To my readers!
A NOTE TO THE READER
To my knowledge, there is no Lakeshore Wharf.
I needed to fictionalize this area for the purposes of this book.
Fourteen years earlier
My boarding school roommate was a mafia princess.
Although I didn’t learn that at first. Our beginning six months went by without a hiccup.
When I first walked into our room, I took in her bedding, which looked like a cloud with crystal lights surrounding it, the massive amount of photographs she’d taped to her wall in the shape of a heart, and the framed canvas with a quote in glittering font that read, Fairytales Happen.
That’d been the only pause for me, because I was not this type of girl.
I’d been shipped to Hillcrest Academy slightly against my wishes—but also not. The fighting between my parents was at an all-time high, and even though we lived in a mansion and they kept to their wing, I could still hear them. It was hard not to when I snuck up to sleep in the hallway adjacent to theirs. I was an only child, and lonely. Maybe not all twelve year olds have that insight, but I did.
I also had the insight that while I loved my mother, I loathed the battlefront that was in our home, and my shoulders sagged in relief at the quiet in Hillcrest Academy.
On the day I moved in, there’d been some shrieks, some giggling, music playing, and a mom who’d shouted at a little boy who darted under my legs and took off down the hallway, but none of that was really noise. It would never match the shouts, the yelling, the sound of walls being hit, and especially not that last thing I’d heard two nights ago: a bloodcurdling scream.
I hadn’t even been in my parents’ hallway when I heard it. I’d been over in my wing, having given up on trying to be near them, but I’d bolted upright in my bed.
I’d laid back down after a few moments when no other sound followed, feeling and hearing my heart pounding in my chest. I wasn’t altogether shocked when my dad’s secretary told me the next day to start packing. I was going to boarding school.
My dad was gone the next day.
My mom cried in her room. The whole day.
I was told by Claude, our butler, when to be ready to leave. And it was only when I stood in the doorway, feeling all sorts of weird and sick butterflies in my stomach, that my mom came to the entryway. She seemed so frail.
I knew she was thin, but I would have the image of her that day seared into my brain forever.
She shuffled forward, as if walking was painful, wearing a sheer robe with a white nightgown beneath. Her feet barely peeped out from the robe, but when they did, I saw she wore her usual fuzzy-slipper thongs. They were her favorite. She wore them when she got pedicures, but today she also had a wrap around her hair, half shielding her face. The part I could see was perfectly made up, with pink crystal lipstick over her mouth and her skin caked over with complexion smoother. Sunglasses hid her eyes.
I stepped into Claude’s side when I saw them. I hadn’t meant to. The sight of my mom wearing sunglasses wasn’t unusual, and it wasn’t even unusual for her to wear them inside, but this was my day to leave.
I wanted to see my mom’s eyes before I went.
She never took them off.
She knelt in front of me, where I was half hiding behind Claude now, and she opened her arms.
I ran to her, throwing my arms around her neck. I didn’t care how skinny she was. I wound my legs around her waist, and still kneeling, she caught and held me. She ran a soothing hand down my back, bending to kiss my shoulder.
“I love you, my little ray of sunshine,” she whispered. “Have fun at this new school. Make new friends.” She squeezed me tight.
Claude cleared his throat, opening the door behind us.
I pulled back reluctantly as she let me go.
Claude already had my bags in the car. He wasn’t going with me to the new school. My assigned car ride was with Janine, the secretary who’d told me I was leaving the day before. I had no doubt she’d made all the preparations for me.
As I walked out the door, I looked over my shoulder.
A single tear streaked down my mother’s cheek.
That was one of the last times I saw her.
“Die, you fly!”
I locked eyes with a black fly, or maybe our eyes weren’t locked, but he was perched on the rock next to me. He was going down. He had been harassing me for the last hour. I was outside, trying to clean up the yard, but I was going nuts with this damn thing buzzing all around me.
He was teasing me, taunting me. He flew out of the way every time I swung at him. He was too fast, and as he paused on my shoulder, I swung at the same time the screen door opened. I heard its creak across the yard right before a numbing pain exploded in my shoulder.
“Ry—did you just clock yourself?”
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.
I groaned, my knees buckling.
I’d swung with the rock in my hands, and now I felt blood trickling down my shoulder and arm. My shirtsleeve was rapidly turning red.
The fly fucker was trying to kill me, by outsmarting me.
The door slammed shut, and I heard Blade’s feet scuffling down the stairs as he ran to me. The gravel crunched under his weight, and then he slid in behind me. His pants would be ripped up, but knowing Blade, he wouldn’t care.
He rarely cared about clothes. We were just happy he wore them, most of the time.
“Fuck.” He swore under his breath, his very tanned and slightly oily fingers gentle as he looked at my wound. His dark eyes seemed to penetrate my shoulder before he sat back on his heels, raking a hand through his dreadlocks. “What were you doing?”
I wasn’t going to admit a fly had outwitted me.
When I was doing yard work, Blade made himself scarce. For the years he’d been living with us, he’d been content to clean the inside. He did most of the cooking, cleaning, and dishes, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to come home from shopping and find him wearing a maid’s apron and duster—and nothing else.
So for him to come looking for me outside like this wasn’t normal.
“What is it?” I jerked my head toward the house, hearing the television blaring.
His concerned eyes lifted to mine, and a whole different look slid over him.
My alarm level went up three notches.
Of the three of us living in this little cabin outside of Calgary, or Cowtown as we called it sometimes, Blade wasn’t the one who got concerned about things. He enjoyed indulging in marijuana, kept his hair in tight dreadlocks, and dressed like a child from the sixties in a brown vest, no shirt, and a tie-dyed bandana over his hair. Only instead of bell-bottoms, he wore tight, frayed jeans over regular runners. He handled all our computer stuff, and when we walked inside, I wasn’t surprised to find he had switched over the news he’d caught on his computer to the main television screen.
I also wasn’t surprised to be watching a report from New York City.
“—ennett mafia princess has been missing for forty-nine hours now.”
Ice lined my insides.
A picture of my old boarding school roommate, Brooke Bennett, flashed on the screen, along with numbers to call if she was found.
As in, she was lost?
I felt punched in the chest.
Brooke was missing.
Dazed, I reached out for a chair to sit in. Blade moved to my side.
“That’s your old roommate, right?” The chair protested. Blade’s hand left my arm, and his voice came from my side. “The one you had at that rich school.”
I almost snorted at his wording, but I was still in a daze. I nodded instead.
The news was showing pictures from her social media accounts, and she was gorgeous. Fourteen years. I don’t know why that number popped into my head, but it felt right. It’d been so long since I last saw her, or was it fourteen years since we first met? One of those.
“She was always so girly,” I murmured, almost to myself. She’d been so full of life.
Not me. I’d been a numbed-down, post-traumatized zombie when I walked into that room.
“Oh my gosh! You must be my roommate!” She had launched herself at me from behind the moment I entered the room, wrapping her arms around me. Her face had pressed into my shoulder.
Janine had squawked. “Oh my.”
I’d ignored my dad’s secretary and had taken one second before the girl let me go and hurried around in front of me. Her hands went to my arms, just underneath my shoulders and she’d looked me up and down.
I did the same: black oval eyes, stunning jet-black hair, a pert nose, small mouth—but lips formed just like the ones that had been a stamp on my last Valentine’s Day party invitation, full and plump.