One cold, crisp night, Jack Sommers was faced with a choice—live forever according to the ancient, magical rules of Gaia, or die.
Jack chose to live, and in exchange, he became a Winter—an immortal physical embodiment of the season on Earth. Every year, he must hunt the Season who comes before him. Summer kills Spring. Autumn kills Summer. Winter kills Autumn. And Spring kills Winter.
Jack and Fleur, a Winter and a Spring, fall for each other against all odds. To be together, they’ll have to escape the cycle that’s been forcing them apart. But their creator won’t let them go without a fight.
Elle Cosimano’s Seasons of the Storm is the first book in a new fantasy duology—publishing June 23rd with Harper Teen.
December 21, 1988
There’s something inherently wrong with any home that’s easy to get into and hard to break out of. The Winter Ridge Academy for Boys is both. I’ve cleared four of the five pins in the lock already, and I can practically taste the air outside, cold and sweet, seeping through the crack under the door.
My hallmates roughhouse behind me, their blood buzzing on cheap contraband rum, all of us high on the promise of one night outside these walls and the risk of getting caught.
We won’t. I’ve been planning this for a month—timing the shift changes of the security guards, mapping their patrol routes every night after lights out, figuring out how to get us all back inside before morning head count. If anyone deserves a few hours of freedom, it’s us.
We’re the ones left behind—the worst of the screwups, whose parents didn’t want us home for the holidays. The last bed check of the night was an hour ago. The teachers have all taken off for Christmas, and security’s been whittled down to a skeleton crew. If I can get us out past the reach of the security lights, no one should come looking for us.
“Hurry up, Sullivan. What’s taking so long?”
“Keep it down. I’m almost done.”
They’re like puppies, all quiet barks and rough whispers and stifled laughs as they scuffle in their puffy coats behind me. One of them knocks into me and I swear. But as I pitch forward into the door, the last pin slides home.
The lock opens.
The boys untangle themselves and huddle over my shoulder, their breath ripe with booze as the door creaks open, carving an angel’s wing in the snow. I hold them back, craning my neck out. The hushed woods absorb every sound.
The exits in this place are equipped with cameras and alarms, except this one. Half hidden in the back of an old boiler room layered in dust, the dimpled door and rusted padlock hardly put up a fight. Tucked close to the woods, this corner of the dormitory isn’t visible from the rest of campus. During the summers, it’s overgrown with weeds, the patchy, neglected grass shaded by the dense, low limbs of the towering oaks and chestnut trees that surround the school, as if the staff ’s forgotten this door exists. The security guards don’t even bother patrolling it. In the mornings, when we’re released for outside recreation, it’s the only pristine stretch of snow on the grounds.
“Go,” I whisper, holding the door open for the others. I drag on my ski jacket and cap. The snow’s thick, making it easy to follow their moonlit tracks. I run after them, the cold stinging my cheeks, a grin splitting my face so wide it’s almost painful, as the lights of the school fade behind me.
My lungs burn and my heart’s on fire. It feels like the first full breath I’ve tasted in years, since I first got dumped here. I’m tempted to turn away from the rest of the group and just keep running, but I’ve only got six months left in this place to satisfy the terms of my probation.
And then what? After graduation, where the hell will I go?
I dig in my pocket for the smuggled whiskey I brought, but it’s gone. Ahead, the empty bottle catches the moonlight, dangling from someone’s glove.
My roommate tosses me a can of cheap beer and I catch it against the front of my coat. It’s still warm from whoever’s dorm room it was hidden in, and now it’s completely shaken up.
“Happy birthday, Jack,” I mutter.
I crack it open and pound it before the froth spills out. It’s been hours since dinner. The beer goes straight to my head, and my stomach still feels hollow, even after I knock back a second one.
We walk until my face is numb. Until we reach the high chain-link perimeter fence separating us from the ski resort on the other side.
“This is it,” I tell them. A month ago, I sketched a map to this spot. My roommate’s older brother works at the ski rental counter during his college breaks, and someone said he’d been saving money to buy a car. I convinced the boys in my hall to chip in for a bribe, wrote all our boot sizes on a slip of paper, and passed it to the guy’s brother along with the money and the map when he was here during Sunday visitation two weeks ago. The opportunity to ski these slopes—slopes some of us can see from our dorm room windows but never get the chance to touch—was too good to pass up.
The boulder’s tucked tightly against a copse of pine, its nose poking out of the snow, exactly where I marked it on the map.
We drop to our knees around it, groping under the snow. Whoops and hell yeahs rise up as I pull out six sets of skis and poles. We fish out a pile of buried trash bags and tear them open, counting out a set of boots for each of us.
“Jack, you’re a motherfucking genius!” One of my hallmates gives me a drunken kiss on the forehead and shoves me backward into the snow. The metal fence rattles as we feed our gear through the opening, the sharp edges of the chain link snapping back over and over until the last of us clears the “No Trespassing” sign.
We lug our gear through a swath of trees and pause on the other side, an awed silence falling over us.
The slopes are dusted with windswept powder. It glitters like stars against the dark, disappearing into a night that feels suddenly infinite and ours.
I step into my skis. They hover over the crest where the slope meets the trail and I watch as, one by one, the others take off down the mountain with wild howls, their skis cutting left and right, polishing the edges of the roughest black diamond on the mountain.
The slope falls away when I try to look at it straight on. But out of the corner of my eye, I catch movement. A shadow, like a swirl of dark fog, weaving around the base of the trees.
“You okay, Jack?” my roommate asks.
“Yeah, I’m great,” I say, hoarse from the cold and the laughter. I tear my gaze from the trees, kicking myself for slugging those two beers on an empty stomach. “Never felt so alive.”
“Too bad we only get one run,” he says.
One run. That’s all we get. The slopes are closed. The lifts are down. By the time we make the trek back up the mountain to school, it will be nearly morning, and I’ll be a prisoner in that place for the next six months. All I want is one perfect run, a few fleeting moments when nothing’s holding me back.
“Hit it hard, Jack. No second chances.” There’s a reckless shine in his eyes as he shoves off. “Meet you at the bottom.” His skis make a soft swish as they fade from sight. My eyes drift to the woods and I drag them back, ignoring the doubt creeping through my mind.
This is the one night you’re not leashed to that place. The one night you don’t have to answer to anyone. Don’t lose your nerve.
I tug my hat low over my ears and follow him. The wind sears my face, stealing my breath. The night rushes by faster than I can see ahead of me. I take the first few turns cautiously—too cautiously—avoiding the first two moguls altogether.
We only get one run… no second chances.
I loosen my knees and lean into the turns, catching wind as I hit the next mogul straight on. Suddenly, I’m flying. My heart soars in my chest. My skis touch down, skimming a crust of ice. I dig in, but the momentum pulls me like a tow rope through the dark.
The slope disappears. Exhilaration turns to panic as the trees rush at me.
With a snap, my insides shatter, wood pummeling bone. The impact tears me from my skis and throws me backward into the snow.
I lie there, eyes closed, a deafening ring in my ears. The stars shimmer as I blink myself conscious, my warm breath curling like smoke from the wreckage.
There’s no pain. Not at first. Just a low groan. The unsettling sense that something is broken. My hat’s gone, and the back of my head is drenched and cold. The last of my friends’ shouts fade downhill.
I have to catch up to them. I have to get up.
I move my…
My legs don’t respond. No pain, no cold, nothing.… I feel nothing below my waist. Nothing but fear as it seizes me.
Shit, Jack. What the hell have you done?
I open my mouth to shout for help but the words won’t come. I can’t get enough air. Pain sharpens against my ribs. It swells until there’s no room for breath or thought or anything else.
Please, no! Don’t leave me here!
The night slips in and out of focus, the pain gripping me in waves. Snow seeps into the neck of my coat. Into my gloves. My heart slows, my hands shake, and my teeth… God, my teeth won’t stop chattering.
You screwed up, Jack. You’re going to die.
“Only if you choose to.”
My breath stills. My eyes peel open at the sound of a woman’s voice.
They roll toward the forest, searching, barely able to focus.
Please… help me! Please, I can’t…
The roots of the trees seem to snake up from the ground, writhing above the snow as if they’re alive. My eyes drift closed again. I’m seeing things. Hallucinating. Must have hit my head. But when I force them open, the roots are still moving, braiding themselves together, forming a raised path above the snow.
A woman appears at the end of it.
Mom? Her name catches painfully in my throat.
“You may call me Gaia,” she says.
No. Not my mother. My mother would never come. Has never come.
The woman’s long white dress glows against the dark, her shape becoming clearer as she approaches. The walkway under her feet grows, extending toward me with each of her steps. The woven roots twist and fold into a set of stairs a moment before she descends them, then unravel behind her, disappearing into the snow.
She kneels beside me, her silver hair falling around her face as it comes slowly into focus. Everything but her eyes. They glimmer like diamonds. Or maybe I’m crying. My breath sputters. I taste blood. Suffocating on the smell of copper and iron, I reach for her in a blind panic.
Am I dead?
Her hand’s warm against my cheek. She smells like flowers. Like the mountains in springtime.
“Not yet. But soon,” she says. “Your spleen is ruptured. A rib has punctured your lung. You will succumb to your injuries before your body can be recovered.”
But my friends—
“They will not come back for you.”
No. I’m imagining this. She can’t possibly know these things. But deep inside, I know this is real. And I know that she’s right. Every word cuts. Every breath tears through me.
“I offer you a choice, Jacob Matthew Sullivan,” she says. “Come home with me and live forever, according to my rules. Or die tonight.”
Home. A wave of pain crests inside me. I grab her wrist as the crushing weight of my last breath pulls me under.
Please, I beg her. Please, don’t let me die.
Excerpted from Seasons of the Storm, copyright 2020 by Elle Cosimano.