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They call
it Blackchurch. A secluded mansion in a remote, undisclosed location
where the wealthy and powerful send their misbehaving sons to cool off
away from prying eyes.

Will Grayson has always been an animal,
though. Reckless, wild, and someone who was never bound by a single rule
other than to do exactly what he wanted. There was no way his
grandfather was going risk him humiliating the family again.

that the last time was entirely his fault. He might’ve enjoyed backing
me into corners in high school when no one was looking, so they wouldn’t
catch on that Mr. Popular actually wanted a piece of that quiet, little
nerd he loved to torture so much, but…

He could also be warm. And fierce in keeping me safe.

The truth is… He has a right to hate me.

It’s all my fault. Everything.

Devils Night. The videos. The arrests.

I’m to blame for all of it.

And I regret nothing.


never minded being locked up. I learned a long time ago that being
treated like an animal gives you permission to act like one. No one has
ever looked at me any other way.

Their only mistake is believing
anything I do is an accident. I can sit in this house with no Internet,
television, liquor, or girls, but I’ll come out of here with something
far more frightening to my enemies.

A plan.

And a new pack of wolves.

I just didn’t expect one of my enemies to come to me.

I don’t know who smuggled her in or if they meant to leave her here, but I can smell her hiding in the house. She’s here.

as the security detail leaves the supplies, the gates close, and the
door to my gilded cage opens, giving me free reign of the house and
grounds for another unsupervised month, I remember with a smile…

Blackchurch houses five prisoners. I’m only one of her problems.

Penelope Douglas LLC
Devil's Night
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Most frequently terms

didnt read it yet but i saw will grayson , just like misha lare grayson and said why not:)
11 October 2021 (14:08) 
Amazing and fruitful
28 October 2021 (10:18) 

This book revolves around past and present like all the books do in the Devil's Night series and boy do I love this one.

The nerdy girl is not like a phase for Emory it sticks around with her even in the past and the present, she is in general sassy, confident and smart. She is abused and considers love as a weakness so don't be mad at her.

Will Grayson is not our typical bad boy but a sunshine guy chasing Emory relentlessly, This book has my favourite I-have-always-loved-you-troop.


01 November 2021 (14:26) 

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Il Nettare della Sapienza

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Be Angry, But Don’t Blow It

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Penelope Douglas

Copyright © 2020 Penelope Douglas

Cover Design © 2019 Pink Ink Designs

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.

Proofreading & Interior Formatting by Elaine York, Allusion Graphics, LLC/Publishing & Book Formatting

Table of Contents

Also by Penelope Douglas


Author's Note

Map of Thunder Bay



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

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42


Thank You



Sneak Peek


About the Author

Also by Penelope Douglas…

The Fall Away Series


Until You


Falling Away


Next to Never

The Devil’s Night Series



Kill Switch





Punk 57

Birthday Girl



Stream the Nightfall playlist here.

“99 Problems” by Jay-Z (not available on Spotify)

“#1 Crush” by Garbage

“A Little Wicked” by Valerie Broussard

“Apologize” by Timbaland, One Republic

“Army of Me” by Björk

“Believer” by Imagine Dragons

“Blue Monday” by Flunk

“Down with the Sickness” by Disturbed

“Everybody Wants to Rule the;  World” by Lorde

“Fire Up the Night” by New Medicine

“Hash Pipe” by Weezer

“Highly Suspicious” by My Morning Jacket

“History of Violence” by Theory of a Deadman

“If You Wanna Be Happy” by Jimmy Soul

“In Your Room” by Depeche Mode

“Intergalactic” by Beastie Boys

“Light Up the Sky” by Thousand Foot Krutch

“Man or a Monster (feat. Zayde Wølf)” by Sam Tinnesz

“Mr. Doctor Man” by Palaye Royale

“Mr. Sandman” by SYML

“Old Ticket Booth” by Derek Fiechter and Brandon Fiechter

“Party Up” by DMX

“Pumped Up Kicks” by 3TEETH

“Rx (Medicate)” by Theory of a Deadman

“Satisfied” by Aranda

“Sh-Boom” by The Crew Cuts

“Teenage Witch” by Suzi Wu

“Devil Inside” by INXS

“Touch Myself” by Genitorturers

“White Flag” by Bishop Briggs

“Yellow Flicker Beat” by Lorde

“You’re All I’ve Got Tonight” by The Cars

Author’s Note

Nightfall is the final novel in the Devil’s Night series. All of the books are entwined, and it is recommended to read the prior installments before starting this book.

If you choose to skip Corrupt, Hideaway, Kill Switch, or Conclave, please be aware you may miss plot points and important elements of the back story.

All four prior novels are available in Kindle Unlimited.

Also, if you enjoy Pinterest mood boards, all of my books come with one. Please enjoy Nightfall’s storyboard as you read!


xx Pen

“You need not be sorry for her. She was one of the kind that likes to grow up. In the end, she grew up of her own free will a day quicker than the other girls.”

-J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

For Z. King



It was faint, but I heard it.

Water. Like I was behind a waterfall, deep inside a cave.

What the hell was that?

I blinked my eyes, stirring from the heaviest sleep I think I’ve ever had. Jesus, I was tired.

My head rested on the softest pillow, and I moved my arm, brushing my hand over a cool, splendidly plush white comforter.

I patted my face, feeling my glasses missing. I rolled my eyes around me, confusion sinking in as I took in myself burrowed comfortably in the middle of a huge bed, my body taking up about as much room as a single M&M inside its package.

This wasn’t my bed.

I looked around the lavish bedroom—white, gold, crystal, and mirrors everywhere, palatial in its opulence like I’d never seen in person—and my breathing turned shallow as instant fear took over.

This wasn’t my room. Was I dreaming?

I pushed myself up, my head aching and every muscle tight like I’d been sleeping for a damn week.

I dropped my eyes, spotting my glasses folded and sitting on the bedside table. I grabbed them and slipped them on, taking inventory of my body first. I laid on top of the bed, still fully clothed in my black, skinny pants and a pullover white blouse that I’d dressed in this morning.

If it was still today, anyway.

My shoes were gone, but on instinct I peered over the side of the bed and saw my sneakers sitting there, perfectly positioned on a fancy white rug with gold filigree.

My pores cooled with sweat as I looked around the unfamiliar bedroom, and my brain wracked with what the hell was going on. Where was I?

I slid off the bed, my legs shaky as I stood up.

I’d been at the firm. Working on the blueprints for the DeWitt Museum. Byron and Elise had ordered take-out for lunch for themselves, I went out instead, and—I pinched the bridge of my nose, my head pounding—and then…

Ugh, I don’t know. What happened?

Spotting a door ahead of me, I didn’t even bother to look around the rest of the room or see where the two other doors led. I grabbed my shoes and stumbled for what I guessed was the way out, and stepped into a hallway, the cool marble floor soothing on my bare feet.

I still went down the list in my head, though.

I didn’t drink.

I didn’t see anyone unusual.

I didn’t get any weird phone calls or packages. I didn’t...

I tried to swallow a few times, finally generating enough saliva. God, I was thirsty. And—a pang hit my stomach—hungry too. How long had I been out?

“Hello?” I called quietly but immediately regretted it.

Unless I’d had an aneurysm or developed selective amnesia, then I wasn’t here willingly.

But if I’d been taken or imprisoned, wouldn’t my door have been locked?

Bile stung my throat, every horror movie I’d ever seen playing various scenarios in my head.

Please, no cannibals. Please, no cannibals.

“Hi,” a small, hesitant voice said.

I followed the sound, peering across the hallway, over the banister, to the other side of the upstairs where another hall of rooms sat. A figure lurked in a dark corridor, slowly stepping onto the landing.

“Who is that?” I inched forward just a hair, blinking against the sleep still weighing on my eyes.

It was a man, I thought. Button-down shirt, short hair.

“Taylor,” he finally said. “Taylor Dinescu.”

Dinescu? As in, Dinescu Petroleum Corporation? It couldn’t be the same family.

I licked my lips, swallowing again. I really needed to find some water.

“Why am I not locked in my room?” he asked me, coming out of the darkness and stepping into the faint moonlight streaming through the windows.

He cocked his head, his hair disheveled and the tail of his wrinkled Oxford hanging out. “We’re not allowed around the women,” he said, sounding just as confused as me. “Are you with the doctor? Is he here?”

What the hell was he talking about? ‘We’re not allowed around the women.’ Did I hear that right? He sounded out of it, like he was on drugs or had been locked in a cell for the past fifteen years.

“Where am I?” I demanded.

He took a step in my direction, and I took one backward, scrambling to get my shoes on as I hopped on one foot.

He closed his eyes, inhaling as he inched closer. “Jesus,” he panted. “It’s been a while since I smelled that.”

Smelled what?

His eyes opened, and I noticed they were a piercing blue, even more striking under his mahogany hair.

“Who are you? Where am I?” I barked.

I didn’t recognize this guy.

He slithered closer, almost animalistic in his movements with a predatory look on his face now that made the hairs on my arms stand up.

He looked suddenly alert. Fuck.

I searched for some kind of weapon around me.

“The locations change,” he said, and I backed up a step for every step toward me he took. “But the name stays the same. Blackchurch.”

“What is that?” I asked. “Where are we? Am I still in San Francisco?”

He shrugged. “I can’t answer that. We could be in Siberia or ten miles from Disneyland,” he replied. “We’re the last ones to know. All we know is that it’s remote.”


Who else was here? Where were they?

And where the hell was I, for that matter? What was Blackchurch? It sounded vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t think right now.

How could he not know where he was? What city or state? Or country, even?

My God. Country. I was in America, right? I had to be.

I felt sick.

But water. I’d heard water when I woke, and I perked my ears, hearing the dull, steady pounding of it around us. Were we near a waterfall?

“There’s no one here with you?” he asked, as if he couldn’t believe that I was really standing here. “You shouldn’t be so close to us. They never let the females close to us.”

“What females?”

“The nurses, cleaners, staff…” he said. “They come once a month to resupply, but we’re confined to our rooms until they leave. Did you get left behind?”

I bared my teeth, losing my patience. Enough with the questions. I had no idea what the hell he was talking about, and my heart was pounding so hard, it hurt. They never let the females close to us. My God, why? I retreated toward the staircase, moving backward, so I didn’t take my eyes off him and started to descend as he advanced on me.

“I want to use the phone,” I told him. “Where is it?”

He just shook his head, and my heart sank.

“No computers, either,” he told me.

I stumbled on the step and had to grab the wall to steady myself. When I looked up, he was there, gazing down at me, his lips twitching with a grin.

“No, no…” I slid down a few more steps.

“Don’t worry,” he offered. “I just wanted a little sniff. He’ll want the first taste.”

He? I looked down the stairs, seeing a canister of umbrellas. Nice and pointy. That’ll do.

“We don’t get women here.” He got closer and closer. “Ones we can touch anyway.”

I backed up farther. If I bolted for a weapon, would he be able to grab me? Would he grab me?

“No women, no communication with the world,” he went on. “No drugs, liquor, or smokes, either.”

“What is Blackchurch?” I asked.

“A prison.”

I looked around, noticing the expensive marble floors, the fixtures and carpets, and the fancy, gold accents and statues.

“Nice prison,” I mumbled.

Whatever it was now, it clearly used to be someone’s home. A mansion or…a castle or something.

“It’s off the grid,” he sighed. “Where do you think CEOs and senators send their problem children when they need to get rid of them?”

“Senators…” I trailed off, something sparking in my memory.

“Some important people can’t have their sons—their heirs—making news by going to jail or rehab or being caught doing their dirty deeds,” he explained. “When we become liabilities, we’re sent here to cool off. Sometimes for months.” And then he sighed. “And some of us for years.”

Sons. Heirs.

And then it hit me.



No, he had to be lying. I remembered hearing about this place. But it was just an urban legend that wealthy men threatened their kids with to keep them in line. A secluded residence somewhere where sons were sent as punishment, but given free rein to be at each other’s mercy. It was like Lord of the Flies but with dinner jackets.

But it didn’t exist. Not really. Did it?

“There are more?” I asked. “More of you here?”

A wicked smile spread across his lips, curdling my stomach.

“Oh, several,” he crooned. “Grayson will be back with the hunting party tonight.”

I stopped dead in my tracks, lightheaded.

No, no, no…

Senators, he’d said.



“Grayson?” I muttered, more to myself. “Will Grayson?”

He was here?

But Taylor Dinescu, son of the owner of Dinescu Petroleum Corporation I now gathered, ignored my question. “We have everything we need to survive, but if we want meat, we have to hunt for it,” he explained.

That’s what Will—and the others—were out doing. Getting meat.

And I didn’t know if it was the look on my face or something else, but Taylor started laughing. A vile cackling that curled my fists tight.

“Why are you laughing?” I growled.

“Because no one knows you’re here, do they?” he taunted, sounding delighted. “And whoever does meant to leave you anyway. It’ll be a month before another resupply team shows up.”

I closed my eyes for a split second, his meaning clear.

“A whole month,” he mused.

His eyes fell down my body, and I absorbed the full implication of my situation.

I was in the middle of nowhere with who-knew-how-many men who’d been without any source of vice or contact with the outside world for who-knew-how-long, one of them who had a great desire to torture me if he ever got his hands on me again.

And, according to Taylor, I had little hope of any help for the next month.

Someone went to great lengths to bring me here and make sure my arrival went undetected. Was there really no attendant on the property? Security? Surveillance? Anyone with control of the prisoners?

I ground my teeth together, having no idea what the hell I was going to do, but I needed to do it fast.

But then I heard something, and I shot my eyes up to Taylor, barks and howls echoing outside.

“What is that?” I asked.

Wolves? The sounds were getting closer.

He shot his eyes up, looking at the front door behind me and then back in my direction. “The hunting party,” he replied. “They must be back early.”

The hunting party.


And how many other prisoners who might be just as creepy and threatening as this guy…

The howls were outside the house now, and I looked up at Taylor, unable to calm my breathing. What would happen when they came inside and saw me?

But he just smiled down at me. “Please, do run,” he said. “We’re dying for some fun.”

My heart sank. This wasn’t happening. This wasn’t happening.

I backed up as I headed down the stairs, keeping my eyes on him as he stalked me, liquid heat coursing in my veins.

“I want to talk to Will,” I demanded.

He might want to hurt me, but he wouldn’t. Would he?

If I could just talk to him…

But Taylor laughed, his blue eyes dancing with delight. “He can’t protect you, love.” And then the floor creaked upstairs, and Taylor tipped his head back, looking at the ceiling. “Aydin is awake.”

Aydin. Who?

But I didn’t care to stick around and find out. I didn’t know if I’d really be in danger with these guys, but I knew I wouldn’t be in any if I ran.

Leaping down the staircase, I swung around the banister and bolted toward the back of the house, hearing Taylor howl as I disappeared down a dark corridor, sweat already cooling my forehead.

This wasn’t happening. There had to be surveillance. I refused to believe Mommy and Daddy sent their heirs and assets here without some kind of insurance that they’d be safe. What if someone were injured? Or gravely ill?

This was a…a joke. A vastly inappropriate and lavish prank. It was almost Devil’s Night, and he was dealing me in. Finally.

Blackchurch wasn’t real. Will didn’t even believe this place existed in high school.

I passed rooms, some with one door, others with two, and some with none at all as the hallway splintered off into other hallways, and I didn’t know where the hell I was going. I just ran.

The rubber soles of my sneakers squeaked across the marble floors, and a tickle hit my nose at the stale scent of age. Nothing was warm here.

Walls changed from cream to maroon to black, rotting wallpaper fading in some areas and ceilings a mile high, as well as drapes falling down windows that were eight times my height.

But the light fixtures shone, casting a somber glow in every office, den, parlor, and game room I passed.

Stopping short, I took the second right and dashed down the hall, thankful for the silence, but also unnerved by it. They were outside the door moments ago. They had to be in the house now. Why wasn’t I hearing anything?


My muscles burning and my lungs tight, I couldn’t hold back the groan as I stumbled into the last room at the end of the hall and ran to the window. I lifted it open, the crisp air rushing in and breezing through the drapes. I shivered, seeing the vast green forest, almost black in the night beyond the window.

Hemlocks. I looked out, scanning the terrain. There were red spruces and white pines, too. The moist scent of moss hit me, and I hesitated. I wasn’t in California anymore. These trees were native to land much farther north.

And we weren’t in Thunder Bay. We weren’t anywhere near Thunder Bay.

Leaving the window open, I backed away, thinking twice. The chill in the air blew through my short-sleeved white blouse, and I had no idea where I was, how far from civilization, or what kind of elements I’d run into unprotected.

I ran back out of the room, pinning myself to the wall and quietly stepping down the corridor, keeping my eyes peeled. Think, think, think…

We had to be close to a town. There were paintings on these walls, priceless antiques, massive chandeliers, and a hell of a lot of money that went into furnishing and decorating this place.

It hadn’t always been a prison.

No one would spend this kind of money on something a bunch of little frat shits were going to trash. It was someone’s home, and they wouldn’t have built it leagues away from town. A home like this is for entertaining. There was a ballroom, for Christ’s sake.

I wrung my hands. I couldn’t care less who dumped me here. Right now, I just needed to get somewhere safe.

And then I heard it.

A call—a howl—above me. I stopped, my blood freezing. Tipping my head up, I followed the sound as it drifted from my left to my right, my pulse skipping a beat as the floorboards above whined with weight.

Simultaneously. In several places.

They were upstairs, and there was more than one. Taylor saw me run this way. Why would they be upstairs?

And then I remembered what else was upstairs. Aydin.

Taylor spoke of him like he was a threat. Were they going to him first?

An echo of a voice traveled down the hall, and I trained my ears, the window behind me beckoning.

Another cry echoed farther down, possibly from the foyer, and then another howl somewhere around me.

I twisted around, dizzy. What the hell was going on? The nerves under my skin fired, and I forced myself to swallow as bile churned in my stomach.

They were spreading out.

Wolves. I paused, remembering the howls outside. It was like wolves. A pack separates to surround its prey and test for weaknesses. They flank the sides and the rear.

Tears hung at the corners of my eyes, and lifted my chin, pushing them away. Will.

How long had he been here? Where were his friends? Did he have me brought here as revenge? What the hell?

I told him not to push me all those years ago. I warned him. This wasn’t my fault. He got himself put here.

I dove into a billiards room, grabbed a cricket bat off the wall, and crept back out, hugging the walls with my back and darting my eyes all around for any sign of them. Chills spread up my arms, and despite the cold, a light layer of sweat covered my neck. Training my ears, I listened as I took one quiet step after another.

A thud hit the floor above me, and I sucked in a breath, shooting my eyes to the ceiling again as I trailed behind the stairs.

What the hell was going on?

A blue hue, like moonlight streaming through a window, lit the dark marble floor down the hallway, and I followed it, heading to the back of the house.

I inhaled, a sting hitting my nose. Sterile, like bleach. Taylor said the cleaners and staff just left.

My knees shook, and my heart hammered in my chest. I felt like I was already walled in, and I didn’t even know it.

“Here!” someone shouted.

I gasped, flattening myself to the wall as I slipped around a corner.

Peering back around it, I spotted shadows moving along the wall as they found my open window.

“She’s running!” one of them shouted.

I exhaled, fisting my hands. Yes. They thought I crawled out the window.

Their footfalls pounded across the floor, racing back toward the foyer, hopefully, and I clasped my hand over my mouth as they faded away.

Thank God.

I didn’t wait another moment. I ran and ran, finding the kitchen in the southwest corner of the house. Leaving the lights off, I dashed for the refrigerator and swung it open, racks of fruits and vegetables shifting with the motion.

I looked around, gaping at the size for a moment. It was a walk-in. I thought Taylor said they had to hunt for their meat. There was a shitload of food right here.

I stepped inside the space, the immediate temperature change making me shiver as I scanned the shelves of food, all looking freshly stocked. Cheeses, bread, deli meats, butter, milk, carrots, squash, cucumbers, tomatoes, grapes, bananas, mangoes, lettuce, blueberries, yogurt, hummus, steaks, hams, whole chickens, burgers…

And this wasn’t counting the pantry they probably had, too.

Why would they have to hunt?

Wasting no more time, I grabbed the netted bag hanging inside and dumped out the produce it stored, quickly stocking it with two bottles of water, an apple and some cheese. Maybe I should bring more, but I couldn’t take the weight right now.

Diving back out of the fridge, I tied the bag closed and raced to the window, inching up on my tiptoes and seeing flashlights dance across the vast lawn.

I almost smiled. I had time to find a coat or sweater and get the hell out of here before they got back.

Spinning on the ball of my foot, I took a step, but then I saw him standing right there, a dark form leaning against the door frame to the kitchen, staring at me.

I halted, my heart leaping into my throat.

At least I thought he was staring at me. His face was hidden in shadow.

My lungs froze, aching.

And then I remembered…wolves. They surround you.

All except one. He came at you from the front.

“Come here,” he said in a low voice.

My hands shook, knowing that voice. And those exact words he’d said to me that one night.


He stepped into the kitchen, moonlight casting a dim glow on his face, and something inside me ached.

He was big in high school, but now…

I swallowed, trying to wet my dry mouth.

A light spatter of raindrops glimmered on top of his messy but trimmed head of chocolate hair, and I’d never seen him with scruff on his face before, but it made him look harder—and more dangerous—in ways I didn’t realize would look so good on him.

His chest was broader, his arms in his black hoodie thicker, and he brought up his hands, using a cloth to wipe off blood that coated his fingers. Tattoos adorned the backs of his hands, disappearing up the sleeve of his sweatshirt.

He didn’t have any tattoos the last time I saw him.

The night he was arrested.

Where was the blood from? Hunting?

I backed away as he slowly advanced, but he wasn’t looking at me as he approached, just gazing at his hands as he cleaned them.

The cricket bat. Where was it?

I blinked long and hard. Shit. I’d set it down on the fridge floor when I packed the food.

I flashed my eyes to the refrigerator, gauging the distance.

Searching the counters, I spotted a trio of glass apothecary jars and reached out, swiping one onto the floor between us. It crashed, shattering everywhere, and he paused a moment, a smile in his eyes as I continued to back away, making my way for the fridge.

“This won’t end with you in my sleeping bag this time,” he warned.

I grabbed another jar and shoved it to the floor, backing up some more and closing the distance. If he charged me, he’d slip on the glass.

“Don’t make promises you can’t keep,” I taunted. “You’re still not the alpha.”

The dark eyebrow above one of his eyes cocked, but he didn’t stop, continuing toward me.

The pulse in my neck thumped, my stomach swimming, but…as the glass crunched under his shoe and his gaze held mine, the pulse between my legs throbbed, and I almost cried.

“Do you know why I’m here?” I asked.

“Have you been bad?”

I locked my jaw, but I remained silent.

A wicked smile spread across his face, and I knew this was it. I didn’t think it would happen like this, but I always knew it was coming.

“You know,” I said. “Don’t you?”

He nodded. “Don’t you want to explain?”

“Would it matter?”

He shook his head.

I gulped. Yeah, didn’t think so.

He served two-and-a-half years in prison because of me. And not just him. His best friends, Damon Torrance and Kai Mori, too.

I dropped my eyes for a moment, knowing he didn’t deserve it, but I also knew I wouldn’t have done anything differently if I could. I’d told him to stay away from me. I’d warned him.

“I wish I’d never met you,” I said, almost whispering.

He stopped, glass grinding under him. “Believe me, girl, the feeling is fucking mutual.”

I backed up, but my hand brushed my leg, and I felt something in my pocket. I continued making my way for the fridge, but I reached into my pants and pulled out the hunk of metal, seeing a folding knife with a black handle.

Where did this come from?

I didn’t carry knives.

I dropped the net and unsheathed the blade, holding it out in front of me, but he shot out and grabbed my wrist, prying my fingers open. I fought against it, trying to keep the weapon, but he was too strong. I cried out as I couldn’t hold it anymore and it fell to the floor, clanking on the marble.

Whipping me around, he fisted my collar and brought me in, pinning me between his body and the counter.

He looked down into my eyes, and I breathed hard, a lock of hair brushing against my mouth.

“You like alphas?” he challenged me.

I sharpened my eyes on him. “We want what we want.”

He glared, those words far more familiar than he wanted to remember, and if I weren’t so fucking scared, I’d laugh.

Growling, he picked me up and threw me over his shoulder. “Time to meet one then,” he said.


Nine Years Ago

“Why are you quitting?”

I stood there, avoiding my coach’s eyes as I gripped the strap of my bookbag that hung across my chest.

“I don’t have time,” I told her. “I’m sorry.”

I risked a glance, seeing her gaze hard on me under the short blonde hair hanging just over her eyes. “You made a commitment,” she argued. “We need you.”

I shifted on my feet, a curtain of self-loathing covering every inch of me.

This was shitty. I knew that.

I was good at swimming. I could help the team, and she put a lot of work into training me over the last year. I didn’t want to quit.

But she’d just have to deal with it. I couldn’t explain, even if not explaining meant that she’d misunderstand my silence as being irresponsible and selfish.

The voices of all the girls outside the office filled the locker room as they got ready for practice, and I felt her eyes on me, waiting for a response.

It was useless, though. I wasn’t going to change my mind.

“Is there something else going on?” she asked.

I squeezed the strap across my chest, the fabric cutting into my hand.

But I drew a deep breath and pushed my glasses back up the bridge of my nose, straightening my spine. “No one’s giving me a scholarship for swimming,” I spat out. “I need to spend my time doing things that will get me into college. This was a waste.”

Before she could fire back, or the look on her face made this hurt worse, I spun around and pulled open her door, leaving her office.

Tears lodged in my throat, but I pushed them down.

This sucked. I was going to pay for this. It wasn’t over. I knew that.

But I had no choice.

The ache in my back fired up as I stalked through the locker room, and I slammed my hand into the door, feeling the pain in my wrist shoot up my arm before stepping into the hallway.

But I pushed through it, ignoring the discomfort as I headed down the nearly empty corridor.

I was glad I got out of there before she asked why I wasn’t quitting band, too. Band wouldn’t get me into college, either. I wasn’t that good.

It was just all I had left now that got me out of the house, and I didn’t have to wear a swimsuit to do it.

I chewed on my lip, a ten-ton truck sitting on my shoulders as I stared at the floor. I headed for my locker without looking where I was going, because I’d walked this path a million times. Just keep it together. Time would pass. Life would move on. I was heading in the right direction.

Just keep going.

A few students milled around the halls, here early because of clubs or other sports, and I reached my locker, dialing in the combination. It was still a bit before the first class started, but I could go hide in the library to kill time. It was better than being home.

Emptying my bag of my math and physics that I’d finished last night, I pulled my binder, my lit book, my copy of Lolita, and my Spanish text from my locker, holding everything in one arm as I dug on the top shelf for my pencil bag.

He was going to find out I’d quit. Maybe I had a few days’ peace before that happened, but a knot tightened in my stomach, and I could still taste the coppery cut in my mouth from two days ago.

He was going to find out. He wouldn’t want me to quit swimming, and pointing out why I had to would only make him angrier.

I blinked a few times, no longer really searching for my pens or pencils as the searing pain under my hair from the other night raced across my scalp again.

I hadn’t cried when he pulled it.

But I retreated. I always flinched.

Laughter went off somewhere down the hall, and I glanced over, seeing some students loitering against the lockers. Girls in their school uniforms, skirts rolled up much shorter than the three inches above the knee we were allowed, and blouses too tight under their navy blue jackets.

I narrowed my eyes.

With heads together and smiling as they joked around with the guys, the whole group looked about as shallow as a rain puddle. Never deep enough to be more than what it was.

Shallow, boring, tedious, ignorant, and insipid. All the rich kids here were like that.

I watched Kenzie Lorraine lean into Nolan Thomas, her mouth moving over his like she was melting into him. She whispered against his lips, and his white teeth flashed through his little grin before he slid his hands around her waist and leaned back against the lockers. My heart skipped a small beat, and I felt my pencil bag, absently sliding it into my satchel without taking my eyes off them.

Shallow, boring, tedious, ignorant, and insipid.

I blinked, my expression softening as I watched them.

Happy, excited, brave, wild, and in heaven.

They looked seventeen.

And suddenly, for a moment, I wished I was them. Anyone other than me. No wonder hardly anyone at this school liked me. I was even tired of myself.

Wouldn’t it be fantastic to be really happy for just five minutes?

Her friends hung around, talking to his, but I only saw him and her, wondering how it felt. Even if it wasn’t true love, it had to feel good to be wanted.

But just then, Nolan opened his eyes. He looked over at me, meeting my gaze head on as if he knew I was here the whole time. The vein in my neck pounded, and I was frozen.


He didn’t stop kissing her, though, holding my eyes as they moved together. Then…he winked at me, and I could see his smile through the kiss.

I rolled my eyes and looked away. Great. Emory Scott was a pervert. That’s what he’d say. Just what I needed.

I turned back to my locker, embarrassed, and slammed the door.

Everything ached, and I arched my back, trying to stretch the muscles, but just as I turned around to leave, a fist came down and knocked my books out of my arms.

I sucked in a breath, startled as I retreated a step on instinct.

Miles Anderson glared at me as he passed, but a smirk curled his lips, too.

“See something you like, stupid?” he taunted.

I clenched my jaw, trying to get control of the pounding in my chest, but the sudden fright made my stomach roll as his friends followed him, laughing.

His blond hair laid haphazardly over his forehead, while his blue eyes trailed down my form, and I knew exactly what he was taking stock of.

The outdated plaid pattern of my secondhand skirt.

The missing button on the cuff of my blouse that was two sizes too big.

My faded blue blazer with little pieces of thread sticking off the patch-ups I had to do from the previous owner.

My worn shoes, from all the walking because I had no car, and how I never wore makeup or did anything with my dark hair that just hung down my arms and in my face.

So much different than how he looked. How they all looked.

Little shits. I let Anderson have his pathetic fun, because it was the only time he had any power. One thing I could be grateful to the Horsemen for.

I hated how this school was their own personal playground, but when they were around, Miles Anderson didn’t pull shit like that. I could bet he was probably counting the days until they graduated so he could take over the basketball team.

And Thunder Bay Prep.

Clenching my jaw, I crouched down and gathered up my books, stuffing everything into my bag.

But a light sweat covered my face all of a sudden, and I felt sick. Pushing myself to my feet, I blew out a breath and hurried for the bathroom, the closest one up the stairs and down the hall.

My stomach filled with something, the burn of the bile rising up my throat growing stronger. Throwing my weight into the door, I pushed through and dove into a stall, leaning over the toilet and heaving.

I lurched, the vomit rising just enough to taste the acid, but it wouldn’t come up any farther. I coughed, my eyes watering as I gasped.

I pushed my glasses up on top of my head, holding the sides of the stall as I drew in breath after breath to calm down.

I rubbed my eyes. Shit.

I fought back sometimes.

When it didn’t matter and when I wasn’t really threatened.

I wiped my brow and flushed the toilet on habit, exiting the stall and walking to the sink. Turning on the water, I dipped my hands underneath the faucet, but then I paused, my energy to even splash water on my face now gone. I just turned it off and left the bathroom, wiping my hands dry on my skirt.

I was too tired, and the day had barely started.

But as soon as I opened the door, someone stood there, and I stopped short, looking at Trevor Crist. He smiled at me as I fisted the strap of my bag, staring at him.

He was only a freshman, two years my junior, but he was already my height and looked absolutely nothing like his brother. Fake, plastic eyes that didn’t match his smile, and dark blond hair that was as perfectly styled as his tie was positioned.

He looked like his name should be Chad. What the hell did he want?

He held out a blue notebook, and I recognized the frayed notes and loose papers inside, highlighted with scribbled yellow marker. I darted my eyes back down the hall toward my locker.

I must’ve left it behind when that jackass knocked everything out of my hands.

I took the notebook, stuffing it into my bag. “Thank you,” I mumbled.

“I got it all, but I can’t be sure it’s in order,” he said. “Some of the papers fell out.”

I barely heard him, noticing the hallways filling with more students, and Mr. Townsend make his way for my first class.

“Trevor Crist.” The kid held out his hand.

“I know.”

And I walked past him, ignoring his hand.

Heading a few yards down the hall, I held open the door, following another student inside, and scanned the classroom for the safest seat. In the corner, at the rear and near the windows, an empty desk sat surrounded by students at every available angle—Roxie Harris next to me, Jack Leister in front of me, and Drew Hannigan kitty-corner.

I ran for it.

I slid into the seat, the legs of the desk skidding across the floor as I dropped my bag to the ground.

“Ugh,” Roxie groaned beside me, but I ignored her as I dug my materials out of my bag.

And she started to pack up her things.

The classroom filled, chatter and laughter pouring in as Mr. Townsend stood, hovering over his desk and going through his notes.

But Roxie didn’t even have time to clear out of her seat before they were there. Drifting through the door, tall, magnetic, and always together.

I turned my head toward the window, closing my eyes behind my glasses and holding my breath as I quickly pulled my earbuds out of my jacket pocket and stuck them in my ears.

Anything to look unapproachable.

Please, please, please…

The prayer was too late, though. I could feel Roxie, Jack, and Drew’s eye rolls as they sighed and grabbed their shit, vacating their seats without even being asked, like it was my fault these guys insisted on completely crowding me no matter where I sat in this damn room.

Kai Mori slid into Jack’s seat ahead of me, while Damon Torrance took the seat diagonally from me.

I didn’t have to look up to see their dark hair, and I could always tell who was who without checking because Kai smelled like amber musk and the ocean, while Damon smelled like an ashtray.

Michael Crist had probably planted himself somewhere close, but it was the last body, passing me in the aisle and planting himself in the seat next to me in what should’ve been Roxie’s seat, that made my heart beat faster.

I could feel his eyes on me as I stared out the window.

If I knew we were going to share classes when the administration decided to move me to senior English a few weeks back—a year ahead of schedule—I would’ve said no. No matter what my brother wanted.

I was pretty sure they only moved me, because I was “difficult” last year and they thought challenging me would put a cork in my mouth.

They were all finding out that wasn’t true.

“You’re out of uniform,” I heard some girl whisper.

And then I heard Will Grayson’s voice heating the back of my neck. “I’m in disguise,” he told her.

“That piece of shit has a hard-on for you or something,” Damon added. “Every time he sees you, he wants to get you alone.”

I clenched my fingers around my notebook and pencil.

“In his defense,” Kai chimed in, “it was you who put the ‘Sorry, I hit your car’ notes on people’s vehicles all over town with his phone number on them.”

Damon snorted and then burst out laughing, while Will breathed out a self-satisfied chuckle.

Assholes. My brother’s phone rang all damn night last night because of that prank. And when he’s aggravated, he shows it.

“So, what do you say, Em?” Will prodded, finally engaging me like he could never stop himself from doing. “Is your brother hot for me? He’s certainly on my ass enough.”

I remained silent, absently opening my notebook as people got situated in their seats and talked around us.

Everyone in this school hated my brother. Their money and connections had no effect on his willingness as a police officer to hand out speeding tickets, parking tickets, investigate noise complaints, or shut down parties and drinking as soon as he got a whiff of anything going down.

My brother was a jerk for doing his job, and when they couldn’t come at him, they came at me.

I saw Will dig something out of his pocket, and I watched him unwrap a piece of candy and lift it to his mouth, peeling the sweet off the paper with his teeth.

His eyes never left me.

“Take out your earbuds,” he ordered me as he chewed.

I narrowed my gaze.

“And stop acting like you’re listening to music and that’s why you can’t be bothered to deal with the people around you,” he bit out.

Every muscle in my body tensed, and when I didn’t listen, he tossed his wrapper onto the floor and leaned over, yanking the cord and pulling the earbuds out of my ears.

I startled, sitting up straight.

But I didn’t shrink. Not with him.

Now…he had my fucking attention.

Grabbing the cord from where it hung down to the floor, I rose from my desk, picked up my notebook and bag, and started to leave.

But then his hands were on me, pulling me down into his lap.

Everything in my arms tumbled to the floor, and liquid fire coursed under my skin.


I gritted my teeth and shoved at him as Kai sighed and Damon snickered, neither one stopping him, though.

I struggled against him, but he simply tightened his hold, turning his face away from my attack.

Will, Kai, Damon, and Michael. The Four Horsemen.

I just loved these nicknames little wannabe gangsters gave themselves in high school, but someone should really tell them it wasn’t scary when you had to tell everyone how scary you were.

Every school had these guys, too. A little money, some connected moms and dads, and pretty faces without hearts to match. None of that was really their fault, I guessed.

What was their fault was that they took full advantage of it. Wouldn’t it be fun if anyone ever said no to them? If one of them ever paid for a mistake? Or ever said no to a drink, a drug, or a girl?

But no. Same story. Shallow, boring, tedious, ignorant, and insipid.

And while others may give in or pathetically protest before finally giving in, I wasn’t interested.

And he hated that.

I could scream. Get the teacher’s attention. Make a scene. But he’d only get the laughs he craved, and I’d get the attention I didn’t.

“Wipe that fucking glare off your face,” he warned.

I locked my jaw, not doing a damn thing he said.

He dropped his voice to a whisper. “I know I may seem like the nicest one, and you probably think I regret the shit I give you sometimes, and someday I’ll wake up and reevaluate my life and its purpose, but I won’t. I sleep like a baby at night.”

“You wake every two hours and cry?” I asked.

There was a snort behind me, but I didn’t look away as Will’s eyes sharpened on me. School was always the one place I had a reprieve.

Until I got to high school.

I rolled my wrists inside his fists, trying to pry him off. “Let me go.”

“Why are your cuffs wet?”

His gaze fell and he forced my arm up, so he could look closer.

I didn’t answer.

He looked back up at me. “And your eyes are red.”

My throat tightened, but I gritted my teeth together and yanked my wrists free.

But before I could escape from his lap, he grabbed my chin in one hand and wrapped his other arm around my waist, pulling me in. Against his body, and whispering so softly no one could hear him but me.

“Don’t you know that you can have anything you want?” His eyes searched mine. “I’ll hurt anyone for you.”

The weight on my chest was too heavy, it almost hurt to breathe.

“Who is it?” he asked. “Who do I have to hurt?”

My eyes burned. Why did he do this? He’d soften and tempt me with the fantasy that I wasn’t alone and maybe—possibly—there was hope.

His scent hit me. Bergamot and blue cypress, and I looked up at his brown hair, perfectly styled and rich against his perfect skin and dark brows. Black lashes framed eyes that looked like the leaves surrounding a lagoon on some stupid island somewhere, and for a moment, I was lost.

Just for a moment.

“God, please,” I finally said. “Get yourself a life, Will Grayson. You’re pathetic.”

And his beautiful eyes instantly hardened as he lifted his chin. He pushed me off his lap and shoved me back toward my desk. “Sit down.”

He almost sounded hurt, and I nearly laughed. Probably disappointed I’m not stupid enough to fall for his shit. What was he planning? Gain my trust, lure me to Homecoming, and watch as they dumped pig’s blood all over me?

Nah, not original enough. Will Grayson had more imagination. I’d give him that, at least.

“All right, let’s go ahead and get started,” Mr. Townsend said, clearing his throat

I grabbed my bag and notebook off the floor and slid back into my chair, tucking my earbuds into my pocket.

“Take out your books,” he instructed as he took a quick sip of his coffee and flipped a paper on his desk.

Will just sat there, staring silently ahead, and I faltered for a moment as I watched the muscle flex in his jaw.

Whatever. I rolled my eyes and dug out my copy of Lolita as the rest of the class found theirs. Except Will, because he hadn’t bothered to bring a bag or books today.

“We’ve talked about Humbert being an unreliable narrator in the book.” Townsend took another drink of coffee. “How we are all the righteous heroes of our own story if we’re the ones telling it.”

I heard Will draw in and release a breath. I focused on the back of Kai Mori’s neck, usually fascinated by how precise and clean the lines of his trim were.

I was having trouble concentrating today.

Townsend continued, “And how often a matter of right or wrong is simply just a matter of perspective. To a fox, the hound is the villain. To a hound, the wolf. To a wolf, a human, and so on.”

Oh, please. Humbert Humbert was derailed.

And a criminal. Fox, hound, wolf, whatever.

“He believes he’s in love with Lo.” The teacher circled his desk and leaned against the front, his paperback curled in his fist. “But he’s not completely ignorant of his crime, either. He says,” —he flipped open his book, reading from it—“‘I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita.’” He looked up at the class. “What did he mean?”

“That she’d grow up,” Kai answered. “And no longer be sexually attractive to him because he’s a pedophile.”

I smirked to myself. Kai was kind of my favorite Horseman, if I had to pick one.

Townsend considered Kai’s thoughts, but then prompted another student.

“Do you agree?”

The girl shrugged. “I think he meant that we change, and she would, too. It’s not that she’s growing up. It’s that she’ll outgrow him, and he’s scared.”

Which was probably what Humbert actually meant, but I liked Kai’s assessment better.

The teacher nodded and then jerked his chin at another student. “Michael?”

Michael Crist looked up, sounding lost. “What?”

Damon snorted at his friend, and I shook my head.

Townsend hooded his eyes, looking impatient, before restating his question. “What do you think he meant when he said she wouldn’t be forever Lolita?”

Michael remained silent for a moment. I almost wondered if he would answer.

“He loves the idea of her,” he finally told Townsend, sounding finite. “When she eventually faded from him, the dream of her would still be there, haunting him. That’s what he meant.”

Huh. Not an entirely poor assessment. And I thought Kai would be the only one of them who’d actually read the book.

Townsend shifted, flipping to another page and read, “She says, ‘He broke my heart. You merely broke my life.’ What is she telling him?”

Everyone kept silent.

The teacher scanned the room, looking for a flicker from any of us. “You merely broke my life,” he repeated.

Needles pricked my throat, and I dropped my eyes. You broke my life.

A student sighed from a seat near the door. “She willingly indulged him,” he argued. “Yeah, it was wrong, but this is an issue today. Women can’t just decide after the fact that they were abused. She was willingly sexual with him.”

“Minors can’t consent,” Kai pointed out.

“What, so you magically become emotionally and mentally mature when you turn eighteen?” Will replied, suddenly entering the conversation. “Just happens overnight, does it?”

“She was a child, Will.” Kai turned in his seat, debating his friend. “In Humbert’s head, he demands sympathy from us, and most readers give it, because he tells them to. Because we’re willing to forgive anyone anything if they’re attractive to us.”

I stared at my desk, not blinking.

“He doesn’t have a thing for Lo,” Kai continued. “He has a thing for young girls. It’s not an isolated incident. She was abused.”

“And she left him to go shack up with a child pornographer, Kai,” Will spat out. “If she were being abused, why didn’t she have the sense to not put herself back in that situation?”

I rubbed my thumb over the paperback cover, hearing it skid across the gloss. My chin trembled, my eyes stinging a little.

“I mean, why would she do that?” Will asked.

“That’s what I’m saying,” another student chimed in.

Words hung on the tip of my tongue, telling them that they were oversimplifying. That it was easier to judge a girl you knew nothing about than to allow someone the dignity of their process. That it was more convenient to not consider that there were things we didn’t know and things we’d never understand, because we were shallow and entitled and ignorant.

That you stayed, because…


“Abuse can feel like love.”

I blinked, the voice so close that my ears tingled. Slowly, I raised my eyes to look at the side of Damon Torrance’s face, his shirt wrinkled, and his tie draped around his neck.

The whole class fell silent, and I glanced at Will next to me, seeing his eyebrows pinched together as he looked at the back of his friend’s head.

Mr. Townsend approached. “Abuse can feel like love…” he repeated. “Why?”

Damon remained so still it didn’t look like he was breathing.

He looked at the teacher, unwavering. “Starving people will eat anything.”

I stilled as his words hung in the air, and for a second, I felt warm. He wasn’t completely devoid of brain cells maybe.

Feeling eyes on me, I turned my head, seeing Will’s gaze focused on my leg.

I looked down, finding my fingers curled around the hem of my skirt, the scratches and part of a bruise visible on my thigh. My pulse quickened, and I yanked my skirt back down to my knee.

“Flip to the last chapter, please,” Townsend called. “And take out the packet.”

But the bruise pounded with pain, and I suddenly couldn’t breathe.

Don’t you know you can have anything you want? I’d hurt anyone you asked me to.

My chin trembled. I had to get out of here.

Abuse can feel like love…

I shook my head, stuffing my materials back into my bag, standing up, and hooking it over my head as I charged down the aisle and toward the door.

“Where are you going?”

I turned my head toward the teacher. “To finish the book and the constructed responses in the library.”

I kept walking, blinking away the tears hanging in my eyes.

“Emory Scott,” the teacher called.

“Or you can explain to my brother why my SAT scores will be shit,” I said, walking backward with my glare on him, “because they’re dominating ninety-eight percent of every conversation in this class.” I gestured to the Horsemen. “Text me any additional assignments, if we have them.”

I pushed the door open, hearing whispers go off in class.

“Emory Scott,” the teacher barked.

I looked over my shoulder at Townsend, seeing him hold out a pink slip.

“You know what to do,” he scolded.

Strolling back in, I snatched the referral from his fingers. “At least I’ll get some work done,” I retorted.

Dean’s office or library, it made no difference.

Walking out of the room, I couldn’t help but glance back at Will Grayson, seeing him slouched in his seat, chin on his hand, and covering a smile with his fingers.

He held my eyes until I left the room.

• • •

Walking down the sidewalk, I didn’t raise my eyes as I turned left and headed up the walkway toward my house. I blinked long and hard for the last few steps, my head floating up into the trees as the afternoon breeze rustled the leaves. I loved that sound.

The wind was foreboding. It made it feel like something was about to happen, but in a way that I liked.

Opening my eyes, I climbed my steps and looked right, not seeing my brother’s cruiser in the driveway yet. The heat in my stomach cooled slightly, the muscles relaxing just a hair.

I had a little time, at least.

What a shit day. I’d skipped lunch and hid in the library, and after classes were done, I struggled through band practice, not wanting to be there, but not wanting to come home, either. Hunger pangs rocked my stomach, but it took the edge off the pain everywhere else.

I looked back at my street, taking in the quiet avenue, decorated with maples, oaks, and chestnuts, bursting with their finale of oranges, yellows, and reds. Leaves danced to the ground as the wind shook them free, and the scent of the sea and a bonfire somewhere drifting through my nose.

Most of the kids like me were bussed to Concord to attend the public high school there, since our population in Thunder Bay was too small to support two high schools, but my brother wanted the best for me, so TBP was where I stayed.

Despite the fact that we weren’t wealthy, he paid a little, I work-studied a lot, and the rest of my tuition was waived as my brother was a public servant. The wealth and privilege my private high school matriculated was supposed to be a better education. I wasn’t seeing it. I still sucked at literature, and the only class I really enjoyed was independent study, because I could be alooooooone.

On my own, I learned a lot.

I didn’t mind that I didn’t fit in, or that we weren’t rich. We had a beautiful house. Turn-of-the-century, three-story (well, four if you counted the basement), red brick Victorian with gray trim. It was more than big enough, and it had been in our family for three generations. My great-grandparents built it in the thirties, and my grandmother has lived here since she was seven.

Opening the door, I immediately kicked off my boots and jogged upstairs, throwing the door closed behind me as I went.

Passing my brother’s room, I pulled off my school bag and dropped it just inside my door before continuing down the hall, softening my steps just in case.

I stopped at my grandmother’s door, leaning on the frame. The nurse, Mrs. Butler, looked up from her paperback, another wartime thriller from the looks of the cover, and smiled, her chair ceasing its rocking.

I offered a tight smile back and then looked over to the bed. “How’s she been?” I asked the nurse as I stepped quietly toward my grandma.

Mrs. Butler rose from the chair. “Hanging in there.”

I looked down, seeing her stomach shake a little and her lips purse just slightly with every breath she expelled. Wrinkles creased nearly every inch of her face, but I knew if I touched it, the skin would be softer than a baby’s. The scent of cherries and almonds washed over me, and I stroked her hair, smelling the shampoo Mrs. Butler used for her bath today.

Grand-Mère. The one person who meant everything to me.

For her, I stayed.

My eyes dropped, noticing the wine-colored fingernails the nurse must’ve painted today when she couldn’t convince my grandma to go with a nice, gentle mauve. I couldn’t hold back the small smile.

“Had to put her on oxygen for a bit,” Mrs. Butler added. “But she’s okay now.”

I nodded, watching her sleep.

My brother was convinced she’d go any day now, the occasions she was able to get out of bed fewer and fewer.

She was sticking around, though. Thank goodness.

“She likes the records,” Butler told me.

I looked over at the stack of vinyls, some stuffed haphazardly back into their sleeves laying alongside the old turntable. I’d found the whole lot at an estate sale last weekend. Thought she’d get a kick out of it, fifties baby that she was.

Well, she wasn’t born in the fifties. She was way older than that. But she was a teen in the fifties.

Mrs. Butler gathered her purse, pulling out her keys. “You’ll be okay?”

I nodded, but I didn’t look at her.

She left, and I stayed with Grandma for a bit longer, making sure I had her pills and shot ready for later, and I opened the window a few inches, letting in some fresh air, which Mrs. Butler asked us not to do, since the allergens in the air could aggravate her breathing.

Grandma said, “To hell with it.” This was her favorite time of year, and she loved the sounds and smells. I didn’t want to make her miserable merely to continue a life of misery.

Bringing up the room’s camera on my phone, I left the door open a crack, grabbed my bag from my room, and headed downstairs, starting the water boiling on the stove. I set the phone on the kitchen table, keeping an eye on her in case she needed me, and laid out my books, going through the easy stuff first.

I logged onto my laptop, requesting all the books I’d need from the public library, a few from Meridian City that Thunder Bay didn’t have, all for my history report, and drew up my outline. I finished the WebQuest and packet for physics, completed my reading for Spanish, and then stopped to chop and sauté vegetables before starting literature.

Literature… I still hadn’t done the constructed responses and they were due tomorrow.

It’s not that I didn’t like the class. It’s not that I didn’t like books.

I just didn’t like old books. Third person, wonky paragraphs a mile long, and some dumb academic trying to force me to believe there’s profound meaning in the author’s overwritten description of a piece of furniture I don’t give two shits about. I’m pretty sure the author doesn’t even know what they were trying to do in the first place, and they were probably just high on laudanum when they wrote it.

Or soothing syrup or absinthe or whatever the kids were doing in those days.

They push this shit down our throats as if there were no quality stories being written anymore, and this was it for us. The House of the Seven Gables is what Caitlyn the Cutter, who sits three seats down from me, was supposed to find relevance in? Got it.

Of course, Lolita wasn’t that old. It just sucked, and I’m pretty sure it sucked in 1955, too. I’ll ask my grandma.

I soaked the pasta, cooked the peppers and onions, and fired up the meat, mixing everything together before popping it in the oven. After making a salad, I set the timer and pulled out the worksheet, reading the first question.

But then lights flashed, and I shot my gaze up, seeing a car turn into our driveway from out the window. Rain glittered in front of the headlights, and I jumped to my feet, closing my books and piling my papers, stuffing everything into my bag.

Heat curdled my stomach.

Shit. Sometimes he pulled a double shift or got caught up with a matter or two, and I was blessed with a night without him.

Not tonight, it seemed.

I pinched my thighs together, feeling like I was about to pee my pants, and threw my bookbag into the dining room where we never ate. I quickly set the table, and as the front door opened, I spun around and pretended to fluff the salad.

“Emory!” Martin called out.

I couldn’t stop my stomach from sinking like it did every day, but I plastered a bright smile on my face and peeked my head through the open kitchen doorway and down the hall.

“Hey!” I chirped. “Is it raining again?”

Just then, I realized I’d left my grandmother’s window opened. Dammit. I’d need to find a minute to run and close it before it soaked the floor and gave him an excuse.

“Yeah,” he sighed. “’Tis the season, right?”

I forced a chuckle. Droplets flew everywhere as he shook out his coat, and I watched him hang it up on the coat rack and head down the hallway toward the kitchen, his wet shoes squeaking across the wooden floor.

I had to remove my shoes at the door. He didn’t.

I pulled my head back, straightening and blowing out a steady breath. Picking up the salad and tossing forks, I spread my lips in a smile. “I was thinking of going jogging around the village later,” I told him, setting the bowl on the table.

He stopped, loosening his tie and giving me the side-eye. “You?”

“I can run,” I feigned, arguing. “For a few minutes.”

He breathed out a laugh and walked to the fridge, taking out the milk and pouring himself a glass.

“Smells good.” He carried his glass to the table and sat down. “Is your homework done?”

His silver badge glinted under the light of the overhead bulbs, his form in his black uniform seeming to grow larger and larger by the second.

Martin and I were never close. Eight years older than me, he was already used to being an only child by the time I came along, and when our parents passed away about five years ago, he’d had to take care of everything. At least he got the house.

I cleared my throat. “Almost. I have some lit questions to double-check after dishes.”

I hadn’t completed them at all, actually, but I always embellished. It was like second nature now.

“How was your day?” I asked quickly, taking the pasta out of the oven and setting it on the table.

“It was good.” He served himself, while I doled out salads into our bowls and poured myself some water. “The department is running smoothly, and they offered to move me up to Meridian City, but I—”

“Like it clean and tidy,” I joked, “and Thunder Bay is your ship.”

“You know me so well.”

I smiled small, but my hand shook as I picked up a forkful of lettuce. It wouldn’t stop shaking until he left for work in the morning.

He dug into his meal, and I forced a bite into my mouth, the silence filling the room louder than the sound of the drops hitting the windows outside.

If I weren’t speaking, he’d find something to say, and I didn’t want that.

My knee bobbed up and down under the table. “Would you like more salt?” I asked, lacing my voice with so much sugar I wanted to gag.

I reached for the shaker, but he interrupted. “No,” he said. “Thank you.”

I dropped my hand and continued eating.

“How was your day?” he inquired.

I looked at his fingers wrapped around his fork. He’d stopped eating, his attention on me.

I swallowed. “Good. We, um…” My heart raced, the blood pumping hot through my body. “We had an interesting discussion in lit,” I told him. “And my science report is—”

“And swim practice?”

I fell silent.

Just tell him. Get it over with. He’ll find out eventually.

But I lied instead. “It was good.”

I always tried to hide behind a lie first. Given the choice between fight or flight, I flew.

“Was it?” he pressed.

I stared at my plate, my smile gone as I picked at my food. He knew.

His eyes burned a hole into my skin, his voice like a caress. “Pass the salt?” he asked.

I closed my eyes. The eerie calm in his tone was like the feeling before a storm. The way the air charged with the ions, the clouds hung low, and you could smell it coming. I knew the signs by now.

Reaching over, I picked up the shaker, slowly moving it toward him.

But I knocked his glass instead, his milk spilling onto the table and dripping over the side.

I darted my eyes up to him.

He stared back, holding my gaze for a moment, and then shoved the table away from him.

I popped to my feet, but he grabbed my wrist, yanking me back down to my seat.

“You don’t rise from the table before me,” he said calmly, squeezing my wrist with one hand, and setting his glass upright before taking my water and moving it in front of his plate.

I winced, my glasses sliding down my nose as I fisted my hand, the blood pooling under the skin because he was cutting off my circulation.

“Don’t you ever leave this table without my permission.”


“Coach Dorn called me today.” He stared ahead at nothing, slowly raising my water to his lips. “Saying you quit the team.”

The unbuttoned cuff of my white uniform shirt hid his hand, but I was sure his knuckles were white. I started to twist my wrist because it hurt, but I immediately stopped, remembering that would just anger him more.

“I didn’t say you could quit,” he continued. “And then you lie about it like an idiot.”

“Martin, please…”

“Eat your dinner, Em,” he told me.

I stared at him for a moment, reconciling my head, once again, to the fact that it was going to happen no matter how hard I tried to stop it.

There was no stopping it.

Dropping my eyes to my plate, I lifted the fork, less sure with my left hand than with my right, and scooped up some rotini noodles and meat sauce.

“You’re right-handed, stupid.”

I paused, still feeling his fingers wrapped tightly around that wrist.

It only took a moment, and then I felt him guide my right hand over, prompting me to take the fork. I did and slowly lifted it to my mouth, his hand still wrapped around that wrist as the dull points of the silver utensil came toward me like something I’d never been scared of until now.

I hesitated, and then… I opened my mouth, almost gagging as he forced the silver in deep, almost brushing my tonsils.

Taking the food, I pulled the fork back out, feeling the resistance in his arm as I did.

We refilled the fork for round two, my lungs constricting.

“What is the matter with you, exactly?” he whispered. “Nothing can be done right. Ever. Why?”

I forced the bite down my throat just in time for another forkful to be shoved in. He jerked my hand as it entered my mouth, and my heart stopped for a moment, a whimper escaping at the threat of the prongs stabbing me.

“I thought I’d walk in the door, and you’d sit me down and explain yourself, but no.” He glared at me. “As usual, you try to hide it like the candy wrappers under your bed when you were ten, and the three-day suspension when you were thirteen.” His words quieted even more, but I almost winced at how it hurt my ears. “You never surprise me, do you? There’s a right way and wrong way to do things, Emory. Why do you always do it the wrong way?”

It was a double-edged sword. He asked questions he wanted me to answer, but whatever I said would be wrong. Either way, I was in for it.

“Why is nothing ever done how I taught you?” he pressed. “Are you so fucking stupid that you can’t learn?”

The fork moved faster, scooping up more food and rising to my mouth, the prongs stabbing into my lips as I opened them just in time. My mouth filled with food, not swallowing fast enough before more was pushed in.

“Dead parents,” he mumbled. “A grandmother who won’t die. A loser sister...”

Dropping my wrist, he fisted my collar instead and rose to his feet, dragging me with him. I dropped the fork, hearing it clatter against the plate as he backed me into the counter.

I chewed and swallowed. “Martin…”

“What did I do to deserve this?” he cut me off. “All these anchors pulling me down? Always constant. Always a weight.”

The wood dug into my back as my heart tried to pound out of my chest.

“You wanna be ordinary forever?” he bit out, scowling down at me with my mother’s green eyes and my father’s shiny, dark brown hair. “You can’t dress, you can’t fix your hair, you can’t make friends, and, it appears, you can’t do anything impressive to help yourself get into a good university.”

“I can get into a good school,” I blurted out before I could stop myself. “I don’t need swimming.”

“You need what I tell you that you need!” he finally yelled.

I tilted my eyes to the ceiling on instinct, worried my grandmother could hear us.

“I support you.” He grabbed my hair with one hand and slapped me upside the head with the other.

I gasped, flinching.

“I go to the teacher conferences.” Another slap sent my head jerking right, and I stumbled.


But he pulled me back by the hair. “I put food on the table.” Another slap, like a wasp sting across my face, and I cried out, my glasses flying to the floor.

“I pay for her nurse and her medicine.” He raised his hand again, and I cowered, shielding myself with my own arms as he hit again and again. “And this is the thanks I get?”

Tears filled my eyes, but as soon as I could catch my breath, his hand would come down again.

And again. And again. And again.

Stop. I wanted to cry out. I wanted to scream.

But I clenched my teeth instead.

I hissed at the pain, I winced, and I cowered.

But I didn’t cry. Not anymore.

Not until after he was gone.

He grabbed me by the collar again, fisting it tightly, the fabric chafing my neck. “You’ll go back,” he breathed into my face, “you’ll apologize, and you’ll rejoin the team.”

I couldn’t meet his eyes. “I can’t.”

He threw me into the counter again and backed away, unfastening his belt.

A lump swelled in my throat. No.

“What was that?” he asked. “What did you say?”

Anger twisted his face, and his skin boiled with rage, but he loved this. He complained about my grandmother and me—spit in my face all the time about what a burden I was—but he didn’t actually want me gone. He needed this.

“I can’t,” I whispered, unable to do more, because my voice shook so badly.

He yanked his belt out of the loops, and I knew what was coming. There was no way to stop it, because he didn’t want to.

“You will.”

I stood there, halfway between wanting to cry and wanting to run. It would only make the punishment sweeter for him if I made him work for it. Screw him.

“I won’t.”

“You will!”

“I can’t wear a swimsuit because of the bruises!” I blurted out.

He paused, the belt dangling from his hand, and I couldn’t even hear him breathe.


That was why I quit swimming. My face wasn’t the only thing we had to worry about people seeing. My back, my arms, my thighs… People weren’t stupid, Martin.

I almost wanted to look up, to see what—if anything—played across his face. Worry, maybe? Guilt?

Whatever he felt, he had to know we weren’t coming back from this. It was real now. No matter the apologies, the presents, the smiles or hugs, I would never forget what he did to me.

So why stop now, right, Martin?

Darting out, he grabbed my wrist, growling as he threw me into the table. I squeezed my eyes shut as I bent in half over the top, my palms and forehead meeting the top.

And when the first strike came down, I fought the tears.

But I couldn’t fight the cries coming up from my throat as the strap landed again and again. He was angry now and going harder than normal. It hurt.

He wouldn’t fight the issue again, though. He knew I was right.

I couldn’t wear a swimsuit.

After he left, I laid there for a moment, shaking with the pain slicing through my back.

God, just make it stop.

I whimpered as I shifted, thankful that I hadn’t cried out, and I reached over, picking up my cell phone and turning it to see my grandmother still asleep on the screen.

Tears hung at the rims of my eyes.

She was lucid less and less, so it was getting easier to hide this shit from her. Thank God.

His shower ran upstairs, and he wouldn’t be back down for a long time. Tomorrow, we’d wake up, pass each other silently before heading to work and school, and he’d be home early in the afternoon, being the one to make us dinner for a change. He’d be gentle and quiet and then start some topic of discussion at the table about touring a college that I was interested in, which he normally wouldn’t indulge and had no intention of indulging in by the time the weekend road trip was set to happen. I might be able to breathe for a week before I knew the novelty of our “wonderful sibling relationship” would wear off, and he was primed to relapse again.

Like an addict.

Like a disease.

But now, I didn’t know. This week had been bad. There had been less breathing room in between now and last time.

In a daze, I found my glasses and slowly cleaned up the mess we’d made, finished the dishes, and put all the leftovers away before turning off the light and grabbing my bag.

I slipped my phone into the satchel, but as I rounded the stairs and took the first step up, I stopped.

She was still asleep. Maybe for the rest of the night. I could watch her on my phone from anywhere.

I shouldn’t leave, though. My back hurt, my hair was a mess, and I still hadn’t changed out of my uniform.

But instead of going up to finish my homework, I backed away, as if on autopilot. Picking up my shoes, I slipped out the door and ran, not even stopping to put on my sneakers. The rain pummeled my hair, my clothes, and my legs, my bare feet splashing through rain on the sidewalk as I raced back up the street, around the corner, and toward the village.

I didn’t care that I’d left her window open. She loved the rain. Let her hear it.

I didn’t care that my bag and books and homework were probably getting soaked.

I made another right and saw the glow of the square ahead and stopped running, finally able to breathe. I drew in breath after breath, the cool air in my lungs and the rain plastering my clothes to my skin almost making me smile.

The marquee to the movie theater shone ahead, and I knew before I could read the words that they were having an all-night monster marathon. Kong, Frankenstein, Killer Ants, The Fly…

During October, the theater was only ever closed between eight in the morning and noon for cleaning and restocking, showing new releases and old favorites the other twenty hours of the day in celebration. Sort of a month-long horror fest.

Jogging up to the ticket booth, I slipped on my shoes, now soaked with my shoestrings dangling, and reached into my bag, pulling out some cash.

“Just give me the all-night pass,” I told the girl, slipping her a wrinkled ten through the little hole.

I wouldn’t be here all night, but I could be here as long as I liked, at least.

Grabbing my ticket, I hurried inside the door and passed the concession stand, heading upstairs to theater three.

Walking fast, I opened the doors, keeping an eye around me in case my brother found out I’d left and followed, and then I slipped off my bag as I made my way down the aisle. Some animal screeched onscreen, and quickly, I dropped into a seat, looking around to make sure I was safe.

Not only was I safe, but I was alone. There was no one in here, except me.

I relaxed a little.

It was a weeknight and a school night. Made sense that the place would be empty. It was weird that they still ran the film even if no one bought a ticket, though.

I set my bag on the floor and reached inside, thankful that the contents were still dry, and pulled out my phone, checking on my grandmother again.

She still laid in the dark, on her bed, the monitor in the room beeping steadily and raising no alarms. Sometimes I worried about leaving her alone with Martin, but he really didn’t care to deal with her more than he had to.

I clutched the phone in my hand and sat back in the seat, wincing at the pain I forgot was there as I looked up at the screen and saw Godzilla.

A small smile turned up the corners of my lips.

I like Godzilla.

And before I knew it, I had popcorn and sat there staring at the screen, my eyes attached to every frame as my brother faded away, school faded away, Will Grayson faded away, and lit class faded away.

Because Godzilla was great.

And Lolita hurt my head.



“Will?” I climbed up on my hands and knees, patting the stone floor and feeling the grime under my hands.

Where had he taken me?

I blinked in the darkness, trying to see, but it was so black. I touched my face. Where the hell were my glasses?


I could see decently without them or the contacts that I sometimes used, but not with the darkness making it even more difficult. I rose up off the ground, the uneven stones under my shoes curving into my soles.

I looked around, shoving my hair behind my ear. Nothing pierced the darkness. No sliver of light. No moon. No lamps. Nothing.

I’d fought and thrashed and hit, and the next thing I knew, we went through a door, down some stairs, turned a corner, and everything suddenly went dark.

Will, my God. It had been years since he got out of prison. Why had he waited until now?

I breathed in the cold air, the scent soaked with soil and water, as I spun around.

He’d changed. He looked exactly the same and worlds different at the same time.

His eyes…

Was he going to let something happen to me?

“I told you I wasn’t lying,” someone said, and I stiffened.

It sounded like Taylor Dinescu’s voice in the room, but I couldn’t see anyone or anything.

“I knew you weren’t,” another man said on the other side of me. “Girls smell different. She was all over the house when we walked in.”

I twisted around, facing the new voice.

But then another one spoke up from my left. “I say let her run,” he taunted. “She’ll die out there anyway.”

I spun toward him, breathing hard and holding out my hands. Where were they?

Where the hell were they?!

“Before we’ve gotten acquainted, Rory?” the other one I didn’t know asked. “Come on. I’m bored. She’s welcome to stay as far as I’m concerned. Aren’t you bored?”

“No,” Rory replied in a clipped tone. “I like things just the way they are.”

Laughs echoed around the room, Taylor joking, “You may have all you need here, man, but I sure don’t.”

“Where’s my glasses?” I yelled. “Turn on the fucking lights!”

“You got it.” The one who wasn’t Taylor, Rory, or Will said. “Here.”

A glow suddenly brightened a few feet away from me, and I blinked several times, adjusting to the light as a dark form lit a candle. Brick walls came into view, and someone was in front of me, holding something out.

I stumbled back, sucking in a breath, but then I noticed my glasses in his hand and grabbed them. “Get away from me,” I said, moving away.

“Relax, baby,” he cooed. “We were just afraid you’d break them. Don’t want you to not see this.”

A snort went off somewhere, and I slipped my glasses on, jerking my head left and right and taking it all in.

Ceilings made of wood hung low, water dripped down, wetting the brick on the walls, and wooden barrels sat around the room as empty wine racks, taller than me, filled the rest of the space. Stairs led up to a set of doors in the ceiling behind me, and a furnace ran, grumbling in the corner. We were in a basement. This house might have several.

I eyed the doors.

“Micah.” The guy who gave me my glasses approached me again, holding out his hand. “Moreau.”

I quickly backed away, shooting a glare from his hand up to him.

Micah Moreau? I took in his shaggy black hair hanging down his neck and around his ears, piercing blue eyes and a dimple in his left cheek when he smiled. Maybe early twenties.

Moreau, Moreau…

“As in Stalinz Moreau?” I inquired, unable to catch my breath.

Was that his father?

He just smiled tightly and shrugged.

Shit. How bad does a kid have to be for a career criminal to not even be able to stand his own son?

He pointed behind him to a lanky blond with hollow cheeks and better skin than mine. “Rory Geardon,” he pointed out. “And you’ve met Taylor.”

I looked over at Taylor who sat on a stack of crates behind Will, leaning over his shoulder, smirking at me.

I locked eyes with Will. He leaned against the crates, his hands tucked in the center pocket of his hoodie.

A door was next to him, and I ran for it. He shifted away from the crates and grabbed me, and I shoved at his body, feeling something in his pocket.

I paused and then it hit me. My knife.

Or the knife I had on me when I woke up. I’d never seen it before, and I had no idea how it got in my pocket, but I wanted it back.

I dove into his sweatshirt, pulled out the knife, and backed away, unsheathing it again as I looked around me.

The other guys chuckled under their breaths.

“Did you bring me here?” I yelled at Will.

How long had he been here?

But I didn’t expect an answer.

I just screamed. “Let me out!”

I sucked in air, the small space, the darkness, and no place to run making my blood chill. I choked back my sob.

I knew he couldn’t be trusted. I told him that. I knew it.

“I hate you,” I said. This had everything to do with him.

Taylor jumped off the crates and came at me, and I lunged for him, only to have someone from behind grab my wrist.

I whipped around, swiping the blade, and Micah stumbled backward, hissing.

Blood dripped from his arm, and I backed away, holding the knife and keeping them in front of me.

“Fuck,” Micah cursed.

“I told you to let her die out there,” Rory bit out, taking Micah’s arm and elevating it as it bled.

“Let me out of here!” I screamed again.

But then all of them looked up, staring behind me as they stopped in their tracks.

I straightened my spine. What?

But I didn’t have time to wonder. Someone grabbed my hand with the knife, squeezing it as he fisted my throat with his other hand.

I gasped, crying out as I dropped the knife to the floor.

He turned me around, still clutching my neck, and I tipped my head back, looking up and seeing golden brown hair, slicked back, and high cheekbones framing amber eyes.

Young but older than the rest of them. Maybe Will’s age.

His lips curled at the corner, and my heart pounded so hard it hurt as I took in the broad shoulders, the five o’clock shadow, and the vein bulging in his neck.

“I would think they’d have a separate facility for the young women,” he joked, letting his eyes fall down my body. “Are they trying to make sure we keep misbehaving?”

Snorts went off behind me, and I planted my hands on his chest, trying to push him away as I heard a scrape on the ground, probably someone picking up my knife.

My hair hung in my face, over my glasses, and I was so thirsty.

He released me and I darted backward, putting distance between me and every one of them.

“Forgive me,” he said. “Just a joke.”

He walked around me, stopping at Micah Moreau and lifting the guy’s arm, inspecting it.

I flashed my gaze to Will, but he just stared down, absently scraping the blood out from under his nails with my knife as if I weren’t here.

“It’ll be okay.” I looked back at the guy talking to Micah, seeing him raise his arm back up to stop the flow of blood. “Just keep it clean.”

Who was this guy? Was he…?

Was he the one ‘in charge’?

I scanned his clothes, seeing a smooth-looking white Oxford, perfectly pressed and tucked into some black dress slacks with a shiny leather belt. He wore black leather shoes, and everything fit him perfectly, as if it were tailored especially for him.

A little better dressed than the other guys, but he did say ‘we’. Are they trying to make sure we keep misbehaving, he’d said.

He was a prisoner, too. He was the alpha Will spoke of.

Micah nodded at him before tossing me a scowl, and the alpha came back, regarding me.

“My apologies for them.” He pressed a hand to his chest, coming in. “Sincerely.”

But I shoved him back before he got any closer, his pressed white shirt now smudged with my dirt. “Get away from me.” And then I looked to Will. “Will!” I barked.

He just stood there, his gaze rising to meet mine without a care in the world.

“Will!” Jesus, snap out of it!

To hell with this. I ran for the stairs, jiggling the double doors to get out.

“I wouldn’t try that,” the alpha said. “It’s cold, I’m guessing you don’t know how to hunt, and believe me when I say you can walk a day in every direction and see nothing but your own footprints when you finally give up and drag your freezing ass back here because you have no other choices.”

I growled, pushing and slamming my body into the doors, but all I could hear were chains on the other side, holding it secure.

“Give it back to her,” I heard him say behind me.

I looked over my shoulder, seeing him speak to Rory who now held my knife, turning it over in his hands and inspecting it.

He narrowed his eyes. “She sliced Micah,” he argued.

The alpha stepped up to him, looked down into his eyes and didn’t say another word. Rory tightened his lips and stalked over, tossing me the knife, now sheathed.

I caught it, stepping down off the stairs and holding it firmly in my fist.

“I’m Aydin,” the alpha said, looking at me. “Aydin Khadir. No one will touch you again. You have my word.”

“Your word…” I almost laughed. “Does that mean anything when all I know about you is that you were despicable enough to get locked up in here?”

He quirked a smile, walking over to a small steel door on the wall and opening it.

Flames burst inside, and he reached down, taking a couple of logs and tossing them inside the oven. “You may know me,” he retorted, taking the poker and churning the wood. “My family probably owns one of the many sweat shops in Vietnam where your cheap Target blouse was manufactured.”

Taylor laughed, and I steeled my spine.

I watched as Aydin unwrapped a cut of meat from the same white butcher paper I saw on lots of the fare inside the refrigerator upstairs.

Picking it up with his fingers, he slapped it on a metal tray and slid it into the brick oven. I flinched as the flames engulfed it, the oven looking deep enough to hold a whole damn person.

I tensed.

“No one will touch you,” he said, staring at the flames before turning to look at me. “Until you want us to.”

Snickers filled the room, and I licked my lips, unnerved.

“Why am I here?” I demanded.

But he just taunted me. “Right?” he said. “Why are any of us here? We’re all innocent.”

Rory and Micah laughed, and I inched forward, the knife clasped in my hand.

“I’m not a prisoner,” I told him. “I don’t come from wealth. All I remember is leaving my office in San Francisco for lunch and waking up here. Where are we?”

Aydin just stared at the flames, the light dancing across his face.

“She knows Will,” Taylor said.

“Does she?” Aydin looked over his shoulder at Will. “Is she family? Please say it isn’t so.”

Will hung back, his hands in his pocket again as he leaned into the crates. The fire reflected in his gaze as he stared at me.

“Will,” I pleaded.

But he remained quiet.

“He doesn’t seem to know you,” Aydin teased.

I shook my head. “There must be some way to get a hold of security or the people who run this place or—”

Aydin pulled out the steak, sizzling on the tray, and set it on the wooden table, grabbing a knife and fork and cutting the meat.

“We have a kitchen, of course, but the meat is so much better cooked down here.” He looked at me, bidding me over. “You must be hungry. We’re not completely uncivilized. Come here.”

He took a pitcher and poured a glass of water, and my mouth dried even more, seeing how good it looked.

“Your name?” he asked, pushing the glass and pan toward me.

I clamped my mouth shut.

But Will spoke up for me. “Her name is Emory Scott,” he answered.

I shot Will a glare. A smirk danced across his eyes.

“From Thunder Bay, as well?” Aydin asked him.

And Will nodded.

Taylor took back his spot, sitting on the crates behind him and hanging over Will’s shoulder again as everyone watched me.

I stepped a little closer to Will, too angry to care right now.

“Always following,” I taunted him. “Never the leader, and always latching on to anyone who loves you.”

He stared at me.

“Your friends have moved on,” I told him. “Buying up Thunder Bay. Starting families. Probably happy to be rid of their weakest link.” My eyes burned on him. “Even Damon seems happy, judging from the news I catch from home. No falter in his steps as he does just fine without you.”

The muscles in his jaw flexed, and I smiled a little.

Yeah, he didn’t like that.

“Damon…” Aydin murmured, looking over to Will. “Torrance?”

Will remained silent.

“And Michael Crist and Kai Mori, right?” Aydin continued. “I would be jealous you have people who care enough to send help if it weren’t a female a year too late.”

Everyone chuckled.

No one sent me. Someone kidnapped me.

“Took them long enough,” Taylor added. “And we’ve been here the whole time, taking care of him.”

“He’s ours now,” Aydin told me. “The senator’s grandson has elevated his company, my dear. We’re not toys playing at war.”

“No, you’re prisoners playing like you have any power.”

He nodded once, unfazed. “We’ll revisit that topic again another time. Eat.”

The food sat there, the smell permeating the air, and I saw Micah staring at it more than once.

Aydin dug into his steak, taking a bite. Where was their food? I looked at Will, but he still just stared at me.

“I’m not staying here for a month,” I said.

Aydin continued eating and took a drink of water, washing it down.

“Things happen fast in the wild,” he said, cutting another chunk. “Hunting, fishing, hiking, remote as we are…a simple injury can mean death.” He raised his eyes to me. “A simple injury can leave you in a lot of pain.”

He chewed his food and then pushed his plate away, swallowing.

“Micah had an anxiety attack when he first arrived,” he explained, looking at the guy. “Remember that? We had to put him down here for a whole day, because his hysteria was driving us insane.”

I shot my eyes to Micah, his gaze on the floor now. They locked him in here? Because he had a panic attack? He could’ve died.

I begged Will with my eyes, but he wasn’t looking at me anymore. He wasn’t looking at anything anymore, staring at the floor, same as Micah.

“I’d hate for that to happen to you at the wrong time,” Aydin said, approaching me. “When the crews show up again, you could be down here, in the tunnels, undetected until they came again the next month.”

My heart sank to my stomach, and while I had no clue why the rest of them were locked up in here, I had a very good idea about what made him such a threat.

He stepped up to me, and now the guys behind him weren’t laughing so much anymore.

“You’ll stay with us,” Aydin whispered. “We’ll take care of you until they arrive.”

I looked up at him, the dark brown in his amber eyes sharpening with the threat.

“I want to see Will alone,” I said, trying to keep my tone calm.

Aydin looked over at Will. “Is there anything you can hear that we can’t?”

Will’s eyes darted from me to him, hesitating a moment before replying, “No.”

Aydin turned, smirking, and I knew.

I knew…

I couldn’t stay here. There was a town nearby. If I had to walk for three days until my body nearly expired from dehydration, I’d find it.

Slowly, I circled around Aydin, backing up and keeping my eyes on the boys as I made my way toward the door. “You want some fun?” I asked Taylor. “Five-minute head start then.”

He grinned wide, looking to Aydin and then back to me. “Two,” he cooed.

He hopped off the crates, Will, Rory, and Micah turning to face me as Aydin stood in the back, waiting.

And then…

I launched for the door, swinging it open and racing through, charging up the old stone stairs and through the door at the top.

They howled behind me, lighting a fire under my feet, and I swung around, not knowing where the front door to the house was from here, but I saw the kitchen and ran for it.

Swinging around the large island, I bolted for the back door and charged through, leaping onto the grass, immediately stumbling to my knees and rolling down the small wet hill, darkness looming everywhere.

Ice seeped through my skin.

He was right. It was cold.

Scrambling to my feet, I dug in my heels and ran. I ran and ran, not risking a look back as I made for the cover of the trees ahead.

Gasping for breath, I glanced to my left, seeing a huge ass waterfall gushing over a cliff. I slowed, widening my eyes as it rose high above and the balconies of the house overlooked it.

My God. I kept running, not believing what I was seeing. Where the hell was I?

The waterfall spilled into a ravine I couldn’t see, but I just shook my head and ran so hard my body screamed. Diving into the darkened woods, I raced through the brush. I wished I wasn’t wearing a white shirt.

I rounded trees, deciding to stay close to the edge of the forest where the land spilled off to the side. Good chance there was a river below that carried the water from the fall, and where there was water, there were towns.

Stumbling over rocks as branches whipped at my arms, I barely even bothered to look ahead as I pushed my glasses back up the bridge of my nose, the knife still in my hand as I struggled for air.

It was fucking cold. Where were we? It was only mid-October, there was a waterfall in their backyard, and trees that didn’t belong anywhere I’d ever lived.

Canada? There were hemlocks, spruces, white pines… These trees were partial to the northeastern part of North America.

I had been part of a design team right out of college that renovated an old house in St. John. The owner was adamant about re-introducing native flora to the property.

God, how did I get here?

Hollers went off behind me, hitting the air, and I whimpered. They were coming.

I dug in harder, sweat coating my back despite the cold as their howls got closer and closer, and I could almost feel their hands on me as I raced. I hit the ground, scurrying behind a bush to hide myself.

I couldn’t stop gasping for breath, my heart about to beat out of my chest. I wasn’t going to make it, outrunning them.

I’d hide until they gave up, and then I’d make a run for it.

Leaves rustled and footfalls pounded past. I didn’t see them through the bush, but I could hear them.

They ran, their steps fading away, and I stayed rooted in my spot.

“Em-ory!” they called, but their voices were nowhere near me.

I smiled.

“Emmmmmoryyyyyyy!” they sang.

And still, their voices sank farther and farther away.

Slowly, I slipped the knife into my pocket, got my feet under me, and rose enough to look over the edge of the bush, just to sneak a glance at their position.

I didn’t see anyone. Yes.

I’d hide here—or somewhere else if I had to—and make my escape when they were gone. The grounds were huge. They couldn’t cover every inch.

I was getting out of here—rain or shine.

I squatted back down to maintain my hiding place, but then I caught sight of Micah, racing right for me.

“Boo!” he shouted.

I screamed and lost my balance, flailing my arms and flying backward. I rolled down the small incline and grappled at the ground to stop myself, but I just kept slipping.


I cried out, my legs falling over the edge of something, and I tumbled over the side of the cliff, a hand grabbing my wrist just in time.

I kicked and looked down, seeing the river far below as I swung my other hand up, grasping for whoever had me.

“Rory!” Micah shouted, sliding on his ass with me as he held on. “Taylor!”

I whimpered, feeling us slide. He was coming with me. He couldn’t hold on.

Another body dropped down next to him, and Rory grabbed my other arm.

I hung there as they held onto me, knowing they could let go at any moment, and not so sure anymore that I’d rather risk starvation or dying of exposure out in the wilderness. Don’t let me go.

Taylor, Will, and Aydin slid down the hill behind them and came to stand over the three of us. Aydin looked as calm as he did inside the house like he didn’t even have to break a sweat to come out here after me.

He cocked his head, watching me dangle there. “Put her in my room,” he told them.


Nine Years Ago

“What did you do in lit class yesterday?”

Elle Burkhardt pulled on her uniform trousers, staring at me while I pulled off my necktie and started unbuttoning my shirt.

My long-sleeved white T-shirt underneath remained on as I snatched my band jacket off the hanger dangling on the outside of my locker.

The girls’ locker room was packed—cheerleading, band, and the field hockey team all vying for space, either trying to get out to the court or go home.

“I finished reading Lolita,” I mumbled to her.

“You know what I mean.”

I shot her a look.

I’d skipped lit this morning, no doubt another confrontation with my brother waiting to happen tonight once he found out, but I just couldn’t face Will and his merry band of morons this morning after my outburst yesterday.

I’d hid in the library, instead.

“Let them do their worst while they can,” I said, pulling on my coat, the heavy fabric grazing my back and burning the skin. “Life will eventually knock them down to size, like it does to us all.”

It wasn’t that I was scared of the Horsemen and the repercussions of calling them out in class yesterday. I just knew another outburst from me couldn’t happen again quite yet, so rather than give them the satisfaction of seeing me shut up and sit there, I just didn’t show up at all.

Gathering all of my hair, I pulled it into a low ponytail and picked up my glasses off the bench, slipping them back on. The poster across the locker room came into view more clearly.

Vote for Ari!

Homecoming Queen

Homecoming. I groaned. Pretty sure slamming my nipple in a car door would be less painful.

Or joining a gym.

Or reading The Bell Jar in between bouts of banging my head on a wall.

Elle reached into her locker and took out her deodorant, rolling it on. “You’re coming to Sticks tonight, right?”

Kicking off my sneakers, I pulled my newly pressed pants off the hanger and slipped them on before unzipping my skirt and letting it fall to the floor. “What do you think?”

“Too school for cool?”

I nodded, slipping my pants on and fastening them. The girl knew me.

Leaning over, I jerked my chin at her and opened her locker door, gesturing to the Trojan bumper sticker she had plastered inside. “Some of us don’t have parents with the admissions office at USC on speed dial.”

We buttoned up our navy blue and white coats, but I could feel her eyes on me as she braided her blonde hair and I slipped on my black shoes.

“You’re allowed to relax once in a while.” Her voice was calm but firm. “The rest of us aren’t less because we like to have fun, you know?”

“Depends on your idea of fun, I guess.”

I sat down and started tying my shoes, but then I saw her stop, and I paused, realizing how that came out.

I looked up at her, kind of wincing. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I didn’t mean that.”

Damn, I was rude. Why was I so awful? Elle and I weren’t friends, but we were friendly. She tried, despite how hard I made it.

“And I have fun,” I teased. “Who says I don’t have fun?”

She continued braiding her hair. “Depends on your idea of fun, I guess,” she shot back.

I laughed, thankful she was playing back. I knew how I was. Judgy, rude, and close-minded, but I also knew why.

I was jealous.

Happy people didn’t hurt others, and while I didn’t dwell on my behavior in lit yesterday with Will and his friends, people like Elle didn’t deserve it.

I wanted someone to understand me.

“Have you ever seen a Lamborghini commercial on TV?” I asked, looking over and meeting her eyes.

She shook her head.

“They don’t make them,” I told her. “Because people who can afford Lamborghinis aren’t sitting around watching television.”

“So, you want a Lamborghini someday, and that’s why you work so hard and don’t have any fun?”

“No.” I chuckled, gathering my school uniform scattered on the floor. “My own private jet will get me out of this town a hell of a lot faster than a car. I’ll wave goodbye and let it all disappear in my wake.”

The cheer team ran by our aisle, everyone starting to make their way out to the gym. The football team was on a bye week, but the basketball team had an exhibition game against Falcon’s Well.

“I’ll try not to take that remark personally,” Elle replied.

I shot her a smile, hoping she didn’t take it personally. I wanted as far away from this town as possible for several reasons, and once I left, only one thing would ever bring me back.

“Is there nothing you love in Thunder Bay?” she asked.

I dropped my eyes for a moment and then looked over at her. “Why do you think I’m still here?”

And then I opened my locker and flashed her the inside of my door, but instead of my own Trojan bumper sticker, or any bumper sticker, it was a single, three-by-five snapshot of my grandma and me at my eleventh birthday picnic in the park.

My skin in my blue tank top was darker than my usual olive from all my time in the sun that summer, my cheeks rosy from smiling and not having a care in the world other than what I was going to do for fun the next day, and no matter what size glasses I wore, they always looked too big for my face. I was geeky and happy, and remembering that woman in the picture resembled nothing like the woman who was lying in bed at home right now made my throat prickle with tears.

But I looked at Elle and smiled small, my grandma the one thing I’d come back to town for.

In fact, the idea of leaving for college and leaving her if she was still alive by then was almost unbearable.

I rubbed my eyes under my glasses and then stuffed my school clothes into the locker.

I looked up, noticing something.

What was that? I narrowed my eyes, reaching up and taking the stuffed animal off the top shelf.

I paused in confusion. How did this get in here?

I looked around for anyone watching me and met Elle’s eyes, holding it up.

“Did you put this in here?”

She looked at it and then me, shaking her head. “Nope. I don’t even know what that is. A Komodo dragon?”

I studied the gray plush toy, taking in his claws, teeth, tail, the scales down his spine, the angry snarl on his face…

“It’s Godzilla,” I murmured and then laughed.

Who put this in here?

And then my face fell. I watched Godzilla last night. I thought I was alone in the theater. Did someone see me?

It was coincidental, wasn’t it?

“What’s this?” Elle picked up the paper and granola bar tied to its leg. She read the note, “Sunset is at 6:38 p.m.”

I flashed my gaze to hers.

She shrugged. “It’s from someone who knows it’s Yom Kippur,” she said.

In a town like this, everyone knew who the Jewish kids were.

And the black kids. And the poor kids.

We were in the minority in Thunder Bay, so we stood out.

Anyone could’ve sent this, and I was tempted to keep the snack bar. I hadn’t checked what time sunset was to know when I could eat, and I’d forgotten to bring anything for after the game. I was hungry.

But then, I saw a black strip of cardstock tied to Godzilla’s tail and ripped it off the ribbon.

Admit One

Emory Scott


My hand shook as I read it over and over again, recognizing the black paper with the ornate silver border and the serial number identifying every ticket sold. It was an annual event.

It was—

“Are you serious?” Elle blurted out, snatching the ticket from my hand and staring at it. “An invitation from a senior?”

I opened my mouth to speak, but no words came out. The senior lock-in was held every October, and it was tonight. After the basketball game. Non-seniors could attend only if they secured an invitation from the graduating class, and even then, the seniors were only allowed to invite one person each.

One senior used their only pass to invite me?

It had to be a mistake.

“Take it,” I told her.

There was no way I was going. This was a trap waiting to happen.

She held it for a moment and then sighed, handing it back to me. “As tempting as that is, you need this more than me.”

I crumpled it in my fist, about to toss it onto the floor of my locker, but Elle plucked it out of my hand and stuck it inside my jacket, slipping it in between two buttons.

“Line up!” our director called.

But I was swatting Elle’s hand away. “Stop, dammit,” I gritted out. “I’m not going.”

“In cas