but at least the air conditioning works, so we don’t complain. It’s part of that style to which we’ve become accustomed.

  Eva’s not home yet, so I strip off my disgustingly sweaty uniform the second I hit the door before running for the shower. A quick soap and scrub of the chrickler bites is all I have time for—the luxurious shower of my daydreams will have to wait for later. Then I towel off, throw my wet hair up into a bun, and grab my dress uniform from the basket of unfolded laundry at the bottom of my closet.

  One white button-down blouse and red plaid skirt later and I’m almost ready to go. I pull on socks, slide my feet into the black loafers my mother insists on, and grab my phone before making a mad dash back toward the admin building.

  Conclave starts in five minutes, and unfortunately, it’s a ten-minute jog, so I lay on the speed. The one time I was late I ended up with chrickler duty until graduation. I definitely don’t want to level up to the bigger monster enclosures.

  I’m sweating profusely—fuck humidity—and gasping for air by the time I make it to the conference room on the fourth floor of the admin building, but I’ve got ten seconds to spare, so I call it a win. At least until my phone rings as I slip into the room and all twelve members of my extended family turn to stare at me in obvious disapproval.






  My phone keeps ringing in the total silence of the room. To spare further familial humiliation, I pull it out of my pocket to decline the call. It’s my friend Serena, who graduated last year and is now living in Phoenix, so I fire off a text telling her it’s Conclave and I’ll call her when it’s over. Then I slide into my seat—third from the left on the far side of the table, same as always.

  “Nice of you to join us, Clementine,” my mother says coolly, brows raised and crimson-painted lips pinched. “Perhaps next time you’ll make sure your uniform is clean before you do so.”

  She’s staring at my chest, so I follow her gaze only to find a large brown stain directly over my left boob. I must have pulled this uniform out of the dirty clothes basket and not the clean one.

  Because that’s just the kind of day I’m having.

  “I’d offer you some tea,” my cousin Carlotta snickers, “but it looks like you’ve already had some.” She’s in tenth grade this year and is downright sophomoric about it.

  “Don’t listen to them, Sugar,” my grandmother tells me in her syrupy-sweet Southern accent. “The nice boys like a girl who doesn’t put too much stock in her appearance.”

  “Don’t be talking to my sweet girl about boys now, Viola,” my grandfather scolds her with a wave of his hairy-knuckled hand. “You know she’s too young for all that business.”

  “Yes, Claude,” my grandmother replies even as she winks at me.

  I give them both a grateful smile—it’s nice to have someone in my corner. Sometimes I wonder if things would be different if my dad hadn’t left before I was born. But he did, and now my mother has made it her mission to punish him by taking his fuck-ups out on me—whether she realizes it or not.

 “Now that Clementine is here, I hereby call this Conclave to order,” my uncle Christopher says, banging the gavel on the table hard enough to rattle all the tiny porcelain tea cups my mother insists we drink out of. “Beatrice, please serve the tea.”

  Within seconds, the conference room is filled with kitchen witches pushing tea carts. One is loaded down with tea pots and all the accoutrements. Another is piled high with finger sandwiches, while a third has a variety of scones and elaborate pastries.

  We all sit in silence as everything is perfectly arranged on my mother’s favorite floral tablecloth.

  Flavia, one of the youngest kitchen witches, smiles as she puts a plate of small cupcakes on the table next to me. “I made your favorite cream cheese pineapple icing for the carrot cakes, Clementine,” she whispers.

  “Thank you so much,” I whisper back with a large smile, drawing an annoyed frown from my mom.

  I ignore her.

  Flavia is just being kind—something that’s not exactly prized here at Calder. Not to mention she makes a crazy good carrot cake. 

  Once the oh-so-pretentious Calder family Wednesday afternoon tea is served and everyone has filled their plates, my mother ceremonially takes the gavel from Uncle Christopher. She’s the oldest of the five siblings currently gathered around the table. It’s a position she takes very seriously since she inherited it from their oldest sister when she died, sometime before I was born…and something she doesn’t let any of her brothers or sisters—or their families—forget. 

  Though she has the gavel in hand, she doesn’t do anything as gauche as bang it. Instead, she just holds it as she waits for the table to fall silent around her. It only takes a second—I’m not the only one in the room who has suffered one of my mother’s endless lectures or diabolical punishments—although I still maintain that chrickler duty is way better than when she made my cousin Carolina clean the monster fish tank for a month…from the inside. 

  “We have a full agenda today,” my mother begins, “so I’d like to break protocol and start the business part of the meeting before we finish eating, if no one objects.”

  No one objects—though my favorite aunt, Claudia, looks like she wants to. Her bright-red topknot is quivering with either indignation or nerves, but she’s so shy and introverted that it’s hard for me to tell.

  My mom, Uncle Christopher, and Aunt Carmen definitely like to be the center of attention at these meetings, while Uncle Carter spends most of his time trying, and failing, to focus the spotlight on himself. It’s a manticore trait, one that only Aunt Claudia and I seem to be lacking. Everyone else fights for center stage like it’s the only thing standing between them and certain demise.

  “The first two weeks of classes have gone exceptionally well,” my mother intones. “The new traffic patterns that the hall trolls have instituted appear to be keeping the flow of students orderly in between classes as well as keeping fights from breaking out in the hallways, just as we’d hoped. We’ve had no injuries.”

  “Actually,” Aunt Claudia speaks up in a breathless voice that’s little more than a whisper, “I’ve dealt with several fight injuries in the healer’s office. But they were all minor, so—”

  “As I was saying, no major injuries,” my mother interrupts, narrowing her eyes at her sister. “Which is the same thing.”

  One glare from my mother and Aunt Claudia knows this is a losing battle. Uncle Brandt reaches over to pat her knee, and she gives him a grateful smile.

  “There’s a storm watch in the Gulf right now, but we should be fine,” Uncle Christopher manages to interject even without the gavel. “Our protections should hold, and if it does develop further, it should pass us right by.”

  “Do I need to talk to Vivian and Victoria?” Aunt Carmen asks, jumping in—as she always does—at the first opportunity. “Have them cast another protection spell?”

  Uncle Christopher twists the end of his auburn mustache around his finger as he contemplates her suggestion. “I suppose it couldn’t hurt. What do you think, Camilla?”

  My mother shrugs. “I think it’s unnecessary, but if it makes you feel better, Carmen, who am I to stop you?”

  “Then I’ll have the witches take care of it.” Aunt Carmen’s voice is nearly as stiff and cold as my mother’s. There is no love lost between my mother and Aunt Carmen, who is the sibling closest to her in age.

  She’s tried several times to launch a coup to replace my mother as headmaster. They’ve never worked, but they have made family conclaves extra entertaining.

  “What about the, um”—Aunt Claudia lowers her voice like she’s about to tell a secret—“the matter in the, umm, lower level…?”

  “You mean the dungeon?” my grandmother corrects with a shake of her head. “At least call it what you people have turned it into.”

  I’m with her. That dank, dark area definitely qualifies as a dungeon.

  “The matter in the basement,” Uncle Carter says, steely-voiced, “is well in hand.”

  “I’m not so sure about that. Something almost got out of its cage while I was down there earlier.” The words slip out before I know I’m going to say them. Everyone turns to stare at me like I’m some kind of particularly nasty bug.

  I know I should regret saying anything, but stirring the family pot is the only thing that makes Conclave bearable.

  “Everything is perfectly secure, Clementine,” my mother tells me, eyes narrowed so much that all I can see now is a sliver of blue as she looks at me. “You need to stop making false reports.”

  “It wasn’t a false report,” I say as I defiantly swipe some icing from my cake with my finger and lick it off. “Ask Uncle Carter.”

  All eyes turn silently toward my uncle, who turns Calder Academy red. 

  “That’s simply not true. Our security is top-notch. There is nothing to worry about, Camilla,” he blusters, his goatee quivering in affront.

  I think about pulling out my phone and blowing up the whole charade, but it’s not worth the detention I’ll surely get.

  So instead, I duck my head and lean back in my chair. This time, it’s my shoulder Uncle Brandt pats, and for a second, I want to cry. Not because of my mom, but because his smile reminds me so much of his daughter’s—my cousin, Carolina, who died a couple months ago after escaping the scariest prison in the paranormal world. 

  She was sent there when we were both in ninth grade, and not a day goes by that I don’t miss her. But knowing she’s gone forever has made that ache so much worse. 

  My mother continues the meeting per her agenda, but after a couple more minutes, I tune her out.

  Finally, just when I can taste freedom, she hands the gavel back to Uncle Christopher.

  “Our last order of business tonight is a little more family oriented.” He grins with pride, and so does my aunt Lucinda, who is practically squirming in her seat with excitement.

  The suspense lasts mere seconds before Uncle Christopher announces, “I’d like us all to take this opportunity to congratulate Caspian on getting early acceptance into the University of Salem’s prestigious Paranormal Studies program!”

  The whole table erupts in cheers while I just sit there, feeling like I’ve been shoved off a cliff.


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