Main Corrupt (Devil's Night #1)
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Amazing, Wonderful suspense
Kept me too curling ?
Kept me too curling ?
22 February 2021 (12:52)
Please don't read books from this site. It's illegal and taking money from the author. If there is a book you want to read, but don't feel the author deserves compensation, if you ask them nicely, I'm sure they will send you the book for free. By supporting sites like this is makes it hard for the authors you do like to continue writing the books you love. Just please consider other forms of reading besides theft/piracy.
15 March 2021 (21:04)
Fear.. Pure, unadulterated fear grips us from the moment this tale begins.. of devastating trust and boundless despair. It was shocking and very, very gripping.
22 April 2021 (19:56)
Damn??? just feading the summery made my body shiver and i have goosepumbs all over me. Wow.
23 April 2021 (22:52)
WORST BOOK EVER TRIVIALIZES RAPE TOXIC RELATIONSHIPS AND ABUSE. Serious waste of time, this is not what “dark” is. If the author is really romanticizing shit like this book she needs therapy asap
27 April 2021 (17:36)
OMG, I don't know how to start this review but holy sh*t this book was A-MAZING. The relationship between Rika and Michael was so unique and different. I ended up finishing this book in 2 days and couldn't manage to put it down. For me, this series just hit the spot and we see how Pen pushed the limits but never really goes through the line with the darkness of this book. All the characters were so interesting to learn about and what they have faced. I often in books don like when there are too many flashbacks but this book was so different. The 3-year flashbacks she wrote often kept me over the edge and helped me learn what happened in the past to affect the future. I am definitely going to check out more books from this author and The Devil's Night Series(;
07 May 2021 (15:37)
Not everyone have money so shut up
Not everyone have money so shut up
15 May 2021 (04:50)
English vocabulary in use
17 May 2021 (14:12)
thank you im broke af
thank you im broke af
19 May 2021 (00:08)
I hope I'll enjoy it
27 May 2021 (01:38)
Plot twist @Anonymous is Penelope.
28 May 2021 (16:01)
This book was really good in my opinion. It woke a lot in me. Trust me you aren’t wasting your time. It’s amazing !
28 May 2021 (16:03)
are those bots?
29 May 2021 (23:28)
how do u read a book on this website
10 June 2021 (07:37)
book was amazing somewhat but shitty in somewhere coz that girl almost raped nd harassment by his friends nd by him still how can she be so blind in love that gave them another chance just sucks it's where the hell her pride was man that just shit but overall intersting you can obviously read n decide good or not but really disappointed with Fl
10 June 2021 (10:33)
This book is definitely my fav at first its a lil confusing at first but then it gets better and i finished it in a day!
14 June 2021 (21:43)
We broke stfu
We broke stfu
18 June 2021 (20:05)
the book is so good omfg, the seggs scenes too- HELP
19 June 2021 (01:41)
how do you read on this website
20 June 2021 (08:37)
Hi Zo, you have to download the book, and then you read It on the device where you are donwloading It.
23 June 2021 (20:35)
I freakin love this book,
28 June 2021 (03:37)
Book is FREAKING amazing but also annoying as fuck. He was supposed to be begging at his knees for her forgiveness after everything he did but nooooooo she gave him forgiveness on a silver platter. He never apologized ONCE. It takes a special kind of patience to read that book but its worth it. *still screaming in frustration*?
01 July 2021 (10:15)
Reviews are chefs kiss *mmuh*
12 July 2021 (19:38)
Guys what are the names of the 4 parts ?
17 July 2021 (20:23)
honestly… i liked this way more than i thought i would. i mean it was problematic as fuck so i definitely would not recommend to easily triggered people but if you’re okay with some dubious content then hell yeah! kinda frustrated me how easily she forgave them but then we got some good smut so i couldn’t stay mad for long ?✋
MAKE SURE TO CHECK TWS BEFORE READING WHORES! <3
MAKE SURE TO CHECK TWS BEFORE READING WHORES! <3
18 July 2021 (17:59)
The plot twist and all the little gasp I had reading it was totally worth it.
19 July 2021 (16:55)
I've realized that I don't like Bully books. This book just made me so angry and the ending... like what?!?!? Who puts you through all of that and still overlook all the harassment and bullying and get attracted to them... me, myself and I would want to burn their houses down shame ?
19 July 2021 (18:48)
I absolutely ADORE the series. But ofc check the trigger warnings!!!
20 July 2021 (15:56)
i promise anyone that is reading this review that this is an amazing book. i love everything the penelope writes but my my my, the seggz scenes in this one are just fire like *chefs kiss* READ IT NOW, YOU WILL MOT WASTE YOUR TIME
25 July 2021 (04:59)
this book is really good, but the relationship between Rika and Michael was very what you would call TOXIC and CONFUSING. She forgave him without an apology when he literally lied to her COUNTLESS times, but you read it for your opinion! BUT READ THE TWS BEFORE READINGGG<3
02 August 2021 (19:19)
isn’t michael crist misha’s cousin from punk 57??!
06 August 2021 (20:26)
captivating story line
09 August 2021 (18:33)
the threesome!!!!!!!! holy shit!
11 August 2021 (02:55)
Can someone recommend me a book like this pls?
15 August 2021 (08:35)
I don't know if i hate or love this book. I love the plot and the suspense but I absolutely hate the characters they were so toxic and stupid and I didn't feel their love it was more like a sexual tension than love and there were a lot of disturbig scenes
20 August 2021 (13:57)
This is a darker book, sometimes I just hated but at the same time love it, its great but heavy
25 August 2021 (22:22)
I LOVE THIS BOOK. It’s one of my top five in dark romance. If you’re a softy probably skip this one because it’s pretty intense. The other books in the series are great too! Oh and the spice is great, babes!
26 August 2021 (22:27)
not everyone wants to waste money on this kind of shit (or buy a kindle) lmao
31 August 2021 (14:13)
im going to say it only once.Kai and Rika should have happened they had more chemistry than her and michael and my boy kai deserves happiness.Michael can go fck off somewhere
03 September 2021 (22:35)
@ur mom no that is will, Michael's friend
09 September 2021 (00:16)
after finishing the series and rr this book it makes me laugh how damon was like with rika plsssss btw im not idealising his behaviour if ykyk
18 September 2021 (17:43)
came here from a tiktok and i did no regret it
23 September 2021 (10:25)
Chef's kiss amazing
25 September 2021 (16:43)
I literally loved this book but I had to erase the chapter with her and Kai because it ruined it for me lol
27 September 2021 (07:33)
i don’t recommend this book. C’mon guys, Erika was sexually harassed by these guys, no matter what their reason was, it does not justify what they did. They almost raped her. Will all their money, the couldn’t even afford an investigator to actually know what happened. They were literally harassing Rika, it’s not something you should enjoy.
02 October 2021 (14:56)
I can't with this book. I read three pages and that's it. Whoever saying it's worth reading you need to go see your therapist. I'm sorry.
03 October 2021 (17:57)
THE BOOK IS AWFUL AND JUST ROMANTICIZES RAPE AND ABUSIVE RELATIONSHIPS, THE AUTHOR NEEDS THERAPY ASAP, AND IF YOU ENJOY THESE TYPE OF BOOKS, YOU NEED SERIOUS HELP
04 October 2021 (04:25)
There is nothing called "dark romance" it's straight up sickness and y'all need HELP *smh*
07 October 2021 (15:45)
People need to chill in these comments... For me I absolutely loved this whole series! So sad it ended. If you aren't into dark romance which is most of Penelope's books btw then don't bother..
10 October 2021 (07:30)
@Charné That is your opinion if you liked it. Some people absolutely hate this book and so do i.
This isn't Dark Romance , just sth that tries to be edgy while failing miserably at it and the characters by my opinion are unlikeable same as that book "The Dare ".
Can't believe how they published it.
This isn't Dark Romance , just sth that tries to be edgy while failing miserably at it and the characters by my opinion are unlikeable same as that book "The Dare ".
Can't believe how they published it.
10 October 2021 (22:57)
I read the comments when I am bored, yall entertaining af.
17 October 2021 (20:28)
Damon...jdhdbehwjdujbdbdjdjdjjddnnf. he's the best.
18 November 2021 (21:53)
Guys no... Don't read this book to save your life. This is fuxked up in the worst ways. It's stupid, glorifies toxic and abusive relationships and is overall annoying. This stupid grp is supposed to basically own a town???
They're teenagers/YAs. That doesn't make sense. And they're talking abt having seggs with minors like??? Do y'all like jail or smn??
This is over all very stupid. In the name of dark romance it spews complete nonsense. It's an insult to dark romance because WTF DID I JUST READ? (Couldn't even finish it)
They're teenagers/YAs. That doesn't make sense. And they're talking abt having seggs with minors like??? Do y'all like jail or smn??
This is over all very stupid. In the name of dark romance it spews complete nonsense. It's an insult to dark romance because WTF DID I JUST READ? (Couldn't even finish it)
23 November 2021 (07:42)
Penelope Douglas Copyright © 2015 Penelope Douglas Cover Design © 2015 Cover to Cover Designs ISBN-13: 978-1518783876 ISBN-10: 1518783872 All rights reserved. Except as permitted under the U.S. Copyright Act of 1976, no part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, or stored in a database or retrieval system without the prior written permission of the author. This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Interior Formatting by Elaine York Allusion Graphics, LLC/Publishing & Book Formatting “Bodies” by Drowning Pool “Breath of Life” by Florence & The Machine “Bullet With a Name” by Nonpoint “Corrupt” by Depeche Mode “Deathbeds” by Bring Me the Horizon “The Devil In I” by Slipknot “Devil’s Night” by Motionless in White “Dirty Diana” by Shaman’s Harvest “Feed the Fire” by Combichrist “Fire Breather” by Laurel “Getting Away with Murder” by Papa Roach “Goodbye Agony” by Black Veil Brides “Inside Yourself” by Godsmack “Jekyll and Hyde” by Five Finger Death Punch “Let the Sparks Fly” by Thousand Foot Krutch “Love the Way You Hate Me” by Like a Storm “Monster” by Skillet “Pray to God (feat. HAIM)” by Calvin Harris “Silence” by Delirium “The Vengeful One” by Disturbed “You’re Going Down” by Sick Puppies “37 Stitches” by Drowning Pool Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6 Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12 Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18 Chapter 19 Chapter 20 Chapter 21 Chapter 22 Chapter 23 Chapter 24 Chapter 25 Chapter 26 Chapter 27 Chapter 28 Chapter 29 Epilogue Thank You Acknowledgements About the Author HE WON’T BE HERE. There’d be no reason for him to show up at his brother’s farewell party, since they ; couldn’t stand each other, so… No, he won’t be here. Pushing up the sleeves of my lightweight sweater, I hurried through the front door of the Crist house and speed-walked across the foyer, heading straight for the stairs. Out of the corner of my eye, I spied the butler rounding the corner, but I didn’t stop. “Miss Fane!” he shouted after me. “You’re very late.” “Yes, I know.” “Mrs. Crist has been looking for you,” he pointed out. I shot up my eyebrows and immediately stopped, turning around to peer at him over the railing. “Has she really?” I eyed him with mock astonishment. He thinned his lips, annoyed. “Well, she sent me to look for you.” I broke out in a smile and leaned over the bannister, planting a quick kiss on his forehead. “Well, I’m here,” I assured him. “You can get back to your important duties now.” I turned and continued up the stairs, hearing the soft music coming from the party out on the terrace. Yeah, I highly doubted Delia Crist, my mother’s best friend and the matriarch of Thunder Bay, our small East Coast community, was spending her precious time looking for me herself. “Your dress is on your bed!” he called after me as I walked around the corner. I exhaled an aggravated sigh and powered down the dimly lit hallway, grumbling under my breath, “Thank you, Edward.” I didn’t need a new dress. I already had several I’d only worn once, and at nineteen, I could definitely pick out my own clothes. Not that he would be here to see it anyway, and if he was, he wouldn’t look at me. No. I should be grateful. Mrs. Crist thought of me, and it was nice of her to make sure I’d have a dress to wear. A light spatter of sand covered my legs and feet, and I reached down to grip the ends of my loose jean shorts, inventorying exactly how wet I’d gotten down at the beach. Would I need a shower? No, I was already late. Screw it. Diving into my room—the one the Crists’ let me have for when I stayed the night—I spotted a sexy, white cocktail dress lying on the bed, and I immediately began stripping. The thin spaghetti straps did almost nothing to hold up my breasts, but it fit perfectly, molding to my body, and it made my skin look darker than it was. Mrs. Crist had awesome taste, and it was probably a good thing that she’d gotten me the dress, after all. I’d been too busy preparing to leave for school tomorrow to bother with what to wear tonight. Dashing into the bathroom, I rinsed my calves and feet of the sand I’d picked up on my walk, and I quickly brushed out my long, blonde hair and applied a little lip gloss. I scurried back into the bedroom, grabbed the tan strappy heels she’d left by the dress, and ran back into the hallway and down the stairs. Twelve hours to go. My heart pumped harder and harder as I jogged through the foyer and toward the back of the house. This time tomorrow I’d be completely on my own—no mother, no Crists, no memories... And most of all, I wouldn’t have to wonder, hope, or dread that I’d see him. Or teeter on the edges of elation and agony when I did. Nope. I’d be able to hold out my arms and spin in a circle and not touch a single person I knew. Heat flowed through my chest, and I didn’t know if it was fear or excitement, but I was ready. Ready to leave it all behind. At least for a little while. Veering to the right, I bypassed the kitchens—one for everyday use and another adjacent to it for caterers—as I headed for the solarium at the side of the large house. Opening the double doors, I stepped into the massive, ceramic-tiled garden room, the walls and ceiling made entirely of glass, and instantly felt the rise in temperature. The thick, wet heat soaked through the fabric of my dress, making it melt to my body. Trees rose above and all around me in the quiet, dark room, lit only by the moonlight pouring in through the windows overhead. I inhaled the sweet smell of the palms, orchids, lilies, violets, and hibiscus, reminding me of my mother’s closet and all the perfumes from her coats and scarves blending together in one space. I turned left, stopping at the glass doors leading to the terrace and slipped into my heels as I gazed out at the crowd. Twelve hours. And then I straightened, reaching up, grabbing a handful of hair, and bringing it over my shoulder to cover the left side of my neck. Unlike his brother, Trevor would definitely be here tonight, and he didn’t like to see my scar. “Miss?” a waiter said as he stepped up with a tray. I smiled, taking one of the highball glasses that I knew was a Tom Collins. “Thank you.” The lemon-colored drink was Mr. and Mrs. Crist’s favorite, so they insisted that the servers circulate it. The waiter disappeared, moving on to the many other guests, but I stayed rooted, letting my eyes drift around the party. Leaves fluttered on their branches, the calm breeze still holding remnants of the day’s heat, and I surveyed the crowd, all dressed in their casual cocktail dresses and suit jackets. So perfect. So clean. The lights in the trees and the servers in their white waistcoats. The crystal-blue pool adorned with floating candles. The glittering jewels of the ladies’ rings and necklaces that caught the light. Everything was so polished, and when I looked around at all the adults and families I grew up with, their money and designer clothes, I often saw a coat of paint that you apply when you’re trying to cover up rotting wood. There were dark deeds and bad seeds, but who cared if the house was falling apart as long as it was pretty, right? The scent of the food lingered in the air accompanied by the soft music of the string quartet, and I wondered if I should find Mrs. Crist and let her know I’d arrived or find Trevor, since the party was in his honor, after all. But instead I tightened my fingers around my glass, my pulse quickening as I tried to resist the urge to do what I really wanted to do. What I always wanted to do. To look for him. But no, he wouldn’t be here. He probably wouldn’t be here. He might be here. My heart started thumping, and my neck heated. And, against my own will, my eyes started to drift. Around the party and over the faces, searching… Michael. I hadn’t seen him in months, but the pull was everywhere, especially in Thunder Bay. In the pictures his mother kept around this house, in his scent that drifted into the hallway from his old bedroom… He might be here. “Rika.” I blinked, jerking my head to the left, hearing Trevor call my name. He walked out of the crowd, his blond hair freshly cut close to the scalp, his dark blue eyes looking impatient, and his stride determined. “Hey, baby. I was starting to think you weren’t coming.” I hesitated, feeling my stomach tighten. But then I forced a smile as he stepped up to me in the doorway of the solarium. Twelve hours. He slipped a hand around the right side of my neck—never the left side—and rubbed his thumb across my cheek, his body flush with mine. I turned my head, shifting uncomfortably. “Trevor—” “I didn’t know what I was going to do if you didn’t show up tonight,” he cut in. “Throw rocks at your window, serenade you, maybe bring you flowers, candy, a new car…” “I have a new car.” “I mean a real car.” He finally grinned. I rolled my eyes and pulled out of his hold. At least he was joking with me again, even if it was just to dis my brand new Tesla. Apparently electric cars weren’t real cars, but hey, I could take the dig if it meant he was finally over making me feel like shit about everything else. Trevor Crist and I had been friends since birth, gone to school with each other our entire lives, and were always thrown together by our parents as if a relationship were inevitable. And last year, I finally gave in to it. We dated almost our entire first year in college, attending Brown together—or actually, I applied to Brown, and he followed—but it ended in May. Or I ended it in May. It was my fault I didn’t love him. It was my fault I didn’t want to give it more time. It was my fault I decided to transfer schools to a city where he wouldn’t follow. It was also my fault he gave in to his father’s demand to transfer, as well, and finally attend Annapolis, and it was my fault I was disrupting our families. It was my fault I needed space. I let out a breath, forcing my muscles to relax. Twelve hours. Trevor smiled at me, his eyes heating as he took my hand and led me back into the solarium. He pulled me behind the glass, holding me close by the hips and whispering in my ear, “You look gorgeous.” But I pulled away again, giving us a few inches of space. “You look good, too.” He looked like his father, with his sandy-blond hair, narrow jaw, and that smile that could make almost anyone putty in his hands. He also dressed like Mr. Crist, looking polished in his midnight-blue suit, white shirt, and silver tie. So clean. So perfect. Trevor did everything within the lines. “I don’t want you going to Meridian City,” he said, narrowing his eyes on me. “You won’t have anyone there, Rika. At least I was at Brown with you, and Noah was less than an hour away in Boston. You had friends close by.” Yeah. Close. Which is exactly why I needed something different. I’d never had to leave the security of the people around me. There was always someone—parents, Trevor, my friend, Noah—to pick me up when I fell. Even when I went off to college and gave up the comfort of having my mother and the Crists close by, Trevor had still followed me. And then I had friends from high school going to universities close by. It was like nothing had changed. I wanted to get into a little trouble. I wanted to catch some rain, find something that made my heart pump again, and I wanted to know what it was like to not have anyone to grab onto. I’d tried to explain it to him, but every time I opened my mouth, I couldn’t find the right words. Out loud it sounded selfish and ungrateful, but inside… I needed to know what I was made of. I needed to know if I had a leg to stand on without the umbrella of my family name, the support of others having my back, or Trevor’s constant hovering. If I went to a new city, with new people who didn’t know my family, would they even give me the time of day? Would they even like me? I wasn’t happy at Brown or with Trevor, and even though the decision to move on was hard and disappointing to those around me, it was what I wanted. Own who you are. My heart fluttered, remembering Trevor’s brother’s words. I could barely wait. Twelve more hours… “But then again, I guess that’s not really true, is it?” he asked, an accusing tone in his voice. “Michael plays for the Storm, so he’ll be close to you now.” I hooded my eyes, taking in a deep breath as I set down my drink. “With a population of over two million people, I doubt I’ll run into him often.” “Unless you look for him.” I crossed my arms over my chest, holding Trevor’s eyes and refusing to let him engage me in this conversation. Michael Crist was Trevor’s brother. A little older, a little taller, and a lot more intimidating. They were almost nothing alike, and they hated each other. Trevor’s jealousy of him had been there ever since I could remember. Michael had just graduated from Westgate University, being snatched up by the NBA almost immediately afterward. He played for the Meridian City Storm, one of the top teams in the NBA, so yes, I would know one person in the city. Lot of good it would do me, though. Michael barely ever looked at me, and when he spoke to me his tone was no better than if he were speaking to a dog. I wasn’t planning on putting myself in his path. No, I’d learned my lesson a long time ago. Being in Meridian City had nothing to do with Michael anyway. It was closer to home, so I could visit my mother more often, but it was also the one place Trevor wouldn’t go. He hated large cities, and he loathed his brother even more. “I’m sorry,” Trevor said more gently. He took my hand and pulled me in, sliding a hand around the back of my neck again. “I just love you, and I hate this. We belong together, Rika. It’s always been us.” Us? No. Trevor didn’t make my heart pump so hard that I felt like I was on a damn roller coaster. He wasn’t in my dreams, and he wasn’t the first person I thought about when I woke up. He didn’t haunt me. I tucked my hair behind my ear, noticing his gaze briefly flash to my neck. He quickly averted his eyes as if he didn’t see it. The scar made me less than perfect, I guess. “Come on,” he urged, dipping his forehead to mine and gripping my waist. “I’m good to you, aren’t I? I’m nice, and I’m always here for you.” “Trevor,” I argued, trying to twist out of his hold. But then his mouth came down on mine, the scent of his cologne burning my nostrils as his arms wrapped around my waist. I pressed my fists into his chest, pushing at him and tearing my mouth away. “Trevor,” I growled low. “Stop it.” “I give you everything you need,” he fought, his voice turning angry as he dived into my neck. “You know it’s going to be us.” “Trevor!” I tensed every muscle in my arms and pressed against his body, finally pushing him off. He dropped his hands and stumbled back a step. I immediately backed away, my hands shaking. “Rika.” He reached for me, but I steeled my spine, backing away again. He dropped his hand, shaking his head. “Fine,” he bit out, sneering. “Go to school then. Make new friends and leave everything here behind all you want, but your demons will still follow you. There’s no escaping them.” He ran his fingers through his hair, glaring at me as he straightened his tie and walked around me out the doorway. I stared out the windows after him, anger building in my chest. What the hell did that mean? There was nothing holding me down and nothing I was trying to escape. I just wanted freedom. I backed away from the door, unable to go back outside. I didn’t want to disappoint Mrs. Crist by sneaking out on her son’s party, but I no longer wanted to spend my last hours here. I wanted to be with my mom. I twisted around, ready to leave, but then I looked up and instantly stopped. My stomach flipped, and I couldn’t breathe. Shit. Michael sat in one of the cushioned chairs all the way at the back of the solarium, his eyes locked on mine, looking eerily calm. Michael. The one that wasn’t nice. The one that wasn’t good to me. My throat thickened, and I wanted to swallow, but I couldn’t move. I just stared, paralyzed. Had he been there since I first walked down? The whole time? He leaned back in his heavy armchair, nearly shrouded by the darkness and the shadows of the trees overhead. One hand rested on a basketball that sat on top of his thigh, and the other hand lay on the armrest, the neck of a beer bottle hanging from his fingers. My heart started to pound so hard it hurt. What was he doing? He raised the bottle to his lips, still watching me, and I dropped my eyes for a split-second, embarrassment heating my cheeks. He’d seen the whole episode with Trevor. Dammit. I looked up again, seeing his light brown hair that was styled to look like he should be on the cover of a magazine, and his hazel eyes, that always looked like cider with flecks of spice. They seemed darker than they actually were, hidden in the shadows, but they pierced me under straight brows that slanted inward, making him look just as formidable as he was. His full lips held no hint of a smile, and his tall frame nearly consumed his chair. He wore black pants with a black suit jacket, and his white shirt was open at the collar. No tie, because, as usual, he did what he wanted. And that’s all anyone could ever go on with Michael. How he appeared. How he looked. I didn’t think his parents even knew what was happening behind those eyes. I watched him rise out of his chair and drop the basketball into the seat, keeping his eyes on me as he walked over. The closer he got, the taller his six feet four inches looked. Michael was lean but muscular, and he made me feel small. In many ways. He looked like he was walking straight for me, and my heart hammered in my chest as I narrowed my eyes, bracing myself. But he didn’t stop. The faint hint of his body wash hit me as he passed by, and I turned my head, my chest aching as he walked out the solarium doors without a word. I folded my lips between my teeth, fighting the burn in my eyes. One night, he’d noticed me. One night, three years ago, Michael saw something in me and liked it. And just when the fire was starting to kindle, ready to flare and burst apart in a flood of flames, it folded. It tucked its rage and heat away and contained it. I shot off, heading back into the house, through the foyer, and out the front door, anger and frustration chewing at every nerve in my body as I headed to my car. Other than that one night, he’d ignored me most of my life, and when he did speak to me, it was clipped. I swallowed the lump in my throat and climbed into my car. I hoped I wouldn’t see him in Meridian City. I hoped we never crossed paths and I never had to hear about him. I wondered if he even knew I was moving there. It didn’t matter, though. Even in the same house, I may as well be on a different planet than him. Starting the car, 37 Stitches by Drowning Pool poured through the speakers, and I accelerated down the long driveway, pushing the clicker to open the gate. I sped out onto the road. My house was only a few minutes away and an easy walk I’d made many times in my life. I forced deep breaths, trying to calm down. Twelve hours. Tomorrow I’d leave everything behind. The high stone walls of the Crist estate ended, giving way to trees lining the road. And within less than a minute, the gas lamp posts of my home appeared, lighting the night. Veering left, I clicked another button on my visor and inched my Tesla through the gate, seeing the outside lamps cast a soft glow around the circular driveway with a large marble fountain sitting in the center. Parking my car in front of the house, I hurried to my front door, just wanting to crawl in bed until it was tomorrow. But then I glanced up, doing a double-take at seeing a candle burning in my bedroom window. What? I hadn’t been home since late this morning. And I certainly hadn’t left a candle burning. It was ivory-colored and sitting in a glass hurricane candleholder. Walking to the front door, I unlocked it and stepped inside. “Mom?” I called out. She had texted earlier, saying she was going to bed, but it wasn’t unusual for her to have trouble sleeping. She might still be up. The familiar scent of lilacs drifted through my nose from the fresh flowers she kept in the house, and I looked around the large foyer, the white marble floor appearing gray in the darkness. I leaned against the stairs, looking up the flights into the three stories of eerie silence above. “Mom?” I called out again. Rounding the white bannister, I jogged up the stairs to the second floor and turned left, my footsteps going silent as they fell on the ivory-and-blue rugs covering the hardwood floors. Opening my mother’s door slowly, I crept in, seeing the room in near darkness except for the bathroom light she always left on. Walking over to her bed, I craned my neck, trying to see her face, which was turned toward the windows. Her blonde hair lay across her pillow, and I reached out my hand, smoothing it away from her face. The rise and fall of her body told me she was asleep, and I glanced to her nightstand, seeing the half-dozen pill bottles and wondering what she’d taken and how much. I looked back down at her and frowned. Doctors, in-home rehab, therapy… Over the years since my father’s death, nothing had worked. My mother just wanted to self-destruct with sorrow and depression. Thankfully the Crists helped a lot, which was why I had my own room at their house. Not only was Mr. Crist the trustee for my father’s estate, handing everything until I graduated from college, but Mrs. Crist stepped in to be a second-mother. I was immensely grateful for all their help and care over the years, but now… I was ready to take over. I was ready to stop having people take care of me. Turning around, I left her room and quietly closed the door, heading for my own room two doors down. Stepping in, I immediately spotted the candle burning by the window. With my heart skipping a beat, I quickly glanced around the room, thankfully seeing no one else. Had my mother lit it? She must have. Our housekeeper was off duty today, so no one else had been here. Narrowing my eyes, I inched toward the window, and then my gaze fell, seeing a thin wooden crate sitting on the small round table next to the candle. Unease set in. Had Trevor left me a present? But it could’ve been my mother or Mrs. Crist, too, I guessed. I removed the lid and set it aside, peeling away the straw and catching the sight of slate gray metal with ornate carvings. My eyes rounded, and I immediately dived for the top of the crate, knowing what I was going to find. I curled my fingers around the handle and smiled, pulling out a heavy steel Damascus blade. “Wow.” I shook my head, unable to believe it. The dagger had a black grip with a bronze crossguard, and I tightened my hand around it, holding up the blade and looking at the lines and carvings. Where the hell had this come from? I’d loved daggers and swords ever since I started fencing at age eight. My father preached that the arts of a gentleman were not only timeless but necessary. Chess would teach me strategy, fencing would teach me human nature and self-preservation, and dancing would teach me my body. All necessary for a well-rounded person. I gripped the hilt, remembering the first time he’d put a fencing foil in my hand. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and I reached up, running a finger along the scar on my neck, suddenly feeling closer to him again. Who had left it here? Peering back into the box, I pulled out a small piece of paper with black writing. Licking my lips, I read the words silently. Beware the fury of a patient man. “What?” I said to myself, pinching my eyebrows together in confusion. What did that mean? But then I glanced up, gasping as I dropped the blade and the note to the floor. I stopped breathing, my heart trying to break through my chest. Three men stood outside my house, side by side, staring up at me through the window. “What the hell?” I breathed out, trying to figure out what was going on. Was this a joke? They stood completely motionless, and I felt a chill spread up my arms at how they just stared at me. What were they doing? All three wore jeans and black combat boots, but as I stared into the black void of their eyes, I clenched my teeth together to keep my body from shaking. The masks. The black hoodies and the masks. I shook my head. No. It couldn’t be them. This was a joke. The tallest stood on the left, wearing a slate-gray metallic-looking mask with claw marks deforming the right side of his face. The one in the middle was shorter, looking up at me through his white-and-black mask with a red stripe running down the left side of his face, which was also ripped and gouged. And the one on my right, whose completely black mask blended with his black hoodie, so that you couldn’t tell exactly where his eyes were, was the one who finally made my chest shake. I backed up, away from the window and tried to catch my breath as I dashed for my phone. Pressing 1 on the landline, I waited for the security office, which sat only minutes down the road, to pick up. “Mrs. Fane?” a man answered. “Mr. Ferguson?” I breathed out, inching back over to my windows. “It’s Rika. Could you send a car up to—?” But then I stopped, seeing that the driveway was now empty. They were gone. What? I darted my eyes left and then right, getting right up to the table and leaning over to see if they were near the house. Where the hell did they go? I remained silent, listening for any sign of anyone around the house, but everything was still and quiet. “Miss Fane?” Mr. Ferguson called. “Are you still there?” I opened my mouth, stammering, “I…I thought I saw something…outside my windows.” “We’re sending a car up now.” I nodded. “Thank you.”And I hung up the phone, still staring out the window. It couldn’t be them. But those masks. They were the only ones who wore those masks. Why would they come here? After three years, why would they come here? Three Years Ago “NOAH?” I FELL BACK, leaning against the wall next to my best friend’s locker as he retrieved a book between classes. “Do you have a date for Winterfest?” He scrunched up his face. “That’s like two months away, Rika.” “I know. I’m getting in while the getting’s good.” He smiled, slamming his locker shut and leading the way down the hall. “So you’re asking me on a date then?” he teased in his cocky voice. “I knew you always wanted me.” I rolled my eyes, following him, since my classroom was in the same direction. “Could you make this easier, please?” But all I heard was his snort. Winterfest was a dance like Sadie Hawkins. Girls ask guys, and I wanted to take the safe route by asking a friend. Students scurried around us, rushing to their classes, and I held the strap of my bag on my shoulder as I grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Please?” I pleaded. But he narrowed his eyes, looking worried. “Are you sure Trevor’s not going to kick my ass? Judging from the way he’s on you all the time, I’m surprised he hasn’t GPS’d you.” That was a good point. Trevor would be mad I wasn’t asking him, but I only wanted friendship, and he wanted more. I didn’t want to lead him on. I guessed I could chalk up my disinterest in Trevor to knowing him my entire life—he was too familiar, kind of like family—but I’d also known his older brother my entire life, and my feelings for him weren’t at all familial. “Come on. Be a buddy,” I urged, nudging his shoulder. “I need you.” “No, you don’t.” He stopped at my next class, which was on the way to his, and spun around, pinning me with a hard look. “Rika, if you don’t want to ask Trevor, then ask someone else.” I let out a sigh and averted my eyes, sick of this conversation. “You’re asking me, because it’s safe,” he argued. “You’re beautiful, and any guy would be thrilled to go out with you.” “Of course they would be.” I smiled sarcastically. “So say yes then.” He rolled his eyes, shaking his head at me. Noah liked to draw conclusions about me. About why I never dated or why he thought I shied away from this or that, and as good of a friend as he was, I wished he’d stop already. I just didn’t feel comfortable. I reached up, rubbing a nervous hand over my neck—over the pale, thin scar I got when I was thirteen. In the car accident that killed my father. I saw him watching me, and I dropped my hand, knowing what he was thinking. The scar ran diagonally, about two inches long, on the left side of my neck, and although it had faded with time, I still felt like it was the first thing people noticed about me. There were always questions and pitiful expressions from family and friends, not to mention the jerk comments I got in junior high from girls laughing at me. After a while, it started to feel like an appendage, big and something I was always aware of. “Rika,” he lowered his voice, his brown eyes gentle, “baby, you’re beautiful. Long blonde hair, legs that no guy in this school can ignore, and the prettiest blue eyes in town. You’re gorgeous.” The one minute bell rang, and I shifted in my flats, gripping the strap of my bag tighter. “And you’re my favorite person,” I retorted. “I want to go with you. Okay?” He sighed, a defeated look crossing his face. I’d won, and I fought not to smile. “Fine,” he grumbled. “It’s a date.” And then he spun around, heading for English 3. I grinned, my nerves immediately relaxing. I was no doubt taking Noah away from a promising night with another girl, so I’d have to do something to make it up to him. Walking into Pre-Calculus, I hooked my bag on the back of my chair in the front row and pulled out my book, setting it on the desk. My friend Claudia planted herself in the seat next to me, meeting my eyes and smiling, and I immediately sat down and started writing my name on the blank piece of paper that Mr. Fitzpatrick had set down on everyone’s desk. Friday classes always started with a pop quiz, so we knew the drill. Students hurried into the room, the girls’ green and blue plaid skirts swaying, and most of the boys’ ties already loosened. It was nearly the end of the day. “Did you hear the news?” someone said behind us, and I jerked my head around to see Gabrielle Owens leaning over her desktop. “What news?” Claudia asked. She lowered her voice to a whisper, excitement crossing her face. “They’re here,” she told us. I glanced at Claudia and then back at Gabrielle, confused. “Who’s here?” But then Mr. Fitzpatrick came in, booming in his large voice, “Take a seat everyone!”, and Claudia, Gabrielle, and I immediately faced the front of the room and straightened, ending our conversation. “Please sit down, Mr. Dawson,” the teacher instructed to a student in the back as he came to stand behind his desk. They’re here? I leaned back in my chair, trying to figure out what she meant. But then I looked up, spotting a girl jogging to the front of the room and handing Mr. Fitzpatrick a note. “Thank you,” he responded, opening it up. I watched him read it and saw his expression turn from relaxed to agitated, his lips pressing together and his eyebrows narrowing. What was going on? They’re here. What did that…? But then my eyes widened and flutters hit my stomach. THEY’RE HERE. I opened my mouth, sucking in a quick breath, fire and fever making my skin tingle. Butterflies filled my stomach, and I clenched my teeth, holding back the smile that wanted loose. He’s here. I raised my eyes slowly, looking at the clock and seeing that it was nearly two in the afternoon. And it was October thirtieth, the night before Halloween. Devil’s Night. They were back. But why? They’d already graduated—more than a year ago, so why now? “Please make sure you have your name on your paper,” Mr. Fitzpatrick instructed, an edge to his voice, “and solve the three problems on the board.” He switched on the projector, not wasting any time as the problems flashed on the Smartboard ahead of us. “Turn it face down when you’re finished,” he called out. “You have ten minutes.” I gripped the pencil, my entire body buzzing with nerves and anticipation as I tried to concentrate on the first problem dealing with quadratic functions. But it was fucking hard. I glanced at the clock again. Any minute… I bowed my head and forced myself to focus, my pencil digging into the wooden desk underneath as I blinked my eyes, bringing them into focus on my task. “Find the vertex of the parabola,” I whispered to myself. I quickly worked through the problem, moving from one thing to the other, knowing that if I stopped for a second, I’d be distracted. If the vertex of the parabola has coordinates…I kept going. The graph of a quadratic function is a parabola, which opens up if… And I kept working, finishing one, two, and moving through number three. But then I heard soft music, and I instantly froze. My pencil hovered over my work as the sound of a faint guitar riff drifted through the loudspeakers. It got louder and louder, and I stared at my paper, heat stirring inside my chest. Whispers sounded around the room, followed by a few excited giggles, and then the soft beginning of the song over the speakers gave way to a violent onslaught of drums, guitars, and a fast, sharp, heart-pounding mania. I tightened my fingers around my pencil. Slipknot’s The Devil In I blared through the classroom—and, I assumed, the rest of the school, as well. “I told you!” Gabrielle burst out. I popped my head up, watching as students raced out of their seats for the door. “Are they really here?” someone damn-near squealed. Everyone crowded around the classroom door, peering out the small window at the top, trying to catch a glimpse of them coming down the hallway. But I stayed in my seat, adrenaline rippling through my body. Mr. Fitzpatrick’s chest heaved with a sigh as he folded his arms over his chest and turned away, no doubt waiting for it to be over. The music pounded, and the thrilled chatter from the other students filled the room. “Where—oh, there they are!” a girl shouted, and I heard pounding coming from the hallway, sounding like fists beating on lockers, getting closer and closer. “Let me see!” another student argued, pushing others aside. A girl popped up on her tiptoes. “Move!” she ordered someone else. But then everyone suddenly backed up. The doors swung open, and the students fanned out like a ripple in a lake. “Oh, shit,” I heard a boy whisper. Slowly, everyone spread out, some falling back into their seats while others remained standing. I gripped my pencil with both hands, my stomach flipping like a roller coaster as I watched them slowly step into the classroom, eerily calm and in no hurry. They were here. The Four Horsemen. They were Thunder Bay’s favorite sons, and they’d gone to high school here, graduating when I was a freshman. All four went on to separate universities afterward. They were a few years older, and while not one of them knew I existed, I knew almost everything about them. All four of them stalked slowly into the room, filling the space to where the sun’s rays turned black across the floor. Damon Torrance, Kai Mori, Will Grayson III, and—I locked my gaze on the blood red mask covering the face of the one always in the lead a little more than the others—Michael Crist, Trevor’s older brother. He twisted his head left and jerked his chin toward the back of the room. Students turned, watching one of the male students step forward, a smile pulling at his jaw even though he tried to hold it back. “Kian,” a guy’s humor-filled voice called out, slapping him on the back as he walked past him on his way to the Horsemen. “Have fun. Wear a condom.” Some students laughed, while a few girls fidgeted nervously, whispering and smiling to each other. Kian Mathers, a junior like me and one of our school’s best basketball players, stepped up to the guys, the one in the white mask with the red stripe hooking him around the neck and pulling him out the door. They grabbed another student, Malik Cramer, and the one in the full black mask pulled him out into the hallway, following the other two and probably off to collect more players from other classrooms. I watched Michael, the way his size had nothing to do with how he filled a room, and I blinked long and hard, feeling the heat flow under my skin. Everything about the Horsemen made me feel like I was walking a high wire. Cast your balance a hair in the wrong direction or tread too hard—or too softly—and you’d plummet so far off their radar, you’d never reappear. Their power came from two things: they had followers and they didn’t care. Everyone idolized them, including me. But as opposed to the other students who had looked up to them, followed them, or fantasized about them, I simply wondered what it would be like to be them. They were untouchable, fascinating, and nothing they ever did was wrong. I wanted that. I wanted to look down at the sky. “Mr. Fitzpatrick?” Gabrielle Owens sauntered up, followed by her friend, both of them carrying their books. “We have to go to the nurse. See you Monday!” And then they squeezed between the horsemen, disappearing out the door I shot my eyes over to the teacher, wondering why he was just letting them leave. They were clearly not going to the nurse. They were leaving with the guys. But no one—not even Mr. Fitzpatrick—tried challenging them. The Four Horsemen, not only ruled the student body and the town when they attended school here, but they commanded the court and hardly ever lost in the four years they played. Since their departure, though, the team had suffered and last year was a humiliating disaster for Thunder Bay. Twelve losses out of twenty games, and everyone had had enough. Something was missing. I assumed that’s why the horsemen were here now, called back from college for the weekend to inspire the team or do whatever they had to do to pump them up and get them on track before the season started. And as much as teachers like Fitzpatrick frowned on their hazing, it had certainly helped make the team a unit in their time here. Why not see if it would work again? “Everyone sit down! You boys move on,” he told the horsemen. Dropping my head, elation filled my body as my stomach floated up to my chest. I let my eyes fall closed, my head feeling light and high. Yeah, this is what had been missing. Opening my eyes again, I saw a pair of long legs in dark washed jeans walk past my desk, next to the window, and stop. I kept my eyes down, afraid my face would give away what was happening in my chest. He was probably just scanning the room anyway, seeing if we had any other players in here. “Anyone else?” one of the other guys asked. But he didn’t answer his friend. He just kept standing over me. What was he doing? Keeping my chin down, I tipped my eyes up, seeing his fingers, slightly curled, at his sides. I made out the vein over the top of his strong hand, and the whole room seemed to suddenly grow so quiet that dread filled my stomach and my breathing stopped. What was he doing just standing there? I slowly raised my eyes and instantly tensed, seeing golden hazel ones staring straight down at me. I shifted my gaze side to side, wondering if I’d missed something. Why was he looking at me? Michael looked down, his vicious red mask—a replica of the deformed and scarred Army of Two masks from the video game—making my knees weak. I’d always been scared of him. The thrilling kind of scared that got me turned on. I tightened the muscles in my thighs, feeling the throb between my legs, in the space that only felt empty when he was close but not close enough. I liked it. I liked being scared. Everyone sat silently behind me, and I watched him cock his head just a little as he regarded me. What was he thinking? “She’s only sixteen,” Mr. Fitzpatrick spoke up. Michael held my eyes for another second and then turned his head, looking at Mr. Fitzpatrick. I was only sixteen—until next month, anyway—which meant they couldn’t take me with them. The basketball players’ ages didn’t matter, but any girls that joined them had to be eighteen, leaving school grounds of their own free will. Not that they were going to take me anyway. Mr. Fitzpatrick was mistaken. The teacher glared, and even though I couldn’t see Michael’s eyes, turned away from me as he was, I deduced that it unnerved Mr. Fitzpatrick, because his stare faltered. He dropped his eyes, blinking and backing down. Michael turned his head back, looking at me once more as a drop of sweat glided down my back. And then he walked out of the room, followed by Kai, who I knew wore the silver mask, the door swinging closed behind them. What the hell was that about? Whispers broke out across the room, and I could see Claudia’s head turned toward me out of the corner of my eye. I glanced at her, seeing her eyebrows raised in question, but I just ignored her, turning back to my paper. I had no idea why he was looking at me. I hadn’t seen him since he’d been home from college briefly in the summertime, and he’d ignored me then, as usual. “Alright, everyone!” Mr. Fitzpatrick barked. “Back to work. Now!” The excited chatter lowered back to whispering, and everyone slowly got back to work. The music, which had faded into a distant hum, cut off, and for the first time since I entered the room, I let go of the smile I’d been holding back. Tonight would be chaos. Devil’s Night wasn’t just hazing. It was special. Not only would they grab players from all of the rooms, take them to an undisclosed location, rough them up a bit, and get them drunk, but later...the horsemen would wreak havoc and turn the whole town into their playground. Last year, with them gone, it had been boring, but everyone knew that it was on tonight. Starting right now in the parking lot as all the guys and a few girls loaded up in the cars, no doubt. I picked up my pencil, my breathing turning shallow as I bobbed my right knee up and down. I wanted to go. The heat in my chest was already starting to dissipate, and my head, which had just felt like it was higher than the trees a minute ago, was slowly descending and returning to the ground. In another minute I’d feel the same way I had before he walked in the room: base, cold, and trivial. After class, I’d go home, check on my mom, change clothes, and then head over to the Crist’s to hang out, a routine that started shortly after my father had passed away. Sometimes I’d stay for dinner, and sometimes I’d go back home to eat with my mom if she was up for it. Then I’d go to bed, trying not to worry about how one brother tried to wear me down more every day while denying what woke up inside of me whenever the other one was close. Laughter and howls drifted in from outside the windows, and I faltered, stopping my knee from bobbing. Fuck it. I reached under my desk, grabbing my Pre-Calc textbook, and leaned over, handing it to Claudia with my bag and whispering, “Take this home with you. I’ll pick it up this weekend.” Her eyebrows pinched together, looking confused. “Wha—” But I didn’t let her finish, already slipping out of my desk and walking toward the teacher. “Mr. Fitzpatrick?” I approached his desk, my hands clasped behind my back. “May I use the restroom, please? I finished the assignment,” I lied in a quiet voice. He barely looked up, nodding and waving me off. Yeah, I was that kind of student. Oh, Erika Fane? The demure one who’s always in dress code and volunteers to work concession at the athletic events for free? Good kid. I headed straight for the door, not even hesitating as I left the room. By the time he realized I wasn’t coming back, I’d be gone. I may still get in trouble, but it would already be too late to stop me. Deed done. Suffer the consequences on Monday. Racing out of the school, I spotted a group of cars, trucks, and SUVs way off to the left, trailing around the corner of the building. I wasn’t planning on asking them if I could come or letting anyone know I was there. I’d either get laughed at or patted on the head and sent back to class. Nope. I wouldn’t even be seen. Jogging toward the group of cars, I spotted Michael’s black Mercedes G-Class and dived behind it, hiding as I peered around the corner. “Get ‘em in the cars!” someone shouted. I spotted Damon Torrance right away. He had his black mask sitting on top of his head as he walked through the cluster of cars and tossed a beer to a guy in the bed of a pickup truck. His black hair was pushed back, hidden under the mask, and I noticed his high cheekbones and still-striking black eyes. Damon was good-looking. But I didn’t like anything else about him. Since I was a freshman when they were all seniors, I didn’t have much first-hand knowledge of their demeanors at school, but I’d seen plenty of him at the Crist house to know that something was wrong with him. Michael gave him a long leash, but it was still a leash and for a good reason. He scared me. And not in the way Michael did that I liked. There were about twenty-five people so far, counting the basketball team and some girls, but school would be out in less than an hour, which meant car loads more would be searching them out to join the party. “Where are we going?” one of the guys asked, looking at Damon. But it was Will Grayson who stepped up, slapping Damon on the shoulder as he passed. “Where no one can hear you scream,” he answered. Smirking, he opened the door to his black Ford Raptor, climbing up and standing between the open door and the truck, looking over the hood. Will held his white mask with a red stripe in his hand, his brown hair styled in a faux hawk and his seductive green eyes laughing. “Hey, did you see Kylie Halpern?” he asked, looking over Damon’s head to someone else. I peered around the car, seeing Kai with his silver mask on top of his head, and Michael, his face still hidden behind his. “Holy shit, those legs!” Will went on. “A year did her a lot of good.” “Yeah, I’m missing high school girls,” Damon said, opening the passenger door to the Raptor. “They don’t give any lip.” I watched Michael, less than five feet away, open the rear driver’s side door of his G-class and toss a duffle bag in, slamming the door closed when he was done. I tightened my fists, my arms suddenly feeling weak. What the hell was I doing? I shouldn’t be doing this. I’d either get in trouble or embarrassed. “Michael?” I heard Will’s voice call. “It’ll be a long night. Did you see anyone you liked?” “Maybe,” I heard him respond in a deep voice. And then I heard another voice laugh softly. I thought it was Kai. “Dude, I dare you,” he challenged like he knew something. “She’s beautiful, but I’d wait until she’s legal.” “I’ll try,” I heard Michael say. “A year did her a lot of good, too. She’s getting harder not to notice.” “Who are you guys talking about?” Damon cut in. “No one,” Michael snapped, sounding suddenly short. I shook my head, brushing off their words. I needed to get out of sight before anyone saw me. “Get everyone in the cars,” Michael ordered. My chest rose and fell faster, and I sucked in a deep breath and squeezed the handle on the truck, hearing it click open as I pulled on it. With a quick glance to the guys again and my ears on alert, I opened the door and quickly dived inside, pulling the door closed and hoping they didn’t notice in the madness of everyone loading into other cars. I shouldn’t be doing this. Sure, I’d paid attention to them over the years. Absorbed their conversations and mannerisms, noticing things that other didn’t, but I’d never followed them. Was this stage one or stage two of stalking? Oh, Jesus. I rolled my eyes, not even wanting to think about it. “Let’s go!” Kai shouted, and car doors started slamming shut. “See you there!” I heard Will call out. The car under me shook, and I widened my eyes as people climbed into Michael’s car. And then, one by one, all four doors slammed shut, the silent cabin now filled with the laughter and banter of several male voices. The SUV roared to life, vibrating under me, and I rolled onto my back, letting my head rest on the floor, not sure if I should feel good that I hadn’t gotten caught or sick that I had no idea what I’d gotten myself into. Present “THIS WAY, MISS FANE.” The man smiled and took a set of keys, leading me toward some elevators. “I’m Ford Patterson, one of the managers.” He held out his hand, and I shook it. “Nice to meet you,” I replied. I looked around the lobby of my new apartment building, Delcour, as we walked. It was a twenty-two-story skyscraper in Meridian City, built to house apartments and penthouses, and even though it wasn’t nearly as tall as some of the buildings surrounding it, it still stood out. Entirely black with gold fixtures on the outside, it was a work of art, and the interior was just as lavish. I couldn’t believe I was living here. “You’re all the way up on the twenty-first floor,” he explained, stopping us at the elevator and pushing the button, “which has an amazing view. You’ll be pleased.” I gripped the strap of my bag over my chest, barely able to wait. Nothing sounded so good as to wake up in the morning and gaze over the vast city, a horizon of buildings that touched the sky and millions of people working and living. While some felt lost in large cities—the lights, noise, and action too much—I couldn’t contain the thrill of being part of something bigger. The energy excited me. I checked my phone again, making sure I hadn’t missed a call from my mother. I was still worried about her. And kind of worried about me, too, even though I didn’t let it stop me from leaving Thunder Bay this morning. After Mr. Ferguson had left my house last night, having found nothing inside or around the premises, I’d crawled into bed with my mom and stared at the note that had been left in the box with the dagger. Beware the fury of a patient man. I’d Googled it to find that it was a John Dryden quote, and I knew what it meant. Those who are patient, plan. And beware the man with a plan. But a plan for what? And who was that at my house last night in masks? Could it have been the Horsemen? Would they have sent me the dagger? I woke up this morning, ignored a curt message from Trevor who was angry with me for leaving the party early, and questioned my mom and Irina, our housekeeper, both of whom knew nothing about the mysterious gift or who’d left it. The note wasn’t signed, and no one knew how the box got there. I’d caught the momentary flash of worry that crossed my mother’s face, so I’d hid the note and brushed off the dagger as something Trevor had probably left for me as a surprise. I didn’t want her to be scared for me. But I definitely was. Someone had been in my home, right under my mother’s nose. In the rush to get on the road this morning, I’d slid the slender box, with the dagger, into the car and drove off not knowing why I’d brought it. I should’ve just left it at home. The soft bell dinged, and I followed Mr. Patterson into the elevator, seeing him press twenty-one. But I narrowed my eyes, noticing that there were no floors higher than that. “I thought there were twenty-two floors,” I inquired, standing next to him. “There are.” He nodded assuredly. “But that floor houses only one residence, and he has his own private elevator across the lobby.” I turned my head forward again, understanding. “I see.” “Your floor only has two apartments,” he explained, “since the apartments are quite a bit larger. And the other apartment on your floor is currently vacant, so you’ll enjoy lots of privacy.” The apartments were quite a bit larger on my floor? I didn’t remember anyone saying anything about that when I’d emailed the management to set up the lease. “And here we are,” he chirped, stepping forward with a smile as the doors opened. He held out an arm, inviting me to go first. Stepping out of the elevator, I looked left and then right, seeing a narrow, well-lit hallway with black, marble floors and walls the color of a sunset. He veered left, leading me to an apartment door, but I cast a quick look over my shoulder, seeing another massive, black door with the gold numbers 2104 on it. That must be the empty one. We reached the other apartment door—mine, apparently—and the manager immediately slid the key in and swung the door open, walking right inside. I watched him saunter off into the apartment, while I remained standing in the doorway, frozen. “Um…” Okay. This didn’t make sense. This apartment was huge. I slowly stepped inside, my arms hanging limply at my sides as I took in the high ceilings, spacious living room, and a full wall of windows, giving away the beautiful patio courtyard, complete with a fountain and actual grass outside. The same black marble floors carried in here from the hallway, but the apartment walls were cream-colored. “As you can see,” Mr. Patterson began as he went to the window-wall and unlocked the glass. “You have a full gourmet kitchen with top of the line appliances, and you’ll love how the open floor plan preserves your view of the city.” I glanced at the kitchen, the granite island shining in the sunlight spilling in through the windows. The chrome appliances were just as impressive as the ones in my own home, and the wrought iron kitchen chandelier—simple, sophisticated, and pretty—matched the one hanging above me in the living room. He went on talking about three bedrooms, heated floors, and a rainfall shower, and I started shaking my head, overwhelmed. “Wait—” But he cut me off. “There’s a community gym on the second floor as well as an indoor pool. Both are open twenty-four seven, and since you’re in one of the penthouses, you also enjoy a private courtyard.” My eyebrows narrowed in confusion. I was in a penthouse? What? “Wait,” I laughed, a little freaked out. But he just kept going. “There are two doors to your apartment,” he told me, his tone turning serious. “The other one leads to a stairwell in case of a fire, but be sure it’s locked at all times.” He pointed to the end of the hall, and I jutted out my head to see the metal door down the dark hallway. “We are very tight on security here, but I wanted to make you aware of the alternate entrance.” I brought my hand to my forehead, wiping away the light layer of sweat. What the hell was going on? The apartment was already completely furnished with expensive-looking sofas, tables, and electronics, and I watched him pick up a tablet and start to work the privacy glass on the wall of windows facing the city. “Now let me show you—” “Wait,” I blurted out, cutting him off. “I’m sorry. I think there’s been a mistake. I’m Erika Fane. I leased a one bedroom with one bath—not a penthouse. I have no idea whose apartment this is, but I’m paying rent for something much, much smaller.” He looked confused, and then he picked up his file folder, probably checking his information. Not that I didn’t love the penthouse, but I wasn’t forking over thousands of dollars every month for something I didn’t need. He breathed out a laugh, studying the paperwork. “Ah, yes. I forgot.” He looked up at me. “That apartment was rented out unfortunately.” My shoulders dropped, disappointment hitting me. “What?” “It was a mix-up, and we’re very sorry. I was advised by the owners to honor the contract you had signed as an apology. There were two penthouses, both vacant, so we saw no reason why you shouldn’t have one of them. Your lease is still for a year, and your rent will remain the same during that time.” He held out the keys to me. “No one called you?” I stared off, reaching out and taking them. “No,” I answered. “And I’m still a little confused. Why would you give me twice the amount of apartment for the same price?” He offered a smile, straightening his shoulders. It was how my mother looked growing up when she was done answering questions. “As I said,” he placated, “we’re very sorry about the mix-up. Please accept our deepest apologies, and I hope this penthouse meets your expectations as you continue your studies this year.” He bowed his head. “Please let me know if you need anything, Miss Fane. I am at your service.” And then he brushed past me, out of the apartment and closing the door behind him. I stood there, feeling my stomach churn like the wind had been knocked out of me. I couldn’t believe it. How had this happened? I turned in a slow circle, taking in the room, the reality, and, most of all, the silence. I was completely alone up here. And although it was beautiful, I’d been excited about sleeping on an air mattress tonight before I went out to buy my own furniture tomorrow. I’d been excited about a small, cozy apartment and neighbors. But school started in two days. I didn’t have time to find another place. “Dammit,” I growled under my breath. Trailing slowly down the hallway, I wandered in and out of all the rooms, finding the spacious bathroom with a double vanity and a slate-tiled shower. Swinging open cabinets next to the sink, I noticed towels and wash clothes stocked and ready, as well as a loofah. And then, trailing into the master bedroom, I noticed that is was already set up with a king-sized bed and furniture that matched the white bedding and drapes. The damn clock on the nightstand was already set, too. Unbelievable. Everything was done for me. Just like at home. The décor may be slightly different, and the scenery had certainly changed, but my life hadn’t. Everything was taken care of already. I’d even bet that if I opened the refrigerator, I’d find that stocked, as well. Got to hand it to those Thunder Bay mothers making sure one of their princesses was tucked in all tight. There’s no way this was a welcome committee just leaving a basket of fruit. I shook my head, feeling the walls close in. The women in Thunder Bay were busy ladies. They were powerful, influential, and thorough, and as their children, we sat comfortably under that umbrella. I even more so, because my father was deceased, and my mother was…weak. As a kid, I’d appreciated the safety of the shelter they provided, but I wanted to do things for myself now. Space, distance, and maybe a little trouble. That’s what I was looking for. I let out a sigh and slipped the keys into the pocket of my white jean shorts. Grabbing the hem of my black sweater, I pulled it up and over my head, leaving me in my short-sleeved gray T-shirt. Walking back through the apartment, I stepped across the open threshold from the living room and into the courtyard, my toes in my black flip-flops touching the grass. Gazing around the expansive area, I noticed that it was designed in the shape of a rectangle, with one long side open to offer a view of the city. To my left, I saw more windows, probably belonging to the vacant apartment I shared the floor with. And then, turning right, my gaze drifted up, up, up, and I craned my neck to see the floor above me, whose residence curved around the side of the building, making the windows partly visible from here. It also appeared to have more than one balcony and a perfect view into the courtyard. I wondered if a family live there, to need so much space, but then I remembered Mr. Patterson saying “he.” I let my gaze linger on his windows, realizing I wasn’t alone up here, after all. I BLINKED AWAKE, the blanket of sleep weighing heavy as I lay on my stomach hugging my pillow. My ears perked, hearing a tapping sound coming from somewhere far away. Tap, tap, tap…tap…tap I leaned up on my arms, trying to bring my eyes into focus. Was that knocking? But who would be knocking? I didn’t know anyone here—not yet anyway. I’d just arrived today, and I didn’t have any neighbors… And—I glanced at the alarm clock on my nightstand—it was after one in the morning. Turning over, I sat up and rubbed the sleep from my eyes, slowly feeling the fogginess dissipate. I thought for sure that I’d heard knocking. Like a steady thumping. I looked around me, the moonlight streaming in from the window and falling across the white sheets as I listened for any sound in the silence of the still and dark apartment. But then a loud thud hit, and I jumped, sucking in a breath. Throwing off the sheets, I grabbed my phone from the nightstand. That wasn’t a knock. Clutching the phone in my hand, I slowly tiptoed across my bedroom floor, listening for another sound and searching my brain, trying to remember if I’d locked all the doors. The front, the glass partition to the courtyard, and… Had I locked the rear entrance? Yeah. Yeah, of course I had. But then the thud hit again, and I halted. What the hell? It was dull and heavy, like deadweight falling, and I had no idea if it was above me, below me, or next to me. I crept down the hallway, into the living room and past the load of paint supplies I’d bought earlier today. I may not have gotten the tiny apartment I wanted or been able to buy my own pots and pans, but I could sure as hell make this place mine with a little color. Jogging silently into the kitchen, I grabbed a knife out of the block and fisted the handle, the blade facing behind me as I approached the front door. I still wasn’t sure where the sound came from, but common sense told me to check the entrances. I peered through the peephole, every hair on my arms standing on end. As much as I’d wanted to be on my own, I was a little freaked out about that now. Arching up on my tiptoes, I peered through the hole, spotting the elevator a few feet down the hall and the soft flicker of the sconces. But there was nothing and no one visible. The hallway appeared empty. I jerked my head behind me as the booming thuds sounded again. I fell back to my feet and crept through my apartment as I listened to the pounding that had now become a steady attack. My feet followed the sound, stepping absently closer to it, and I finally pressed my ear against the wall leading to my hallway, my heart racing as the vibrations touched my skin. Resting my cheek against the surface, I swallowed the tight lump in my throat as the thumping against the wall grew faster and faster. There was someone over there. In the empty apartment. Holding up my phone, I dialed the office downstairs but got no answer. I knew there was a night manager named Simon Something-Or-Other, but I didn’t think many people were on duty at night. He must be away from his desk. I continued listening, wondering if I could ignore it and just wait until morning to ask the manager about it, but the further down the hall I travelled, the louder it got until I was standing next to the rear entrance. Opening up the door, I peeked my head into the hallway, holding the heavy steel exit open just enough to inspect. Glancing to my right, I saw a door just like mine. And then I heard a woman’s high-pitched cry ring out around me, and I started breathing harder. And then there was another cry. And another, and another, and… Was she having sex? My mouth fell open as I tried not to laugh. Oh, my God. But I thought the place was supposed to be empty. I stepped out, knife in hand—just in case—and walked quietly down to the other door, glancing up and seeing small security cameras along the wall, probably installed when the apartments were built. Pressing my ear to the door, I listened, still hearing the thump, thump, thump of something hitting the wall, and the girl’s breathy cries over and over again. I folded my lips between my teeth, covering my smile with my free hand. But then the woman cried out. “No! Ah, oh, God! Please!” And my face fell, hearing the fear in her voice. The short, shrill screams were now different. Panicked and scared, and her cries sounded struggled. My mouth suddenly went dry as I stood there listening. “Ah!” she cried out again. “No, please stop!” I backed away from the door, not finding it funny anymore. But then something hit the door from the other side, making a loud thud, and I scurried backward. “Oh, shit,” I gritted out under my breath. I shot my head up to the cameras, now wondering if they fed to Security downstairs or to whoever was inside the apartment. Did they know I was out here? I spun around and dashed for my door, grabbing the handle and trying to twist it. But it was locked. “Dammit!” I mouthed. Fucking thing must lock automatically. Another thud hit the door, mere feet away from me—so close—and I darted my eyes over to it, my breathing turning fast and painful. I pulled on the door handle again, twisting and yanking, but it didn’t budge. Another thud hit the door, and I jerked upright, dropping the knife. “Shit.” I dived down to pick it up, but just then I heard the other door swing open, so I bolted down the stairwell, hiding behind the wall and forgetting about the knife. Fuck! Screw this. Whoever was coming out of the vacant apartment was definitely someone I didn’t want to meet. I dashed down flight after flight, a cry lodged in my throat as fear gripped my chest. A pounding echoed above me, and I spared a quick glance upward, seeing a hand sliding down the railings as whoever it was jumped flights of stairs. Oh, my God. I raced down, one flight after the other, a drop of sweat gliding down my neck. The pounding was getting closer and closer, my legs about to give out as my exhausted muscles worked as fast as they could. I gasped, seeing the door labeled LOBBY. I yanked it open and burst through, looking behind me once again to see if he—or she—was behind me. But then I slammed into a wall, and I let out a small cry as hands gripped my upper arms. I looked up and exhaled a breath, seeing Michael Crist towering over me, his eyes narrowed. “Michael?” I breathed out, frozen in confusion. “What the hell are you doing?” He arched a brow and set me back, away from him, and let go of my arm. “It’s after one a.m.” I opened my mouth, but nothing came out. Why was he here? He stood in front of an elevator, a different one than I had taken this morning, dressed in a black suit, looking like he’d just been at a club or something. A young brunette stood next to him, beautiful in a tight, navy-blue cocktail dress that fell mid-thigh. I suddenly felt exposed, dressed in my silk sleep shorts and black tank top, my hair hanging about, probably in tangles. “I…” I looked over my shoulder again, noticing that whoever had followed me down the stairs hadn’t come out the door yet. I twisted my head back, looking up at Michael. “I heard something up on my floor,” I told him. And then I shook my head, still confused. “What are you doing here?” “I live here,” he shot back, and I immediately recognized that ever-present intolerant tone that he always used with me. “Live here?” I questioned. “I thought you lived in your family’s building.” He slid a hand into his pocket and cocked his head, looking at me point-blank like I was stupid. I closed my eyes, expelling a sigh. “Of course,” I breathed out, realization hitting. “Of course. You’re the one who lives on the twenty-second floor.” I started connected all the pieces: the separate elevator he and the girl stood by, the lone gentleman living above me, Mrs. Crist sending me the link for Delcour as a suggestion and not telling me their family owned the building… And the luxury apartment all to myself, ready to go and just waiting for me. Mrs. Crist—and most likely her husband as well—made sure I ended up here. Keeping me close and under their thumb. “And who’s this?” I glanced over, seeing the young woman with chocolate hair and piercing eyes, polished like a movie star on premiere night. Michael looked ahead, his lips twisting slightly. “My little brother’s girlfriend.” “Aw…” she responded. I averted my eyes, aggravated. His little brother’s girlfriend. He couldn’t even say my name. And I wasn’t Trevor’s girlfriend anymore. I wasn’t sure if he knew that, but it had been months. It had to have come up in conversation in his house. “What did you hear?” he demanded, and I looked up to see him staring down at me. I hesitated, not sure if I should I tell him about the noises or the woman’s cries. I didn’t feel safe up there now, and I wanted a manager, but Michael barely gave me the time of day. He probably wouldn’t hear anything I had to say. “Nothing,” I finally said, letting out a sigh. “Forget it.” He studied me for a moment and then reached out and swiped a white card in front of a sensor on the wall, his private elevator doors immediately opening. He turned to the girl. “Don’t get too comfortable. I’ll be up in a minute.” She nodded, a slight smile playing on her lips as she walked into the elevator and pushed the button, the doors quickly closing before her. Michael ignored me and walked over to the front desk, talking to the person on security. The man nodded and handed him what appeared to be keys, and then Michael sauntered back over to me, his height and athletic frame making my mouth go dry again. God, he was beautiful. After all these years, my entire life following him with my eyes, my body still warmed whenever he was close. I crossed my arms over my chest, trying to dull the thud of my thrilled heart. I shouldn’t want to be close to him. Not after how he’d pushed me away nearly my entire life and treated me all those years ago. I brought my hand up to my neck, absently running a finger over the jagged line. “Simon is going to do a walk-through of the stairwell and your floor,” he told me. “Come on. I’ll take you up.” “I said forget it,” I insisted, not budging. “I don’t need help.” But he walked to the other elevator anyway, and I spotted the security guard opening the door to the stairwell and disappearing. Reluctantly, I followed Michael, stepping into the elevator in my bare feet and watching him push twenty-one. “You know what floor I live on?” I asked. But he didn’t answer. The elevator began ascending, and I stood there next to him, trying to remain still. I didn’t want to breathe too hard or fidget too much. I’d always been hyper-aware of Michael, and I was afraid he could tell. Maybe if I thought he saw me as anything other than trivial, I wouldn’t worry what he thought so much. But as I dropped my arms and stared ahead, the slight flow of air coming through the vent making my hair dance across the skin of my chest and the tops of my breasts, I licked my lips, feeling the pull of him right there, only inches away. My chest rose and fell, heat cascading down my neck, and I felt my nipples tighten as the fire over my skin moved across my stomach and pooled between my thighs. My sleep shorts felt too tight all of a sudden, and my stomach felt hollow, aching like I hadn’t eaten in days. Jesus. I reached up, brushing my hair behind my ear and feeling like he was looking at me. But I wouldn’t dare a glance. After seeing the cover model he’d brought home for the night, all I could do was straighten my back, square my shoulders, and deal. Like I had for years. The elevator stopped, and the doors opened, Michael stepping out first, clearly not the gentleman Mr. Patterson was. He walked directly for my apartment, and I followed, speaking to his back. “When Mr. Patterson showed me around today, he told me that apartment was empty.” I glanced behind me at the door of the supposedly vacant apartment. “But I heard noises just a little while ago.” He turned around, eyeing the door behind me. “What kinds of noises?” Headboards banging the walls, cries, screams, pants, people going at it… I shrugged, deciding to be vague. “Just noises.” He exhaled a sigh through his nose, sounding annoyed. Walking around me, he made for the other apartment and jiggled the door handle, knocking several times when it didn’t work. The door opened, and I widened my eyes in surprise, but then the same security guard from downstairs emerged. “Nothing here, sir. I checked the stairwell, and there’s no sign of a disturbance.” “Thank you,” Michael offered. “Make sure the apartment is locked, and head back downstairs.” “Yes, sir.” I watched the guard lock the front door and then wait at the elevator as Michael walked back over to me, keys out and his hazel eyes looking even more impatient. He brushed past me and unlocked my front door. “How did you know I locked myself out?” I followed him into the apartment. “I didn’t.” He slid the keys into his pants pocket. “But I figured it was a safe bet. You didn’t have keys on you, and the rear apartment entrances leading to the stairwell always auto-lock. Remember that.” I rolled my eyes, watching him charge through my apartment. Three years ago—hell, five days ago—I would’ve loved to have him in my space. Talking to me, watching out for me… But that’s not what he was doing now. I was still as invisible to him as the air he breathed. And far less important. One night. It still lived in my memory, vivid and wild, and I wished he’d remember it. But it had turned to shit, anyway, just like the way he treated me. Crossing my arms over my chest and steeling myself, I stared off, just waiting for him to leave. He checked the rooms, the rear entrance, and came back out, pushing on the glass doors to make sure they were secure. “It’s not unusual for the staff to take breaks in one of the empty apartments,” he explained in a flat tone. “In any event, it’s quiet now.” I nodded, forcing a defiant look. “Like I said, I don’t need help.” I heard him breathe out a quiet laugh, and I looked up, seeing a condescending smile in his eyes. “You don’t, huh?” he replied, sounding snide. “You got everything covered? You’re in control?” I lifted my chin slightly, not answering him. He strode back over, eyeing me with arrogant amusement. “It’s a nice apartment,” he commented, gazing around him. “You must’ve worked hard to earn the money to pay for it. As well as the bills to those credit cards in your wallet, and that nice, new car you just got.” I ground my teeth together, a flood of emotions I wasn’t sure what to do with hitting me. I hated what he was saying. It wasn’t that simple, and it wasn’t fair. He stepped up to me, narrowing his eyes. “You ran away from my brother, my family, your mother, and even your own friends,” he pointed out, “but what if one day you found that all of those securities you took for granted—your house, your money, and the people who love you—weren’t there anymore? Would you need help then? Would you finally realize how very brittle you are without those comforts you seem to think you don’t need?” I stared up at him, hardening every muscle, so I wouldn’t give myself away. Yeah, sure. I enjoyed the money. And maybe if I were really serious about being on my own, I’d have chucked it all. The credit cards, the car, and the tuition money. So was I what he implied? A coward who talked a good talk but would never really know pain or the struggle of having to fight for anything? “No, I think you’d be fine,” he said in a low, sultry voice as he took a lock of my hair, grinding it between his fingers. “Pretty girls always have something to trade in, right?” I shot my eyes up, locking gazes with him as I knocked his hand away. What the fuck was the matter with him? The corner of his mouth tilted in a smile, and he walked around me toward the door. “’Night, Little Monster.” And I whipped around, just seeing him slip through the door and close it behind him. Little Monster. Why had he called me that? I hadn’t heard that name in three years. Not since that night. Present DON’T BE ALONE WITH HER. My one rule. The one thing I’d kept to myself and promised to heed, and now I’d broken it. I breathed hard, my arms folded across my chest as I glared ahead at the rising numbers on the elevator wall. No one else knew her. Not the way I did. I knew better. I knew how good she was. Erika Fane played her parts well. The dutiful, self-sacrificing daughter for her mother, the pleasant, agreeable girlfriend for my brother, and a shining student and beauty in our seaside community growing up. Everyone loved her. She thought she was nothing to me, insignificant and invisible. She wanted me to open my eyes and see her again so fucking badly, but she didn’t realize that I already did. I knew the deceiving cunt that stewed underneath that perfect little sheen of hers, and I couldn’t forget. Why the fuck did I take her to her apartment? Why did I have to make sure she was safe? Being near her made me falter. It made me forget. She’d burst through the stairwell doors, frightened and flushed, looking small and fragile, and instinct immediately kicked in. Yeah, she played her parts well. Don’t be alone with her. Don’t ever be alone with her. The elevator doors opened, and I stepped directly into my foyer, rounding the corner into my darkened living room, but then I slowed, noticing the girl I had sent up and nearly forgotten about. She sat in the middle of the floor, straddling a wooden chair. Completely naked. I held back a smile, surprised at her ingenuity. Most women waited for direction. I narrowed my eyes, approaching the chair as her lips quirked in a small smile. Her forearms rested on the top of the chair-back, while her legs were spread wide and her high-heeled feet were planted on the floor on either side of the chair. Stopping a foot in front of her, I let my eyes fall to her exposed body: supple, open, and ready for me. Her breasts were perfect and round, and I gazed down at her tan stomach, letting my eyes drop to her bare pussy and wondering if she was already wet. I reached up, running the back of my hand over her cheek, and she leaned into it, eyeing me playfully as her long, silky hair draped over her breasts. And then she darted out, catching my thumb between her teeth and biting it gently. I stared down at her, waiting to see what she would do next. Suck on it? Lick it? Maybe bite it harder? I liked it when I got as good as I gave. When a woman showed the fire in her instead of sitting idle. But then she just let it go, offering me a shy look and leaving the ball in my court. It was my job to attack and hers to be the willing piece of meat, I guess. God, I was so fucking bored. I tipped her chin up, ordering in a gentle voice, “Stay here.” I needed a breather to get in the mood for what I no longer wanted. I walked past her, up the stairs, slipping off my jacket as I climbed. Entering my bedroom, a large space with a king size bed and plenty of room to relax, I walked for the shower, which sat between the bedroom and the master bathroom. It was out in the open and completely visible from the bed. Sometimes it came in handy when I had a girl or two over and wanted to watch them play. I stripped out of my clothes, tossing them on the ground and stepping into the shower, in no hurry to return downstairs. The rainfall overhead poured down, immediately drenching my hair and spilling its heat over my shoulders and back. I wished I could say it was all the hours logged in at the gym, the personal trainer making sure I was ready for the season, or the constant practices we’d been attending since they increased our workout schedule, that caused the tension in my head and body, but I knew that wasn’t it. I was twenty-three, in the best shape of my life, and contending with demands I’d lived with for nearly my entire life. It wasn’t basketball. It was her. After three long years, she was here, they were here, and I could hardly think of anything else. I wondered if she’d still want me when all was said and done. After all the years of watching me, probably wishing I’d touch her, wouldn’t it be fucking ironic when I finally did take her in my hands and pressed my body into hers, that she despised me? Yeah, you’re going to be in my bed, baby, but not until you wish you hated me. I let out a breath, bowing my head and closing my eyes. Jesus. I wrapped my hand around my cock, feeling it throb and pulse as it grew thick and hard at the thought of her. I ran my thumb over the fat tip, wiping away the cum that was only a small measure of what was begging to get out. Goddamn. All it took was the thought of her, and how I’d almost given myself away in the elevator with her earlier. She’d been amusing. The way she tried so hard to not look like she was losing her fucking mind with me around. How her shallow breathing made her tits rise and fall, and how those nipples poked through that tight, little tank top of hers, making me want to take one between my teeth and teach her how to scream my name so well she’d say it in her sleep. That golden skin, tan from her summer in Thunder Bay, looked like a feast, and that hair, blonde and straight and brushing across her face and neck as it spilled down her back. It looked so soft, I couldn’t resist touching the bright strands. I’d done very well at ignoring her during my life, at first because she was too young for me to care and then because I needed to be patient. Now, the timing was perfect, she was here, and so was I. Only I wasn’t alone. And the best part? She didn’t know that we knew. She didn’t know that we were coming for her. Turning off the water, I breathed in and out, my cock aching and damn-near sticking straight out, needing release. I wrapped a towel around my waist and combed my fingers through my hair, walking out of the bedroom and down the stairs. Alex, the young woman I’d taken to the team party tonight, still sat dutifully in the chair, her heart-shaped ass somewhat more appealing now that I was rock hard. But I still wasn’t quite ready. Pouring myself a drink, I walked to the windows overlooking the city. The lights and the energy lit up the night, making it look like a sea of stars floating ahead of me, and it was one of the first things I learned when I’d visited this place as a kid. Meridian City was certainly more inspiring from a distance. Most things were, I’d come to realize. The closer you got to anything beautiful, the less beautiful it became. Allure was in the mystery, not the appearance. Letting my gaze fall, I spotted Rika through her windows. Her apartment sat on the level below but not directly beneath mine, so my windows offered an excellent view into the courtyard, as well as into her apartment. I narrowed my eyes, watching her flit about and wondering what she was doing. She had splayed out a drop cloth below a wall, and there were cans of paint sitting on the living room floor. She stepped up on a ladder and arched up on her tiptoes, reaching for where the wall met the ceiling, smoothing something over with her hands. She must’ve been putting up painter’s tape. It was nearly two in the morning. Why was she painting? Her nice, little ass jutted out, and the black lace trim around the bottom of her tank top rode up, revealing the skin of her stomach. Heat spread over my chest and down to my groin, my heart beating harder. Rika had a hell of a body, even though she didn’t have a clue how to use it. Soft, cool hands ran over my shoulders as the girl came up behind me, standing naked at my side. The privacy glass wasn’t on, but neither were the lights, so Rika wouldn’t be able to see anything up here if she looked. Alex gazed out the window, probably seeing what I was looking at, and then turned back to me, slipping her hand under my towel. “Mmm…” she moaned, feeling how hard I was. “You like her.” I stayed still, watching Rika as the girl stroked me. “No.” One time I thought I might. For a few hours, long ago, we looked through the same eyes, and I felt like I could trust her. It had been a mistake that cost my friends their freedom. “But you want her,” she pushed, rubbing me faster and knowing exactly where my hard-on came from. I let her handle me, but unfortunately I had no desire to reach out and touch her. I stared down, seeing Rika step off the ladder and drop to her hands and knees, running tape along the crown molding as she arched her back, taunting me. I grunted, feeling the girl’s strokes get faster. “Yeah,” she taunted. “So sweet and innocent, isn’t she?” I swallowed through the dryness in my mouth and glared down at Rika. “She’s neither,” I gritted out under my breath. “Maybe not,” the girl teased. “The shy ones tend to be the baddest after all.” And then she leaned in, burying her lips in my neck and whispering, “I’ll bet your brother can tell you what a bad girl she is.” Jesus. I planted my hand against the window, leaning in as Rika sat back on her knees and looked up at the wall that she appeared to be getting ready to paint. I hoped that wasn’t true. I only wanted two things…that my brother hadn’t broken her in as well as he bragged and that Rika had as much fight in her as I hoped. “Yeah,” the girl breathed, kissing a trail down my jaw. “I’ll bet he knows exactly how she likes it.” I instantly straightened, turning my head and placing a hand under her jaw, holding it tight. “My brother is the last person that knows anything about her,” I bit out, glaring down at her. “Now go home. I’m not in the mood.” I pushed her away, and a shocked breath escaped her as she pinched her eyebrows together, looking confused. “But you’re…,” she protested, gesturing to my cock tenting the black towel. “That’s not for you, and you know it.” Facing the window again, I tightened the towel around my waist and watched Rika pull her hair up in a ponytail and then bend over to pick up a can of paint. But then I heard the ding of the elevator behind me, signaling that it was descending to pick up whoever had called it, and I quickly glanced over my shoulder to see the girl still standing there naked. “You’d better hurry,” I warned. “I’ve got company coming up, and they’d love nothing more than to find you like that.” I let my eyes fall down, indicating her naked form. Her eyes shifted side to side, hesitating and looking displeased. I didn’t know if she was really disappointed or just offended. I really didn’t care. I’d already paid her, after all. She finally turned, hurrying for wherever she’d dropped her clothes, and I heard rustling as she got dressed. Looking back down, I saw Rika pour paint into a tray and then dip in a roller, soaking it in red. My favorite color. It was brave and confident but also aggressive and violent. Not sure why I favored it, but I always had. The elevator bell dinged again, and I stood up straight, steeling my back as I heard deep voices enter the penthouse. Turning around, I saw the girl, Alex, slip on her last shoe and grab her clutch purse before hustling in the direction of the elevators. But regardless of whether or not she was dressed, she wouldn’t go unnoticed. Damon, Will, and Kai emerged from around the corner, dressed in similar black suits, having just been out themselves, smiling over a shared joke. Alex stepped quickly, trying to scurry past, but Damon caught her, wrapping his arms around her waist. “Whoa, where do you think you’re going?” he teased, tightening his hold against her fake struggles. “Did Michael use his full hour already?” Will laughed, shaking his head as he and Kai kept walking, making their way into the apartment. Damon walked her backward, into the living room again, one of his hands squeezing her ass. I leaned over to the chair, picking up the lounge pants I’d thrown there this morning. Slipping my legs in, I pulled them up and then whipped off the towel, tossing it on the floor. “Just leave her alone,” I told him. But his dark eyes, nearly black, drifted up to me, a challenge lurking there that I was getting fucking tired of seeing. His lips curled in a smile as he reached into his pocket, taking out a roll of bills. “I’ll be gentle,” he whispered against her cheek, holding up the money. She turned her head, eyeing me, probably wondering what the protocol was. Was she supposed to indulge an opportunity while another was still in the room? I didn’t care what she did. She was available, and when it came right down to it, it was her business, not her pleasure. I’d simply needed someone on my arm tonight for a private party, and Will knew her well enough to know she was discreet and hassle-free. I was just sick of Damon’s antics. But she turned back to him and slowly took the money. And he didn’t hesitate. Yanking the top of her dress down to her waist, he picked her up and guided her legs around his waist. “I lied,” he said, baring his teeth next to her ear. “I’m never gentle.” He dived for her, covering her mouth with his as he carried her down the hall, disappearing into a spare bedroom. I exhaled a hard breath through my nose, aggravated with the constant tug of war with him. It never used to be like that. My friends and I all butted heads over the course of our friendship. Of course. We had our own temperaments, vices, and senses of right and wrong. But those differences strengthened us back then. As individuals we had weaknesses, but as the Horsemen we were invincible. We each brought something different to the table, and where one lacked, the others stepped in. We were a unit, on and off the court. I wasn’t so sure that was true anymore. Things had changed. Kai sat down on the couch while Will walked for the refrigerator, grabbing a sandwich off the plate of leftovers and a bottle of water. I twisted around and grabbed the game ball I’d been awarded after we’d won the state championships in high school and shot it over at Will, slamming him in the upper arm. He jerked, dropping the bottle of water and glaring at me with a mouthful of sandwich. “Ow!” he barked, holding out his hands. “What’s your problem?” “Were you in 2104?” I shot out, already knowing the answer. There was a reason we’d moved Rika to the twenty-first floor. It isolated her from neighbors. But I was also well aware that my friends probably wouldn’t let the vacant apartment next door to her—or the opportunity to fuck with her—go to waste. They didn’t live in the building, but they’d somehow gotten a key to the apartment. Will averted his eyes, but I caught the grin on his face. He swallowed his food and faced me, shrugging. “We may have brought a couple of girls back from the club,” he admitted. “You know Damon. It got a little loud.” I shot Kai a look, knowing he wasn’t in on it but pissed that he hadn’t stopped them. I combed my fingers through my damp hair and pinned Will with a stare. “Erika Fane may be young and inexperienced, but she’s not stupid,” I pointed out, looking between him and Kai. “You’re going to have fun with her. I promise. But not if you get her running before we have her where we want her.” Will bent down to retrieve the basketball. At six feet tall, he was shorter than the rest of us, but his build was just as strong. “Kai and I have been out for months,” he charged, pressing the ball between his hands in front of his chest and looking at me as he approached. “I agreed to wait so Damon could have his part in this, but I am done fucking waiting, Michael.” His patience was wearing thin, and I’d known that for some time. He and Kai had received lesser sentences based on the charges, but to be fair to Damon, we’d held back doing anything until he got out as well. “Like that stunt last night?” I threw back. “Showing up at her house in masks?” He laughed to himself, all too pleased. “It was for old time’s sake. Give us a break.” But I shook my head. “We’ve been patient this long.” “No,” he retorted. “We’ve been patient. You’ve been in college.” I stepped up to him, a good four inches taller, and grabbed the ball out of his hands. I kept my eyes on him as I shot it out to my side and let it roll off my fingers, seeing Kai catch it in one fluid movement. “We wanted her in Meridian City,” I told Will, “and she’s here. With no friends and no roommates. We wanted her in this building with all of us, and there she is.” I tilted my head to the window behind me, gesturing. “All that separates her from us is a door. She’s a sitting duck, and she doesn’t even know it.” His green eyes narrowed on me, still listening. “We know exactly what we’re going to take from her before we take her,” I reminded him, “so don’t fuck this up. Everything’s going according to plan, but it won’t if she feels she’s in danger before it’s time.” He hooded his eyes and looked away, still pissed but obviously letting it go. Taking a deep breath, he slid off his black jacket, tossed it on the sofa, and left the room, heading down the stairs into the private basketball court off the living area. Within seconds, I heard the echo of a basketball pounding against the hardwood court. Kai rose from the sofa and walked for the windows, crossing his arms over his chest and staring silently outside. I stepped up next to him. Planting my hand on the windows, I followed his gaze, watching Rika run the roller up and down, her once-white wall now turning blood red. “She’s alone.” I spoke low. “Completely alone now. And soon she’ll have nothing to eat but our goodwill.” I shifted my eyes to Kai, seeing his narrowed ones studying her. His jaw flexed, and at times he could be more formidable than Damon. At least Damon was an open book. But with Kai and his stern dark eyes and hardened expression, it was always a guess what he was thinking. He rarely spoke about himself. “Are you having second thoughts?” I asked. “Are you?” I continued staring out the window, ignoring the question. Whether or not I wanted this or liked any of it, it was never a question. Three years ago, curious little Erika Fane wanted to play with the boys, so we indulged her, and she betrayed us. There was no way we’d forget. Once restitution was paid, my friends could have peace. Kai kept his eyes on her as he spoke. “Damon and Will are blind action, Michael. Over three years, that hasn’t changed. They act and react from the gut, but for two men that once believed money and power could get them out of anything, they now know that’s not true.” He turned his head, locking eyes with me. “There were no games in there. No real friends. No hesitation. Act and commit. That’s what they learned.” I turned my gaze back out the windows. In there. That was as much as Kai had talked about prison since he’d gotten out. I hadn’t asked, either. Maybe I knew he’d talk when he was ready, or maybe I felt guilty, knowing that it was all my fault. I’d brought her with us that night, after all. I’d trusted her. This was on me. Or maybe, just maybe, it was because I never wanted to know what the last three years had been like for my friends. What they’d lost. How they’d waited. How they’d changed. I shook my head, trying to brush off his warning. “They were always like that,” I argued. “But they were always controllable,” he challenged. “They were appeasable. Now they don’t have limits, and the only thing they truly understand is that they are the only person they can trust.” So what was he saying? That they might have their own agendas? I let my eyes fall to her, working vigorously as she rolled on the red paint. And something coiled inside of me, twisting and tightening until my chest ached. What would I do if they jumped ship? Took their own course of action? I didn’t like that idea. But for three years, I’d been forced to look at her in my house, hear about her, and bide my time when all I wanted was to be her nightmare. She was here, and we were ready. “We can’t stop,” I nearly whispered. We could control Will and Damon. We always had. “I don’t want to stop,” he retorted, his dark eyes pinned on her. “She deserves everything that’s coming to her. But I am saying that things never go according to plan. Remember that.” I picked up the glass of bourbon I’d set down and tossed it back, swallowing the remainder of the liquid in one gulp. The burn sat at the back of my tongue, my throat tightening as I set the glass down. I’d remember it, but I wasn’t going to worry about it. It was finally time to have some fun. “Why is she painting at two a.m.?” he asked as if just finally realizing what she was doing. I just shook my head, looking down at her and having no idea. Maybe she couldn’t sleep after Damon and Will’s escapade next door. Kai exhaled, gazing down at her with a slight smile curling his lips. “She grew up nice, didn’t she?” His voice turned soft but kept its threatening edge. “Beautiful skin, hypnotic eyes and lips, tight body…” Yeah. Rika’s Dutch South African mother married her way into money and power, using a face and body that was still only half as beautiful as her daughter’s. Rika may have inherited her mother’s blonde hair and blue eyes, her full lips and mesmerizing smile, but the rest was all Rika. The sun-kissed, glowing skin; the strong, toned legs from years of fencing; and the way she looked so alluring and sweet but with a hint of mischief in her eyes. Like a baby vampire. “Yo!” Will bellowed from below. “What the fuck are you guys doing? Let’s play!” Kai smiled, dropping his arms and turning for the court. But I hesitated, still thinking about his warning. He was right. Damon and Will leered, waiting to dive in for the kill. But what about Kai? How far would he go with her? We had rules, a way that this was supposed to work. We weren’t going to hurt her. We were going to ruin her. I knew Damon and Will would try to break those rules, but what about Kai? Would he step in and reel them back in as he’d always done? Or would he follow this time? “What about you?” I finally asked, making him stop. “Did prison change you?” He turned, looking at me with eerie calmness. “I guess we’ll see.” Three Years Ago THE CAR TURNED, AND I ROCKED BACK and forth on the floor of the G-Class, the drive turning from smooth to bumpy. The ground underneath the tires suddenly sounded like a grinder, and I knew that we’d hit gravel. Car stereos blasted outside, and I heard honking, telling me that the whole parade was in tow. We stopped, and before I knew what was happening, doors opened, the engine died, and howls filled the air as all the passengers joined each other outside. I stayed put, resisting the urge to peek out the windows and hoping Michael didn’t need to open the back door to get anything. Within a few minutes, though, the chatter and laughter began to fade, and then it disappeared altogether. I slowly pushed myself up, keeping my head low as I peered out the window. Scanning the area, tall trees dotted the clearing where everyone had parked. Cars, trucks, and SUVs cluttered the space, and I narrowed my eyes, noticing we were in the forest. Why the hell were we out here? But then I turned around and immediately spotted a massive stone structure ahead of me. I tilted my head back, following the spears of the old, abandoned church peeking out through the bare autumn tree branches as it sat broken, dead, and silent in the woods. St. Killian’s. I’d never been here, but I knew it from the pictures I’d seen in the newspaper over the years. It was an old landmark, dating back to the 1700s when Thunder Bay was first settled. In 1938, however, it suffered structural damage due to a hurricane, and it closed, never reopening. Everyone must’ve gone inside. I ventured one more glance around the area, making sure no one was around, and quickly climbed over the back seat, opening one of the back doors and hopping out. The brisk October air hit my legs, and I felt the brittle fallen leaves brush against my bare ankles. I was in my school skirt and flats, my legs completely bare, and chills broke out all over my body. I jogged across the clearing, seeing the massive, wooden doors of the cathedral boarded shut, and rounded the corner, heading to the side. The grass was overgrown with weeds, and stones from the foundation were dislodged and broken, lying along the cathedral walls. Music poured out of the broken stained glass windows, and I reached up, grabbing the bottom of the windowsill and stepping up on one of the three-foot high arches carved into the bottom of the church wall. Pulling myself up, I peered into the church and let out a small smile. Damn. Speakers were set up around the room, blasting music, while two guys—one of them Kai, shirtless and without his mask—battled bare-fisted in the center of the wide-open floor, surrounded by male and female students cheering him and the other guy on. Judging by the relaxed crowd and the grin on Kai’s face as he jabbed at his opponent, I guessed it wasn’t a fight fight. More like sport. While the music blared and small groups of students wandered about, talking, laughing, and drinking from their beer bottles, I saw a few people disappearing behind the sanctuary and down some stairs. Did old buildings like this have basements? Or—no—I thought to myself, St. Killian’s had catacombs. I’d heard about that. Shifting my eyes up, I noticed the vast space above, the balcony section of the old church forming a semi-circle that looked down over where the altar would’ve once sat. Most of the hardwood pews had been torn out and sat in piles around the room, while the old cast-iron chandelier, reminiscent of medieval times with its candle holders and ornate design, still hung above the unholy debauchery of fighting and drinking going on below. I spotted Miles Anderson making out with his girlfriend on a pew, and I immediately dipped my head down. I didn’t like him or her, and I didn’t want them to see me. “You’re not supposed to be here.” I widened my eyes, my stomach instantly knotting as I turned my head to the right. Michael s