Pretending

By: Shanna Clayton

CHAPTER ONE




DOLL





Anyone who thinks living in a mansion is a dream come true has never been alone in one at night. Hearing loud noises, trying to figure out where they’re coming from and what’s causing them—trust me when I say the glamour and glitz goes straight out the window. First thing tomorrow I swear I’m buying a dog. A big ferocious one. With fangs.

I bet Harland is laughing his ass off somewhere from the other side. I loved that man like he was my own dad, but sometimes I wonder what he was thinking by leaving me here in his rustic Victorian. Payback for giving him hell as a teenager? Possibly. He did have one twisted sense of humor. No college dormitories for me, oh no. That would’ve been far too conventional for his tastes. If he thought my life was anywhere bordering normal, I would’ve become his unfinished business. I glance at the ceiling.

Go ahead and cross into the light, Harland, you jackass. I’m scared shitless.

I inhale, trying to get a handle on myself so I can listen. A few seconds of silence tick by, and I figure I must’ve dreamt the noise. Either that, or it was just an eerie nighttime sound. Kent House is known for those, the air clanging through its pipes, wood expanding and contracting, crackling pops in the attic—all testaments to its old age. This place was built before the invention of cars and most modern technology. It’s bound to make a few weird noises. Or have a few ghosts…a possibility that makes me shudder. When Harland was alive, these things never bothered me. His presence alone made me feel safe.

My phone flashes from the nightstand. It’s three a.m., meaning I’ve only been asleep an hour. This is what I get for studying with Gwen. I should know better by now. Those late night study sessions include one too many margaritas and little to no actual studying. She must’ve just gone to bed even later than me, because there’s a text from her.

Got us white shirts 4 Graffiti Bash. Don’t care if Princess Bitchface is hosting. We’re still going.

She’s referring to Charlotte Hart. They’ve hated each other for as long as I can remember, but it’s anyone’s guess as to why. Both of them change the subject whenever I bring it up. Being stuck in the middle isn’t easy, but I’ve gotten pretty good at staying neutral. Taking sides isn’t a good idea when your best friends don’t get along. Chances are I’d lose one of them if I did.

A long sigh escapes as I lay back down. Going to that party is the last thing I want to do. Professor Barakat is hosting a seminar tomorrow night discussing new insights into evolution. Wanting to go screams lameness but hanging out with the Greek elite doesn’t compare. I’d rather be lame.

A thud booms from downstairs.

I bolt upright in bed, now very much awake. I did not dream that up.

Obscure noises and shuffling ensue, each sound making my heart pump a little faster. Throwing my sheets aside, I rush to the closet and grab the first robe I find. Then, keeping my steps light, I creep into the dark hallway outside my bedroom. My cell phone is tucked to my side, 911 already punched on the keypad. I’m ready to press the dial button at a moment’s notice.

Why don’t I own a gun?

Charlotte told me to get one after seeing this place. “Guns are loud and dangerous,” I said at the time, inflecting my very liberal, collegiate stance on weapons. “Besides, there’s plenty of staff at the house. What do I need a gun for?”

Clearly a dumb call.

Should’ve listened to her.

Muffled voices come from up ahead. I listen to them closely, trying to figure out who they belong to. Can’t be staff. Gwen and the few staff members who live here sleep on the third floor. Everyone else should be long gone.

The voices grow louder as I reach the balcony overlooking the front entranceway. On both sides are wide mahogany staircases leading down into the foyer. Instead of turning to either side, I crouch into the shadows, pretty sure it’s a good idea to stay unseen, at least until I figure out who’s down there. Peeking out from between the banister’s wooden legs, I focus in on the dark space at the end of the stairs and catch the outline of three shadowed figures.

Oh God. Are they here to rob the place?

There are plenty of valuables in the house. I should call the police now. But I’d probably be safer calling from my room. I don’t want to think about what they’ll do if they hear me.

Just as I’m about to take off, someone switches on the light. I blink, my eyes adjusting, and focus in on the guys in the foyer. My breath catches in my chest.

He’s back.

There’s no mistaking that dark shade of hair or tattooed-covered biceps for anyone other than Wesley Kent. He stumbles into the foyer, dressed in a grey shirt and dark jeans. He looks the same except his hair is slightly longer, and his skin is tanned.

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