Home > Stolen Crush (Lost Daughter Of A Serial Killer #1)

Stolen Crush (Lost Daughter Of A Serial Killer #1)
Author: C.M. Stunich

 

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There’s always a sense of dread in me when I think about the box.

I try not to think of the box very often.

“Don’t do it,” Chasm warns, his shadow falling long across me and the old wooden box, the one that smells curiously like old pennies. That was the same day I realized that I was into more than one boy, that my crushes were multiplying as quickly as the secrets coming down on me like rain. Sometimes, often enough, that memory is obscured when I recall the contents of the box. “Dakota.”

I should’ve listened to Chasm, the boy whose name wasn’t really his name at all. The boy calling me by a name that wasn’t really mine at all. My second crush, just weeks before I realized who my third was. Murders and crushes. I think that’s how I’ll always remember high school.

Gamer Girl versus Serial Killer.

There’s a creak as I lift the lid up, a smell that’s almost a taste, like metal, like copper. Like blood. At the bottom of the box, there she is. The Vanguard’s maid. It might’ve been cliché if it weren’t so sad.

“Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit,” Chasm murmurs, just before throwing up into the bushes. I almost envy him for his ability to react in that moment, to let his emotions overwhelm him. He acts like an asshole, but really, he’s a sweetheart. Parrish is the asshole. Parrish. The boy who’s missing. The boy who became family then lover then stolen, in what felt like an instant.

The lid slams shut, just barely missing my gloved fingers.

“I told you not to open it! Are you goddamn insane?!”

Why does each breath after that have to taste like blood? What does my father want? What need is he fulfilling by ensuring that I’ll corrupt myself with every step, that I’ll sink lower and lower, that I’ll do the unthinkable? Wow, Dakota, are you seriously considering going through with this crap?

I’d never hated myself more than I did in that one moment.

“Help me move this,” I deadpan, even as Chasm is pacing and cursing at me in Korean.

“What the hell is wrong with you? I’m not fucking touching that thing.” He points to the wooden box with his own gloved hand. “You really want to drop a dead body on someone’s doorstep? You think that’s a good idea?”

There’s only a breath of hesitation between his question and my answer.

“Yes,” I tell him, and I mean it. “Yes, I do.”

Love.

I am so in love. I also hate Parrish. Somehow, both of those things are true simultaneously.

And that’s the long and short of it, right? Love … is a double-edged sword.

 

 

Three months earlier …

 

 

Today is undoubtedly the worst day of my life.

I thought the day I found out that I’d been kidnapped as a child would qualify for the top spot. Instead, it’s today, the first day at my new house in Washington state, about as far away from my home in Catskills, New York as geographically possible.

The black Mercedes we’re riding in pulls up to a gate outside of a towering three-story mansion. It looks like a white cube with too many eyes, its numerous windows overlooking Lake Washington. With its flat roof and starkly modern aesthetic, it’s the exact opposite of the 1830s farmhouse that I grew up in.

It’s also surrounded by reporters.

I shrink down in the back seat, taking comfort in the tinted windows and doing my best to avoid the flash of cameras, the waving of cell phones, and the raucous chatter that’s haunted me for the better part of the last six weeks. Six weeks of pure, unadulterated hell.

The gate slides open and the car rolls forward, leaving the flock of reporters and influencers behind a wall of stark metal pickets.

“Well, we’re here,” Tess Vanguard says, pulling into the four-car garage as I struggle to take in a shuddering breath. I suppose I should call her Mom, right? Considering she gave birth to me. But then again, I was stolen from a daycare center when I was two years old, and I don’t remember anything about her except the smell of her perfume. The moment she walked into my grandparents’ house, and I took a deep breath, I felt it in my bones: she’s telling the truth.

When I was two, I was kidnapped, abducted, taken away from her.

I remember none of it.

All I know is that one day, my life in New York was perfect and easy and comfortable, and the next …

“I want you to think of this place as home,” Tess says, looking up at the rearview mirror and doing her best to smile at me. Her face says she’s exhausted, but then, so am I. And she’s the one that wanted this, for me to come and live with her, when I was perfectly happy where I was. She also pursed her lips and sighed when I refused to sit in the front seat, choosing to curl up in the back instead and watch the airport fade into the distance.

My last connection to home.

Tess can call the hulking multimillion-dollar mansion whatever she wants, but home will always be twenty-two-hundred square feet of wide plank floors, funny little built-ins, and a kitchen that always smelled like Grandpa’s cooking.

This is not home, and it never will be.

I’m trying not to be a bitter pill though, so I force a smile as I open the door and step out onto the shiny epoxied floors. My stomach lurches with nerves as I haul my backpack up my shoulder and wish with all my heart that I was at home helping my best friends Sally and Nevaeh pick out their outfits for Ryan’s party on Friday. Ryan was the boy I had a crush on before I was dragged into this mess. Likely, I’ll never see him again.

“Right this way, sweetie,” Tess tells me, heading for a side door and opening it for me. She stands aside, waiting for me to step onto the white marble floors in my hand-me-down sneakers. They used to belong to my older sister, Maxine. Well, the girl I thought was my older sister anyway. Learning that I was kidnapped as a child by some crazy woman and given to her parents to raise meant that I wasn’t actually Maxine’s little sister. That’s the part of this whole thing that hurts the most.

I move into the house and stop short in the cavernous entryway. Everything in this house is white. I mean, truly. It’s white-on-white-on-white. Sterile. Empty. And almost everything is square and sharp. My stomach lodges in my throat as I look up at the only organic shape in the room: the curving staircase with its metal bars, like a jail cell. That’s what it feels like in here: a gilded cage.

“Who the fuck are you?” a voice asks, drawing my attention away from the staircase and over to the doorway across from me. It seems to lead into a kitchen/living room area of some sort, but it’s impossible to take note of any of that because there’s a shirtless guy standing in front of me, covered in tattoos, and holding a half-gallon of milk at his side. The carton has a picture of a teenager on the side with the words MISSING CHILD printed above her head. That’s what I am. Me. A ‘missing child’. “And what are you doing in my house?”

“Parrish,” Tess warns, her tone maternal and familiar but harsh at the same time. “Knock it off. This is your sister … Dakota.” She chokes on that last word a bit, but I guess I can’t blame her. It’s the name my kidnapper gave me, not the one she did.

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