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Duff concocts an intoxicating 'Elixir'

In "Elixir," singer and actress Hilary Duff tells the tale of a talented young photojournalist, who has spent her entire life in the spotlight as the daughter of a Washington politician, caught in a web of intrigue, danger and romance. Read an excerpt from the new paranormal thriller for young adults:

Chapter 1
I couldn’t breathe.

Wedged in the middle of an ocean of people, I gasped for air, but nothing came. The heat from a million writhing bodies radiated over me, their sweat weighing down the air. I searched anxiously for an escape, but painfully bright lights strobed on and off, clouding my sense of direction.

I was losing it. I was going to pass out.

I forced in a deep breath and tried to talk myself down. I was fine. It wasn’t like I was anywhere dangerous. I was on a dancefloor, in the most exclusive nightclub in Paris. People lined up all night in the freezing cold for even a chance to stand where I was now.

It didn’t help. The techno beat thrummed into my brain, five notes repeating over and over and over until I knew I’d have to scream. The crowd pushed even closer and I couldn’t move my arms, could barely turn my head, and I had a sudden vision of this being forever, an eternity packed in this tiny space as confining as a coffin.

Like my father’s coffin. Did he have a coffin? Was he even buried? Did anyone even know when he died? Was he alone, lost in the jungle? Was he attacked by animals? Was he found and tortured? Had he prayed for us to save him before it was too late?

That did it. Now I was hyperventilating. I closed my eyes and forced my arms up and apart, swimming for dear life through layers of writhing, grinding bodies. I nearly cried when I felt a burst of winter air on my face. I’d made it out to the balcony. I staggered to an open love seat and leaned against its back as I drank in gulp after gulp of fresh air.

I was back; I was okay. I took another deep breath, this one calm and centering, and looked out over the nighttime Paris skyline, the Eiffel Tower bathed in yellow lights. It was beautiful. Automatically I reached for the camera bag dangling at my hip, but of course I hadn’t brought it to the club. I sighed and let my hand drift to the silver iris charm I always wore around my neck. I ran my fingers over its three upright petals and three drooping sepals. The petals represent faith, valor, and wisdom, my dad had said when he fastened the necklace around my neck on my fifth birthday. You already have all those things in spades, little girl, he’d continued, then knelt down to look me straight in the eye. But when things get tough and you forget, this necklace can remind you.

“Clea? Are you okay?”

I smiled and turned to see my best friend since forever clicking across the balcony in high strappy sandals. Those combined with her golden dress, endless legs, and thick mane of red curls made Rayna look like she’d stepped out of a Greek myth.

“I’m fine,” I assured her, but the sudden crease between her eyes proved she didn’t quite believe me.

“You were thinking about him?”

I didn’t have to answer. Her eyes fell to my hand, still fingering the iris charm, and she knew.

“It’s worse when you don’t sleep,” she said. “Maybe we should go back to the room and . . .”

I shook my head before she could finish. I actually felt a lot better. And even if I didn’t, sleep wouldn’t help. More often than not in the past year, sleep was just an invitation to nightmares I didn’t want.

Besides, even though I knew Rayna would leave in a heartbeat if I asked her, I also knew it was the last thing in the world she wanted to do. She had only three days before winter break ended and she had to go back to Vallera Academy in Connecticut to finish up her senior year. I knew what that was like; this time last year I was at Vallera with her. It took an extreme act of pleading on my part to get my mom to agree to the homeschool switch. Rayna and I had dedicated the entire three-week vacation to traveling and jet-setting, and there was no way she wanted to lose a single second of her remaining time to something as mundane as hanging out in a hotel room.

“I’m great,” I assured her. “I just needed a break. And Le Féroceis open all night; we’re just getting started.”

“Yes!” Rayna squealed. Then she leaned in close and added meaningfully, “I’ll fetch our dates.”

I grinned as she clicked back to the glass doors. Our “dates.” I loved that she called them that when we’d only met them an hour ago at the bar.

I settled into the love seat and looked back out at the skyline, composing photos in my mind and musing about assignments I might take when I got home. Something meaningful, I hoped. Maybe something that could feature GloboReach, my dad’s charitable foundation. So much of my dad’s press in his last year centered around the vials he uncovered; it’s like the world forgot he dedicated himself to more important things, like saving people’s lives.

“Enter . . . the boys!” Rayna proclaimed with a flourish as she arrived with “our dates” in tow. “Pierre . . . and Joseph.”

“Hi.” I smiled, taking the drink Joseph offered me. “Thanks.”

“Pas de problème,” Pierre answered for Joseph as he collapsed into the cushioned chair next to mine. “It is a pleasure to take care of deux belles filles like yourselves.” He placed two drinks on a small table, then cried out to Rayna, “Viens, ma cherie! Viens!”

With a playful growl, he wrapped his arms around Rayna’s waist and pulled her down on his lap. Was he for real? Rayna seemed to think so. She squealed happily, then settled in sidesaddle.

“You are very bad indeed,” she scolded him.

“Mais non!” he protested, then handed her a drink as a peace offering. “Pour toi.”

“Merci,” Rayna replied, locking eyes with Pierre and arching her back just enough to add another cup size as she took a sip, then set her glass back down. “Et pour toi,” she purred, and closed the distance between them for a long, involved kiss.

Fascinating. Thanks to my parents, I’ve been lucky enough to see some of the greatest actors of our time perform onstage. Rayna engaging in the art of seduction beat all of them, hands down. I wasn’t sure about her choice of partner this time, though. Pierre was so beautiful, it would be a crime against humanity for him not to be a male model, but he was so slim and angular that I imagined sitting on his lap and kissing him would be like cuddling with a porcupine. Rayna didn’t seem to mind. She came up for air with a smile that promised more, then leaned toward me and stage-whispered, “Pierre and I are soulmates.”

I tried not to laugh. I would have if it was just a line, if she were just saying it to assure Pierre he wasn’t spending his drink money in vain. But I knew in this moment, Rayna absolutely meant it, as strongly as she had meant it when she’d said it about Alexei, Julien, Rick, Janko, Steve, and Avi . . . all of whom she had fallen head over heels with in the past three weeks.

Personally, I don’t believe in soulmates. Rayna relishes the concept. She adores the breathless romance of a brand-new relationship. It’s a drug for her; nothing makes her feel more alive. And each time that whirlwind of ecstasy sweeps her away, she truly believes that this time it’s real; this time it’s forever. No matter how often she’s let down and disappointed, Rayna remains endlessly optimistic about the prospect of true love. It’s an attitude I can’t relate to at all, but in her I admire it to no end.

“I’m happy for you,” I said. And I meant it. If a fantasy about the man with the angles brought her joy, I was all for it.

She returned my smile, then went back to kissing Pierre, expertly avoiding getting impaled on the points of his chin and cheekbones.

“Ahem.”

Joseph had perched on the love seat next to me. His brow was furrowed. Poor guy probably assumed he’d have my full attention the moment he arrived.

“Sorry,” I offered, turning my body to face him.

“Are you okay?” he asked in a clipped British accent. “You looked terribly upset when you left the dance floor.”

“I did?” I had a disturbing image of a juicy Page Six headline: Senator Victoria Weston’s Daughter Loses It in Paris Nightclub. “Did people notice?”

“In the middle of that zoo?” He laughed. “No one but the three of us. Or the two of us, really. I’m not sure Pierre’s had his eyes off your friend’s . . .” He tried gesturing with his face to illustrate Pierre’s obsession with Rayna’s chest, but it was impossible to do so without stepping all over his refined sense of manners.

It was pretty adorable, really. “It’s okay,” I assured him, “I know what you mean.”

“Oh thank goodness,” he gushed. And as we laughed together, I wondered if I shouldn’t reconsider Joseph. I had written him off as Pierre’s wingman, but maybe that wasn’t fair. Physically I had no complaints: He was a little taller than my five-four, with pale skin and dark hair, a forelock of which constantly threatened to fall into his face. He was slim, but clearly toned and strong, like . . .

“Do you play soccer?” I asked. “You look like a soccer player.”

Great. Now I sounded as cheesy as his friend Pierre. “I mean—”

“No, it’s okay. I do play soccer, actually. Not professionally or anything, but . . .”

Joseph started to tell me about himself, and I did listen, but I also watched his eyes.

The eyes are the windows to the soul, Clea. My father began telling me that when I was very young, and by the time I was old enough to know it was a cliché, it already felt like an eternal truth.

Excerpted from "Elixir" by Hilary Duff. Copyright (c) 2010, reprinted with permission from Simon and Schuster.

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