*Please read Parts I and II before this, and this is a spoiler for the Devil’s Night series.
ALL SAINT’S DAY
There’s blood everywhere. On my arms, my clothes, my back and in my hair from being pressed into his chest.
Mine. I didn’t love that he called me that as much as I loved what it promised.
That he would be back for me.
I walk home, across the river, past the village, take a left at the school, and head up into the hills. It’s not the cliffs, but I like it better here. Elevated, well-shaded, quiet…
I enter my dark house, not bothering to lock the doors anymore, and tear off my clothes along the way. I feel him between my thighs, wetting my skin, and I step into the shower, not wanting to clean him off just yet, but I’m shaking from the freezing rain.
I need warmth.
Washing, I clean my hair, scrub the insides of my legs, and rub at the dirt under my nails. Not sure when that happened, but I force myself to check the rest of my body, worried about signs of a struggle but kind of hoping I find some to photograph, just in case I get caught. At least then I can prove it was self-defense.
I swallow over the scratch in my throat, feeling where Eric squeezed, but I hardly care right now.
All I want to feel is him. I close my eyes, breathless. Tasting him in my mouth, even though I didn’t get a chance to touch him with that part of me.
I’ll never feel anything like that again. Not with anyone else.
A sound pierces the air, and it takes a moment for me to realize it’s my phone. Shutting off the shower, I step out and grab a towel, wrapping it around myself. I head over to the bathroom counter and look down, seeing the same number he called me from last night.
I answer and hold it to my ear. I don’t say hello, and neither does he. For a moment, it’s silence, just his faint breathing on the other end.
“I was your first,” he finally says.
My chest caves at the softness of his voice. Like his mouth is pressed to my forehead.
“I could feel it,” he continues. “The stretch of your skin. The way you tensed.”
I remain silent. I don’t know if he’s gloating, but I do know that I don’t know who he is, and I’m not going to indulge him.
“Why did you want them dead?” he asks me, changing the subject.
I should ask him the same thing. I didn’t want them dead. Not really.
Four years ago, my brother thought he would be redeemed with the horsemen gone. He thought he’d be able to breathe. And maybe, for a moment tonight, I thought the same. I’m tired of hiding. Running. Tiptoeing.
But there are always more horsemen rising. It never ends.
No, I didn’t want them dead. I want what’s theirs.
“They walk around, doing nothing impressive,” I tell him, “and everyone worships them, even while knowing how they hurt people.”
It’s always the richest. The best looking. The males.
“Do you ever notice how desires never change?” I ask him, but don’t wait for an answer. “No matter how educated we are or how much progress our species makes, we never truly evolve. We still just want money, sex, and power.” I stare at myself in the mirror. “They have so much influence and what do they do? They get drunk and fuck. Thousands of years of evolution—get drunk and fuck.”
Or they bully anyone with less than they have. Real fucking heroes.
“Which one matters most to you?” he inquires. “Money, sex, or power?”
I can’t help but smile. He knows I’m just as poorly evolved as anyone. Like any human being, I’m shallow too.
“Power,” I reply in a steady tone. “I want power.”
“So they can never get rid of me.”
I don’t care if they hate me. They can drive away my mother and desecrate the memory of my brother, but I’m staying.
I trail into my bedroom and sit down on my bed, holding the towel to my body.
“You haven’t asked about my motive.” His voice deepens. “Aren’t you curious?”
“Not anymore?” he asks.
“No.” I shake my head and drop my eyes. I hate how I love talking to him. “Just like I don’t want to see your face.”
I could’ve easily asked to see that man’s video. My face was covered, but his would’ve been right there.
“I want to pass you on the street or in the hallways at school or sit behind you in church and not know it,” I tell him. “I want to stand behind someone in line at the café or feel eyes on the back of my neck at a movie theater and not know if you’re the one and if we fucked once or not.”
“But I’ll know it,” he retorts. “Every time I see you.”
“Does that please you?”
I close my eyes, the barely audible endearment more intimate than I want it to be.
“I like knowing you’ll see me from time to time,” I tell him, “and maybe in one year—or five or ten—you’ll be doing my taxes and I’ll be smiling at you across your desk as I hold my boyfriend’s hand and I won’t have any idea that you’ve been inside me. That once—against a dirty wall in a haunted house—you held me and squeezed me, and you really liked it.”
His breathing grows heavy, and I love this more than I can admit. I don’t want to know who he is.
“You want me there now, don’t you?” he whispers.
I know if I say yes, he’ll come.
I want to say yes.
But where’s the fun in making things too easy.
“No,” I deadpan. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I move to hang up, but then I hear his voice. “Stay out of the way,” he warns me. “I have one left.”
I go still. Dorian.
“Not if I get to him first,” I reply.
And then I hang up, turning off the phone for the rest of the night.
The next day I’m up far earlier than I thought I’d be. A fatigue weighs on my body, but it’s a good tired. An exhaustion I feel like I’ve earned. The events of last night come flooding back, and I know I should get my story straight if anyone asks, but I need to talk to Arden and Pru first. Worrying won’t solve anything, and I can’t worry even though I’m inclined to. The ache inside of me keeps taking precedence over everything else.
The pain is a reminder that he was there and also a need for more. I keep playing it over in my head, kind of regretting I didn’t tell him to visit me again last night.
I walk into the village, choosing not to drive today, because it’s a perfect fifty-five degrees, the sun is shining, and the orange leaves are falling like rain. I just want to breathe and to feel everything.
The carnival is in full swing already, kids running around everywhere, and I can smell all the treats for sale at various vendor stands.
All Saints’ Day is different than Devil’s Night or Halloween. The festivities start early—a perfect fall day, a carousel, hot pretzels, cider, and microbrews…
Some children line up for face-painting, while others run around in their socks, having come out of the bounce house. The gazebo bursts with music as people dance, and the water in the fountain is dyed orange for the celebration. In a few weeks, the town will be decorated for Fire Night, and it’ll be nonstop dining, drinking, and shopping.
And I have every intention of experiencing everything this year.
The cool air breezes across my legs. I’m finally wearing the brown and yellow plaid skirt I bought during my dark academia obsession last year that I never had the nerve to wear, because it’s so short. A safety pin secures it, and I finished the outfit with a light-yellow blouse, knee-highs, and a fitted brown suede jacket. A few people make eye contact, probably wondering why I’m showing my face in my own town, but I just gaze right back, holding their eyes as I pass.
I don’t even care anymore. In fact, I dare them.
I step up to a vendor, glancing left and see Arden and Pru talking and sipping coffee. Pru is dressed like a fairy for some reason. It’s cute, though.
“Some hot cocoa?” the man asks.
I turn back, seeing Mr. Grayson smile at me. He pushes his glasses back up his nose. He’s one of the only ones ever nice to me and he has a gorgeous rockstar son. Many reasons to like this man.
I survey the treats. “Caramel apple, actually.”
He smiles again and grabs a napkin, using it to pick up the apple by the stick.
I hand him some money which all goes to charity, of course, and take my snack.
“And it’s homemade caramel,” he tells me. “Eat it slowly.”
“I will.” I want to savor everything.
I head over to Arden, taking a bite as I watch Pru twirl off to the tables where people eat, pretending to flirt with a boy that’s not McGivern.
But she’s not flirting with a boy. She’s flirting with Alexander Vos, our young, new math teacher. He sits a couple of tables away, having a beer with the basketball coach and a couple of the players’ dads.
I bite my lip to stifle my smile. He’s having a very hard time not looking at her every two seconds.
She’s good. She is going to fuck that man up.
“So, are you going to tell me what’s going on?” Arden asks, as I stop at her side.
I take another bite, looking over at her as I chew. “Do you really want to know?”
She breathes out a laugh that sounds very nervous. “Dorian, Eric, Slater, and McGivern are all missing.”
I take another bite. “Are you missing them?”
She doesn’t say anything for a moment. Everyone at school has had their turn running the horsemen gauntlet. People respected them, because it was tradition, but no one actually liked them. Including Arden.
“No one is missing them,” she finally states.
I exhale, closing my eyes and tipping my head back again, feeling the breeze on my face. I draw in another breath, smelling the wind, the chimneys going in town, the food, and the possibility. “Do you smell that?” I breathe out. “Would you want to be anywhere else?”
I turn my eyes, seeing her look at me with a softness and peace I don’t usually see.
And maybe something else.
She turns her head, eyeing Katya Radcliffe, the blonde tossing looks Arden’s way too. Her boyfriend’s arm sits around her neck, but Arden looks like she’s starting not to care that the girl is taken anymore.
“You should have some fun,” I tell her. “Boyfriend or not, that look is all for you.”
Katya excuses herself and leaves her group, walking for Sticks, probably to use the bathroom.
Arden breathes out a sigh, watching her. “I think you’re right. Screw it.” She tosses her coffee into the trash. “Just watch what I’m going to do to Christian Girl Autumn.”
She flashes me a smile and spins around, following the blonde, her own red ponytail swaying over the number on the back of her oversized hockey shirt. She wears it like a dress, super-short, no pants, just sheer black nylons and some high-top Chucks.
I take my apple and head over to the carousel, jumping on just as it starts. Climbing up to a horse, I swing my leg over and sit there, taking another bite as I watch the world start to speed up around me.
In no time at all, a body climbs on behind, riding with me.
I hold back my smile. I knew he was here.
“I can’t believe you were stupid enough to mess with us.”
My face falls, hearing a different voice.
I look up, meeting Dorian Castle’s eyes in the mirror of the ceiling as he sits behind me. His face is painted like a skull, like others in the village for El Día de los Muertos, and I guess that’s why Arden thought she hadn’t seen him. He’s disguising himself.
Dread coils my stomach, because for the first time I’m realizing, I didn’t want it to be him last night.
Please not him.
I tip my head back down, recovering. “I can’t take all the credit.”
“Just like your brother?” he snaps back. “How he didn’t kill either, right? Am I next?”
I start to breathe a little easier. He’s not the one killing his friends. Which means he wasn’t with me in the haunted house.
I blink long and hard, relieved. It wasn’t him.
“Tell me where they are,” he demands.
“Where were you?” I fire back. “No one has seen you since Devil’s Night.”
When he doesn’t speak, I look over my shoulder at him, and I’m pretty sure I know.
“You were hiding,” I mumble. He saw something in the cornfield that scared him, so he’s been remaining out of sight. Coward. He sent Slater and Eric to do all the dirty work last night, while he stayed off the grid.
I face forward again. “When your sister and her friends locked Ava Moffit in that cellar and Mane saved her before they could hurt her, the horsemen hurt him,” I tell him. “Not with a beating. He could’ve taken that. He was strong.”
I hold the bar with one hand, enjoying the ride, despite his presence. The last time I was on one of these, I was eleven.
“They drugged him,” I tell him, unsure of how much he knows about what happened back then, “made him watch what they did to Loren, and threatened to come for me if he didn’t watch.”
I hear him swallow but nothing else.
“He sat at the funeral,” I continue, “watching Loren’s parents sob. He drank so hard in the weeks afterward. I would wait up for him for half the night, just to make sure he came home alive. He refused to even look at our parents or me. Until one night, he was out of his mind, destroying his room, breaking trophies, windows, and toppling over furniture and I cried and yelled at him and…” Tears spring to my eyes, thinking about how I couldn’t help him. “And he was so far gone, it’s like he didn’t even see me when he raised his hand to slap me. But then…he stopped before he did it, fell to his knees, and hugged me so tight. Our parents had to peel his arms off when he wouldn’t let me go.”
I hate the poison that infected him.
“He was a ghost after Loren Foster died,” I almost whisper. “The day after he trashed his room, he was on the court bright and early and Thunder Bay had its most amazing win of the decade.”
Everyone was so happy. The energy at the game was unparalleled.
“And that night,” I continue, “the firefighters were dragging four bodies out of his car, including his own.” I pause, thinking about how he already knew what he was going to do when he stepped onto the court that day. How he played his best game, because he knew it was his last. “I’m glad your brother is dead. He took mine first.”
Dorian shifts behind me, leaning in close as the carousel spins, and whispers in my ear, “But yours isn’t dead.”
Then I hear other voices, like a recording.
“Oh my God,” a woman says. “Is this part of the haunted house?”
I stare ahead, realizing almost immediately that it’s the video the man took last night. Dorian has it.
“Who cares?” the guy replies. “Would you look at that? I know what we’re doing tonight, baby.”
The woman giggles.
“Jesus, that’s hot,” he goes on. “Does the girl look familiar?”
“Her face is covered, idiot.”
Dorian moves his arm around my waist, holding up the phone, but I don’t look. I don’t want to know.
“Sash, you okay?” the guy jokes, and I assume he’s talking to the second girl that was in there.
“The guy,” she says. “He doesn’t look familiar to you?”
“Doesn’t he look familiar to you?” Dorian taunts in my ear, raising the phone higher and higher until my eyes snap to the screen so fast I can’t stop it.
My brother holds me to his chest, wrapping his arms around me and closing his eyes as he kisses my cheek.
I could never kill you. I see his lips move as he whispers the words I still feel on my ear now.
I squeeze my eyes shut, sweat breaking out over my forehead. I hear a thud, my caramel apple gone.
“Who did you think that was?” Dorian asks. “Everything he’s ever done is to protect you.”
I don’t… I have…
Mane. “Oh my God,” I mouth, trying not to shake.
“Take me to him,” Dorian says.
He thinks I know where to find him, and I don’t want to admit that I don’t. It would make me a chump, and he would love nothing more.
“No,” I reply, finding my voice.
The carousel slows. “Then let’s bring him to us.” He hops off and looks up at me. “I’m sure he’s watching.”
I sit there, staring at him as the ride continues to slow down. As soon as it comes to a stop, he holds out his hand for me to take.
“Get off the carousel,” he orders.
I don’t have to. I could scream right now. Everyone would laugh, brush it off, and tomorrow we’d be back to the same bullshit where he and some new cronies that are so easily replaced would set out to make the rest of the year a whole lot more miserable for me.
And Arden and Pru. It would be war.
No fucking way.
Standing up on the stirrups, I swing my leg off the horse and jump down, his smile gentle and fake as he takes my hand like a boyfriend and leads me off the ride.
We cross the street, pass the White Crow Tavern, and walk to the cathedral. He squeezes my fingers, and I don’t know if I feel Mane’s eyes on us or if I’m just hoping I do, but Dorian pulls me inside the church and closes the door.
Although it’s open today for tourists and pictures, everyone is outside enjoying the weather. It won’t be long before the snow starts and everything that happens in the underbelly of this town will be covered by the quiet of winter.
He leads me past the confessionals and up the stairs. An elevated position to see Mane coming.
“I wonder what will happen at school tomorrow,” I say as he pulls me. “When four horsemen don’t show up again.”
Providing Dorian dies like the others.
But he replies, “They’ll know who to blame.”
I look around, not seeing anyone but us. “I don’t think Mane minds that.”
Mane was on the video. By tonight everyone will know he’s home, and when the murders make the news, it won’t be long before they have a short list of suspects, my brother at the very top.
But everyone who publicly vilifies him will be privately celebrating him, because he protects us. He won’t go down for anything.
“He’s still a ghost,” I tell Dorian. “And tomorrow…he’ll be a legend. A story they tell the kids.”
We stop up in the gallery, a door off to the right and a whole large space where seating used to be. Over the side you can see down into the nave, a waist high railing to protect you from falling.
Dorian releases me. “I’m not afraid of him, Alice,” he says. “Or you.”
He reaches behind him, underneath his hoodie, and pulls out a blade with a serrated edge.
“What about me?” someone says.
I look over my shoulder to see Arden ascending the last of the steps we just came up. She has her cell phone in her hand, poised to call help, if need be.
Or maybe she has the audio recording on.
A figure twirls off ahead, coming from the other side of the gallery, and I see Pru dancing like a little maniac with Mane’s mask on her face.
“He’s definitely not afraid of me,” she says playfully. “That’s why I carry these.”
She pulls out the two chopsticks holding up her hair, brandishing a silver spear in each hand as her black locks fall around her.
I meet Dorian’s eyes, seeing his breathing hitch for a second.
“Stand down,” I tell him.
He can’t win.
But he simply snickers. “Are you serious?” And then he snarls, grabbing me by the neck and yanking me in.
“You’re going to be blowing me in my desk before class even starts tomorrow,” he growls in my face.
He runs his tongue over my lips, cutting off my breath as he wets my skin.
“Ah!” I cry, shoving him off.
I move to kick him, the girls running in to help. He raises the knife, ready, but…
A rope slips around his head, another body rushes in, and the next thing I know, Dorian is tumbling over the side of the railing, the rope skating over the edge.
I breathe hard, staring as Mane stands there, his dark brown hair a mess from the hoodie as he holds the rope and dangles Dorian over the side. My brother turns and looks at me, and for a moment, I don’t think he realizes Pru or Arden are in the room.
He doesn’t look much different.
But then again, so different. This is the first time I’m really seeing him in four years.
Twenty-two now, he’s filled out more, the stern set to his blue eyes harder and more fierce, but always with that hint of innocence that I couldn’t explain.
Like he’s a child and can’t control whatever’s inside of him.
“Oh my God,” Arden gasps. I look over, seeing her realize it’s Mane standing there.
He lets go, standing up straight as Dorian plummets to the ground, and I run over to the railing, looking over the side with my friends.
Dorian lies there, trying to move. I don’t see any blood, except for what’s on the calf of his jeans. He’s broken his leg.
I spin around to confront Mane, but I already see him disappearing down the stairs.
I run after him. “Mane.”
He doesn’t stop.
“Mane!” I choke back the cry in my voice, but it escapes anyway.
He stops, but he won’t turn around.
I stare at his back, speechless. What the fuck? I haven’t had a clue where he’s been for four years, and he shows up to wreak another rampage on this town and…
I approach him, remembering how small I used to feel around him. How safe.
He’s still tall, but I’m not small anymore. It feels different.
Without a word, he continues out the door, pulling up his hood as he steps into the street.
I almost run after him, but I hear Arden yell behind me. “What the hell?”
I turn to try to explain, but when I do, she’s not looking at me. She’s staring at the floor where Dorian fell, Pru at her side. I head over, seeing the same thing they do.
Dorian is gone, the rope as well.
Just a few smudges of blood from his leg.
What? I was standing by the closest exit. His leg is broken. He didn’t get out on his own.
What’s going on?
“Go back out to the carnival,” I tell them. “Meet in the third floor chem lab at 6:30 tomorrow.”
“You okay?” Arden asks. “Your brother—”
She shuts up, looks to Pru, and then takes her hand, both of them leaving.
I follow, but I can’t stay. This is the last place I want to be. I need answers.
I need to find Mane. Where has he been? Doesn’t he want to talk to me? He said I was his last night.
I leave the carnival, and I walk. One big circle around town—Coldfield, the marina, Coldfire Inn to check if he’s registered. I call the number he used to call me the last two nights but no answer.
I search the school, even though it’s closed for the weekend, but I don’t see any evidence of lights, and there are no cars in the lots. I’d check with friends if he’d had any left.
After a couple of hours, I push through my front door, growing angrier. Unable to stop thinking of ways to entice him out of hiding.
I will find him.
I step through the foyer, barely noticing the fire burning in the fireplace in the living room until I smell it.
I snap my head up, the crackling hitting my ears as I search for Mane, but it isn’t him. Four figures lounge in the room, all dressed in dark suits.
I drop my phone.
Michael Fane turns around and looks at me from where he stands in front of the fire. Kai Mori leans into the wall next to him. Will Grayson sits on top of the grand piano, and Damon Torrance sits in one of the chairs surrounding the coffee table.
What the fuck?
Michael buttons his suit jacket, approaching me. “We’ve never formally met.” He extends his hand. “I’m Michael.”
“I know who you all are,” I say, taking a step back as I gaze around the room at all of the cardinals.
In my house.
Born and raised in this town, and I have never had a conversation with these people. And they show up now?
I exhale, not sure if I want to laugh or cry. Of course.
“You’re behind all of this, aren’t you?” I say.
I feel Damon rise from his chair and hear Will jump down from the piano. Slowly, they all come closer.
I shake my head, glaring up at Michael. “I should’ve known.” I flex my jaw. “It’s all a game to you. A chess game. We’re the pieces, you’re the board.”
“We’re the table,” Kai retorts, leveling me with his dark eyes.
Will turns and starts to circle me. “There are many boards.”
They all move, and I’m not sure if they’re pacing, but it feels more threatening.
“Four years ago, your father asked us to send Mane to Blackchurch,” Michael tells me. “Do you know the place?”
“I’ve heard things.” I keep my feet rooted, but I try to follow their eyes as they move around me.
“I guarantee you, they’re all true,” Will offers.
I look at each of them as they pass. “So that’s where he’s been then?”
“No.” Michael shakes his head. “We decided Mane didn’t deserve that.”
“Because he killed three kids who you think deserved death instead?” I ask him. “Like you get to decide that? Like you’re God?”
“You’re saying they didn’t deserve it?” Kai asks.
I pin him with a glare. “I’m saying isn’t redemption a possibility? Don’t you wonder if people can come back from a crime?” I arch a brow. “I mean, other than yourselves?”
Everyone knows Kai, Will, and Damon did a stint in prison once upon a time. They got redeemed, didn’t they?
But all of a sudden, Michael stops and glances at Kai before he meets my eyes again. “I think you misunderstand us,” he says. “We didn’t protect Mane because he avenged Loren Foster. We protected Mane because he was willing to sacrifice himself in the process.” He pauses. “He thought he was dying with them, Alice.”
I drop my gaze for a moment, remembering it like it was yesterday. Mane couldn’t take what he’d seen. He couldn’t handle not being able to stop it. He wanted to kill everyone in that car, including himself.
“Do you know how few people experience that kind of despair?” Damon finally speaks. “And then come back from it?”
“The call of the void…” Will whispers, thinking out loud.
I look up, meeting his eyes.
“Mane is a wolf,” Kai tells me. “He chewed off his own arm to free himself from a trap.”
Michael goes on. “He reminds this town that living in the prison of your pain is as good as death and the only way out is to scream.”
“To scream…” Will echoes.
My breathing hitches. How the hell do I know exactly what they’re talking about right now?
“And that’s why you didn’t stop him these past three days,” I say, more to myself.
Michael cocks his head. “Did you want us to?”
I don’t know. I can’t think. They were going to kill me in that maze. I was so stupid. I never thought they’d go that far. If Mane hadn’t been there…
But this is a lot.
“What do you want us to do?” Michael asks in a way that’s honestly asking and not challenging me. Like a father.
I stare at the floor. I’m glad I’m safe, but….
I won’t admit it out loud. Not to them.
Kai speaks up. “You’re not kids. But if you want the keys to the kingdom, you have to earn it. You know this well.”
I do. I can’t go back to who I was on Friday morning, before Devil’s Night started. I want more of what I’ve felt the past three days, but it won’t be given to me. I have to take it.
But why me?
“Thunder Bay Prep is the pipeline that feeds the future of this town,” Michael says. “And it deserves better than Dorian Castle, Eric Feldman, Slater Ciccone, and McGivern Ellison.”
“Get your eyes up.” A hard voice cuts into my ears. I jerk my gaze forward, Damon glaring at me. “Don’t ever look away.”
I narrow my eyes, wiping the worry off my brow and replacing it with something else. Why are they grooming me?
But as soon as the thought drifts through my head, it hits me.
Grooming, preparing, rearing, raising…
“You have daughters aging up.” My voice is quiet but stern. “That’s what this is about.”
They want the way paved. An example for their children to follow when they start arriving in a few years. Not just a legacy of date rapists and assholes, like McGivern, Eric, Dorian, and Slater.
But Michael shakes his head, a thoughtful look on his face. “We’ve waited a long time for you,” he says. “Long before we ever had daughters.”
“You’re one of us,” Kai offers. “So many weren’t.”
I look around, meeting each of their eyes. I’m trying not to feel excited that I have their attention. A lot of people want it.
They move around, toward the door as Will digs something out of his pocket. He holds up a skeleton key, a royal blue velvet ribbon tied to the end. “The Coldfield gates will be locked at midnight.” He hands me the key. “For ten months.”
I shoot my eyes up to his, absently taking the gift.
“You can have all the fun your imagination allows,” he tells me. “Use it well.”
I curl my fingers around the rusted metal, a jolt hitting my heart.
He smiles, showing off a bright row of white teeth making him look about seven. “And make your way to the School of the Depraved when you get there,” he says. “There’s an adjacent room with a door in the floor. The real Coldfield.”
My face falls a little, but only because I feel like there’s so much I thought I knew about them and now I can’t wait for everything I don’t. What’s under the floor?
They start to walk out, Will and Damon passing me first, Michael and Kai next.
But before they leave, I open my mouth. “Where’s Mane?”
I hear them stop, and I turn around, seeing Michael turn back to me.
I walk over, sliding the key into the pocket of my jacket. “Will I ever see him again?”
A smile peeks out that he tries to hide, like he’s in on some secret I don’t know. “I’m sure you can find a way to draw him out,” he taunts. “You’re clever.”
“That’s why we chose you,” Damon adds.
I knit my brow, casting him a look.
Will laughs, the three of them leaving through the door, but Kai stops at my side.
“Pru Constin,” he says, buttoning his jacket. “She concerns me.”
I look at him, and he stares down, calm but commanding. “Make sure she’s locked in,” he tells me. “She’s weak.”
“She’s not.” I square my shoulders. “Don’t interfere.”
I’m not their experiment or their employee. Thunder Bay Prep is mine now.
He seems to understand, because he nods only once. “All right.” He pulls his cuffs out of the sleeves of his jacket, fixing them. “You have the helm now. I hope you can keep it.”
I smile to myself at his little challenge, listening as he leaves and closes the door behind him. They want me to succeed, but he’s making sure I know that if I insist on full autonomy I will truly be on my own.
Which suits me. I won’t be following in anyone else’s footsteps. Just like they didn’t when they were in school.
The key sits heavy in my pocket, and I draw in a deep breath, my lungs taking in more air than they ever have. I can’t wait. What will I find?
Drifting back into the foyer, I take out my phone and click on the number in my call log.
I text him. Where are you?
I stare at the screen, take a step up the stairs, but then I hear a ping notification from somewhere on the second floor.
I look up.
My heart stops, Michael’s knowing smile before he left flashing in my head.
Dark hallways splinter off at the top of the stairs, leading to bedrooms, an office, an attic, and a renovated studio our dad made for me during my brief spell taking an aerial silk class.
Mane’s room still sits untouched.
I slowly ascend the stairs. Aren’t you going to come out? I text.
Another ping, this one louder as I climb higher. The texts sit on Seen.
Stopping at the top, I tap out another text, knowing he’s reading them.
What happens when our father comes home? I ask.
What will Mane do? What happens between us?
My phone buzzes, a reply finally coming in. I stare down at it, my hands suddenly shaking with dread.
He won’t be coming home, it says.
Not until Fire Night, another text rolls in.
I exhale, worried there for a moment. Fire Night is seven weeks away—Thunder Bay’s celebration of the winter solstice.
Business, he tells me.
And I just remember that I saw some missed calls this morning from our father. That’s probably what he was calling about. Warmth spreads through my belly, realizing what this means.
Mane is my guardian until then.
Come out, I order him.
The ping comes from my right, and I look down the hallway, three doors on the right, one on the left, and a large doorway dead ahead at the end of the hall. The door is open, the room inside pitch black.
But he doesn’t reply.
I text him. I’m going out. Be home late. And then I smile. And I’m borrowing your old hoodie.
His notifications ring, and I slide my phone into my jacket before I peel it off my body. Dropping it to the floor, I slowly discard my shoes, skirt, and shirt as I walk in my socks down the hallway to the bathroom, leaving a trail of clothes in my wake.
His eyes burn my back from where I know he stares from the dark room at the end of the hallway. I let my bra fall to the floor, and I slide my panties down my legs. Gripping the door handle, I smile to myself as I enter the bathroom, keep the light off, the afternoon glow from the window enough to guide my way. I take off my socks, start the water, tie up my hair, and climb in.
Seven weeks. Of cold nights and fires and a big house with so many rooms and having him to myself when no one is around to peel his arms off this time.
In a moment, the bathroom door opens again, a shadow falling on the tiled wall in front of me, and chills spread over my body as it closes. The shower door opens, and he’s there, covering my back with his chin brushing the top of my head.
He places both hands on the wall in front of me, dragging his lips over my temple. “You will not be home late,” he whispers.
And I can’t hold back my smile as I lean back into him.
Hope everyone had a great holiday and is looking forward to all the festivities to come! Thanks for reading!