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Chapter 12

“You’re thinking about her again, aren’t you?”

Anya rested her head on his arm. She’d told him to come for the injections that night, smiling as she remembered the slack-jawed stare he’d given her. The gorgeous four-poster bed took up most of her small room, a thin, pearly robe the only thing protecting her soft, pale skin from the chilled air. He’d been unable to resist her, the lust in his veins now souring into guilt. He sighed, looking away from her.

“I can’t help it.”

He pulled the cigarette from his lips, crushing it out in the glass ashtray on her nightstand. She snuggled closer to his side, running a hand slowly down his torso, shuddering pleasurably as his hard muscles rippled under her fingers. Her seduction had been more of a test than anything else, not that she could complain too much. At least, part of her couldn’t.

“You love her, don’t you?” she asked. The idea hurt, though not as much as the thought of him suffering. His lips tightened.

“Did they finally get rid of that old hut?”

“No, I’m just still in hiding,” she grabbed his chin, forcing him to face her. “Now answer my question. Do you love her?”

She watched the conflicted pain well in his eyes; could he make up his mind about anything? She pushed the covers away, grabbing his shirt from the floor.

“You’re an idiot,” she admonished him. “You know that, right?”

He gawked at her.

“What? Anya-”

“Ugh, when are you going to admit it to yourself?” she tossed the shirt on the bed, going to her dresser.

“Admit what?” he faltered. “I-I don’t-”

She yanked open the top drawer, pulling out a long-sleeved nightgown. She tugged it over her head, turning to glare at him.

“You’re in love with another girl, yet you’re lying here after screwing me,” she scooped up his pants, throwing them at him. “What is wrong with you?”

“I don’t know,” he sat up fully, bringing up his hands and staring blankly at them. “He said I was supposed to kill her, but then he was happy when I said I’d fallen for her.”

In that moment, Anya felt her anger dissolve. She walked back to the bed, sitting at his feet.

“Does she know?” she asked. He gazed at his hands a minute longer before dropping them in his lap.

“She doesn’t know anything about me,” he said sullenly. “Not the real me.”

She touched his arm, an old memory flashing through her mind. She’d often done the same thing when he was younger, back when he’d actually needed her.

“You should tell her.”

“No,” he shook his head. “I-I couldn’t. She’d-”

She put a finger to his lips; the pain and fear lurking in his eyes had grown deeper, threatening to take him over completely.

“Tell her,” she ordered softly. “Or you’re going to lose her.”

Lena folded the last of towels, setting the full laundry basket on the washer. A black BMW had pulled into the driveway earlier that afternoon, Kara staggering out with her latest boyfriend. Finding men was her only hobby, it seemed, aside from drinking and shopping. The pair had gone straight to her bedroom, Lena hurrying to the basement to take care of the mounting laundry. Even there, she’d heard their cries of ecstasy, ready to scream when they finally died down, leaving the house in silence.

About freaking time, Lena threw away the dryer sheet before heading back upstairs. She slipped outside, breathing deeply. She still couldn’t get used to how clean it smelled here, like maple trees and fresh-mowed grass. She watched a pair of sparrows chase each other, turning to see Jason tossing his backpack in the backseat of his car.

“Hey, Jason!” she waved to him. He looked up, flashing his bright smile when she ran over. “Where are you headed?”

“My grandparents’ place,” he leaned against the driver’s side door, tossing his keys through the open window. “Promised I’d watch it while they’re out of town. What about you?”

“Kara’s passed out,” she shuddered lightly, then shrugged. “Thought I’d take a walk.”

He suddenly looked embarrassed, putting a hand behind his head.

“Uh, why don’t you come with me?” a faint blush touched his cheeks. “There’s, uh, something I’ve wanted to show you.”

She smirked, loving the rare anxious look that crossed his face.

“Sure, why not?” she smiled, winking at him. “Might be fun.”

The grounds of Isola were even more breathtaking in the late spring sunlight. The short trees and shrubs had been trimmed into spheres, the lush green lawn cut close as a billiard table. The gravel drive was still a gray arch across the yard, the flower garden in the center depicting the Italian flag. The house itself was simple, two long and white stories with a dark green roof and shutters, ionic columns surrounding a wide wrap-around porch and balcony. The very edge of a chainlink fence could be seen behind the garden, barking and howling audible in the otherwise silent air. Lena gasped, once again in awe of the sight.

“Oh, I forgot how gorgeous it is here,” she turned to Jason, pouting playfully. “You’re so lucky.”

He chuckled, slinging his backpack over his shoulder and shutting the backdoor of his car.

“It actually gets kind of old after a while,” he smiled warmly, taking her hand. “But I’ll show you something that never does.”


It was all Lena could say. The clearing Jason had brought her to was even bigger than the one behind their street, a laughing stream running down a small hill and in to a crystal-clear pond. Wildflowers of every color bathed the space in a mess of scents, birds darting through the azure sky, their feathers shining in the sunlight.

Jason pulled lightly on the reins, the gold champagne nickering softly in response. He dismounted with practiced ease, steadying Lena as she struggled to do the same; she took a few unsteady steps before plopping to the grass by the pond.

“How’d you find this place?” she couldn’t stop gazing around, it was all so beautiful!

Jason shrugged, tethering his horse to a low, thick branch.

“I was just riding one day,” he rubbed the animal’s nose, smiling fondly. “And Oro just kinda brought me here.”

Oro’s ears perked forward at the sound of his name, shaking his head before lowering it to munch on the soft grass. Lena giggled.

“Why didn’t we just walk? It’s not that far, and I’d be able to stand right now,” she added jokingly. He laughed, patting Oro’s smooth flank before sitting down next to her.

“What good’s being loaded if you don’t show off once in a while?”

She giggled again, tracing the design on his shirt when he laid back. The afternoon sun shone lazily overhead, a gentle breeze rustling through the trees. Smirking impishly, Lena stood to pull off her skirt, peeling off her shirt to reveal a pale yellow bikini. The color looked amazing next to her copper skin, her hair and eyes shining when the sunlight hit them.

“I was gonna hit the pool with Autumn and Ty later,” she laid down next to him, touching his chest again. “But I think I like this better.”

Her body pressed against his side, she slinked a long, toned leg between his, dragging her hand slowly toward the lip of his jeans. Her lips barely brushed his ear when she moved closer, whispering sweetly.

“Of course, we could always do something else…”

Her fingers slipped under his shirt, his stomach tightening in response. As much as he loved the sensations she was igniting, part of him screamed silently for her to stop. He cut the fear down, taking her hips as she straddled him, biting back a moan as she leaned down, her lips now flush with his.

“What do you think?” she murmured seductively.

That was the last straw. He groaned loudly, grabbing the back of her head, pushing her down and kissing her roughly. His heart was going a thousand miles a second, nearly stopping when their tongues met, flaring again when she started rolling her hips against his. They were both panting when she pulled away, her heated eyes little more than slits behind her thick lashes. He stared at her in awe, loving how quickly he’d become putty in her hands.

“I think…you just love torturing me,” he managed. She smiled, leaning down again to kiss him more gently, ending it with a small bite on his lip.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered. “I can wait.”

Lena clicked on the bedside lamp, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the light. She’d been lying in the dark, unable to fall asleep. Soon after they’d gotten back to the manor, Jason had started acting weird, staring at the clock and messing absently with his hearing aid. Finally, she suggested they go to bed, only to hear him hurry out of his room a short while later.

“Ugh,” Lena pushed herself up. Turning to the window, she was surprised to see light spilling from the stables, a lone dog pacing at the fence next to it. She could also hear faint, pained neighing; had something happened to one of the horses? Kicking away the covers, she slipped on her sandals, heading downstairs. She shivered as she tip-toed through the damp grass, stopping at the cracked open door and peering inside.

The neighs were louder now, rising slightly in pitch. Three other horses stamped restlessly in their stalls; Oro, a white colt named Blizzard and a dappled gray filly called Storm. The fourth stall, with ‘Ebony’ carved on the door, was empty.

“Jason?” she stepped inside, following the sounds to a larger stall at the back, peering over the chest-high wall to see him kneeling on the hay-covered dirt floor, by the tail of the beautiful black mare lying next to him. The animal was clearly in distress, Jason taking his hand out from under a large towel to rub her flank.

“It’s okay,” he murmured comfortingly. “You’re doing great, almost there…”

Lena cringed when, with a final push, the struggling mare finally managed to bring her foal into the world. Jason quickly set about cleaning the newborn, gently wiping its mother’s fluids from its brown coat, chuckling fondly when it gave a high-pitched whinny. When he’d finished, he laid the baby next to the mare, who nuzzled its dark mane.

“Way to go, girl,” he said softly. “You did it.”

He stood, jumping slightly when he saw Lena standing behind him. He rolled his eyes when she smirked, tossing the soiled towel in his hands over the stall door.

“You’ve really gotta stop sneaking up on me like that.”

She giggled.

“Well, don’t make it so easy then.”

She looked in the stall again, smiling as she watched the two horses.

“Is that why you were acting so weird earlier?”

“Yeah,” he walked outside, turning on a spout and rinsing his hands. “He was already a few days late, I’m just glad it went smoothly.”

He turned off the spout, shaking away the excess water.

“I haven’t figured out a name yet, though,” he went on. “Think you could come up with something?”

“Really?” Lena gazed at him. “You want me to name him?”

Jason stuck his-still damp hands in his pockets, giving a slight shrug. Lena looked around the stable, glancing at the door of each stall before turning back to the one Ebony and her foal were lying in. The foal had drifted to sleep, his soft brown coat shining in the stable lights.

“I think Cinnamon would work for him,” she said after a moment. “What do you think?”

He glanced over the waist-high wall, smiling softly as Ebony licked her baby’s neck.

“I think it’s perfect.”

Heather tapped her pencil on the table, tired of staring at the back of Autumn’s head. She’d been watching the next table for most of the hour, ever since Lena and Jason had sat down.

“Something’s up with those two,” she murmured. “I’m sure of it.”

Heather rolled her eyes, turning the page in her history book; it was their last day to study before finals. She’d done her best to repair the damage she’d caused by following Stephanie, hoping she’d finally been forgiven.

“So what?” she asked at last. “Why is it such a big deal?”

Autumn continued her unsubtle spying, her eyes narrowing when she saw the dreamy look on Lena’s face. Jason had his arm around her, no doubt explaining something. Finally, she turned away, only to be confronted by Heather’s annoyed glare.

“What is going on with you?” she demanded quietly. “Why are you so obsessed with them all of a sudden?”

Autumn sighed.

“Isn’t it obvious?” she asked. “Something’s going on with them, something that really shouldn’t be!”

“You were the one who wanted them to get together in the first place,” Heather snapped. “They’ve been dating for weeks and now you find something wrong with it?”

“I didn’t know what to think of Jason back then, but now I do,” Autumn looked over her shoulder. The table was empty now. “He’s just not right!”

Heather fought the urge to slam her face into her book. She’d thought Autumn’s unease about him had been laid to rest, then out of nowhere it had flared up again. It had gotten to the point where it was pretty much the only thing she thought about.

“What’s not right about him?” she asked. “He’s pretty much perfect!”

“I know, and that’s what’s not right,” she looked away when someone else took the table. “He’s hiding something big, I’m sure of it!”

“What could he-” Heather grit her teeth, forcing her voice back to a whisper. Autumn could be so infuriating sometimes! “What could he possibly be hiding?”

“I don’t know,” Autumn snapped. “But he hasn’t dated anyone since Emily, then Lena comes along and they’re practically married!”

Heather stared at the girl like she’d just sprouted wings. Was it possible she was actually jealous?

“Emily killed herself in front of the whole school, Autumn,” she bit off each word. “And Stephanie’s obsessed to the point of trying to murder people. You think he’s just excited because someone normal wants to be with him?”

As she had expected, Autumn still didn’t look convinced. How much more proof could she possibly need? Heather groaned, slapping down the page in her book.

“Lena hasn’t even said anything to me,” Autumn sounded hurt. All the other things Lena had trusted her with, and she’d kept her new relationship a secret? “Why would she leave me out like that?”

“Uh, maybe because you’ve been pretty hostile toward Jason lately?” Heather asked caustically. “You think that might have something to do with it?”

“I’m just trying to look out for her,” Autumn replied quickly. “She’s been through too much already, I have to be sure he’s not just screwing with her.”

Growling softly, Heather dug into her backpack, taking out an almost-empty packet of gum. Tearing off the silver paper, she shoved the black stick in her mouth, chewing forcefully for a moment before blowing out a long breath.

“Jason’s been through hell and back,” she reminded the redhead. “He knows what it’s like to be screwed with, he’d never do that to someone else!”


They looked up when the librarian cleared his throat, fixing them with his pale, steely glare.

“I’d appreciate it if you took this conversation elsewhere, girls,” he said in a flat tone. “Or you’re welcome to continue it in the principal’s office. Take your pick.”

Nodding quickly, the girls gathered their things, heading outside and sitting on the front steps. Heather didn’t bother trying to keep studying, knowing she’d never be able to focus as long as Autumn was around. She figured there wouldn’t be any real point in leaving, either, since Autumn had a knack for getting her stories stuck in people’s heads.

“There’s always somewhere else he has to be,” Autumn didn’t miss a beat. “And even when he does hang out with us, it’s never too long before he’s running off again.”

“That’s because he’s a workaholic,” Heather told her. “And he’s always been kind of a loner, I thought you knew that.”

Autumn didn’t answer, instead staring into space before snatching up her backpack. Digging through the biggest pocket, she pulled out her notebook, flipping to a random empty page and scribbling like mad. Heather leaned closer, hoping to catch a peek, her jaw dropping when she saw what her friend was writing.

She can’t be serious!

Autumn was listing out what little was known about the Blackwood Slayer, copying several of the qualities into a second column topped with Jason’s name. What was even more alarming was what made the jump: elusive, secretive, manipulative.

“What the hell are you doing?!” Heather snatched the notebook from her. “Are you insane?!”

“You wish,” Autumn swiped it back. “I can’t believe no one’s figured this out yet!”

“Figured-” Heather clenched her jaw, lowering her voice when someone stopped to stare at them. “Figured what out? That Jason’s not actually perfect? News flash, Autumn, nobody is!”

“You know that’s not what I mean,” Autumn grabbed her wrist; Heather quickly snatched it away. “He’s gotta be the Blackwood Slayer, he just has to be!”

Giggling madly, she hugged the notebook to her chest, a manic smile almost cutting her face in two.

“He just has to be,” she repeated, her voice now a murmur. “It all fits somehow, and I’m going to prove it.”

Heather shivered when Autumn turned to her, that freaky grin growing even wider.

“I’ve thought about it for months now,” she went on. “But I can’t prove it by myself, which means you’re going to help me.”

Heather gaped at her, not wanting to believe what her friend had turned into.

“Wait, I’m what?”

“Going to help me prove Jason’s a murderer,” Autumn crossed her arms, now looking impossibly smug. “And I know just where we’re gonna start.”

Valerio wiped his forehead, glancing back into the kitchen. As usual, Jason had stayed long after his shift had ended, cleaning up the mess his other nephews almost always left behind.

“Jason,” he called. “Time to close shop!”

“I’m almost done!” the teen answered, sounding annoyed. It had been unseasonably warm the last week, turning the non-air conditioned room into a sauna. He finished with the last trash bag, pausing by the back door to take off his apron and toss it in the laundry bin. He detoured past the dumpster, tossing the heavy bag inside before heading to the parking lot.

It was a clear night, the moon and stars highlighting everything in silver. Peaceful as it was, he couldn’t shake the nagging feeling growing in his gut, almost as though someone were watching him. He tensed at a quiet laugh, turning to see a tall man leaning casually against a light post.

“You’ve really grown up, small fry.”

That nickname again. Could it really be-? No, that was impossible! Jason swallowed.

“W-Who’re you?” his growing fear leaked into his voice. The man laughed again.

“You haven’t figured it out yet?”

He shouldered himself from the pole, stepping out of its pool of light.

“But I guess that’s not important now,” he flicked his wrist, a small knife appearing in his hand. “There’s something else I have to talk to you about.”

“And what would that be?” Jason’s own hand inched toward his pocket. The man smirked, amused.

“I wouldn’t do anything stupid, if I were you,” he started. “Unless you weren’t planning to live after tonight.”

Growling softly, Jason crossed his arms tightly at his chest, fixing the man with the coldest stare he could manage.

“Just tell me what I have to do.”

The man seemed to ignore him, still smirking as he toyed with his knife. When he finally did answer, it was far from what Jason had expected.

“That girl’s quite a beauty, isn’t she?” he asked lightly. Jason lowered his arms, staring at the man with what he hoped was confusion.

“What are you talking about? What girl?”

“Don’t play dumb,” the smirk vanished. “You’ve been seen with her.”

Jason clenched his jaw; he should have been more careful!

“What does she have to do with this?” he asked. The man shrugged, starting to trim his nails with his blade.

“Think of it…as a warning,” he started, then looked up. “If you ever go AWAL again, she’ll be the one paying the price.”

Jason’s anger flared again. He stepped forward, ready to fight.

“You wouldn’t fucking dare…”

The man shrugged again, tucking his knife away.

“Then learn to follow the rules,” he said carelessly. That same moment, a black van pulled up; the headlights smashed, the windows painted. The back door slid open, revealing a dim, filthy interior. The man climbed in, turning to Jason one last time.

“This is your last chance,” he reached in the pocket of his jacket, letting a piece of paper flutter to the ground. “I’d rather not kill someone I don’t have to.”

He pulled the door shut, the van disappearing as quickly as it had come. Jason walked into the pool of light, picking up what the man had dropped. It was a photo, one corner burned, showing him and Lena at Misuto Gardens. His eyes narrowed, his jaw tightening.

What the hell are they playing at?

Jamie waited behind the counter, lightly tapping her fingers as her work was examined. She’d been more than a bit surprised when Jason had given her the order, nevertheless feeling a foster mother’s joy when she’d learned how much things had changed for him. She watched the smile spread across his face, one of few she’d seen brimming with true happiness.

“It’s perfect.”

He closed the lid, sliding the small black box back across the counter. She quickly wrapped it in dark blue paper, flashing her own grin.

“You ordered this two months ago,” she commented, her Boston accent thick as ever. “Will I ever meet this special girl of yours?”

He looked embarrassed.

“Uh, yeah, someday…”

She laughed softly, accepting the crumpled bills he shoved across the counter. Just enough, as always.

“You really are just like your father,” she placed the gift and his receipt in a small bag. The embarrassment faded from his face, replaced with the sadness never far from the surface.

“I try not to think about him too much,” he admitted dejectedly. “Or any of them.”

“I know,” she put a hand over his. How could she have forgotten those wounds still hadn’t healed? “But you can’t deny where you come from.”

“I don’t,” he pulled back, taking the bag and turning partially away. “But that doesn’t mean I have to be proud of it.”

He flashed one last ghost of a smile, the jingle of a small bell sounding when he opened the door. The sound echoed in the silence when it fell shut, Jamie watching as he passed by the front window. Why had she brought up his father? Why? She stood at the counter a moment longer before heading back to her office, shutting and locking the door behind her. Sitting at her desk, she spun her chair toward the wall, pressing a hand to her mouth as she gave in to the growing urge to cry.

Jason shut the car off, looking up at the dark clouds mounting overhead. The wind whipped through his hair, carrying with it the strong scent of rain. He hurried to the front door, stopping just short of unlocking it. He’d had an odd feeling most of the afternoon, and now it suddenly heightened.

“You sure we got the right place?” the person sounded impatient, not much younger than he was. Someone else scoffed.

“Don’t be stupid,” this voice was annoyed, familiar. “He’ll be here.”

What’s going on? Jason stepped back from the door, wincing when he heard a plank creak beneath him. Whoever was inside had closed the blinds, obscuring his view, but also theirs. He took advantage of it, slipping around to the back of the house. The kitchen door was unlocked, the voices louder, one accompanied by the repeated cocking of a gun.

“Where is this fool?” the first person groaned. “I wanna kill something already!”

“Go shoot a rabbit or something, then,” the second one snapped. “We were ordered to wait until he got back and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Jason froze at the sound of footsteps, relaxing only slightly when they passed by.

“I’m going upstairs,” the first one laughed. “Might be some interesting shit up there.”

“Don’t even think about it,” more steps. “We’re here to kill, not to steal.”

A harsh laugh.

“I wasn’t gonna steal anything, just wanted to see if his bitch was around.”

That was the last straw. He threw the door open, stopping short when he saw the muzzle of a gun staring back at him. The man holding it, Gabriele, chuckled, pulling it back.

“You’re not as dumb as I thought,” he said. His partner turned, his dark face covered in old burns. He smiled, the expression twisted and lopsided.

“About time you showed up.”

Jason backed up a step, glancing from him back to Gabriele. He swallowed.

“What the hell are you doing here?” he demanded, his voice shaking slightly. Gabriele laughed again, once more bringing his gun up.

“I’m just here to settle an old score.”

His finger tightened on the trigger, Jason knocking it from his hand before he could fire. The next instant, Jason’s heel collided with his chest, the blow sending him back against the wall and knocking the wind out of him. A shot sounded, flying wild as the burned kid panicked. A swift blow to the head rendered him senseless, Jason turning back to Gabriele before he’d even hit the floor. Gabriele coughed, shrinking away from the rage in his cousin’s eyes.

“What are you doing here?” Jason repeated, his voice burning. “Who sent you?”

Gabriele took a deep breath, cringing in pain.

“Y-You should know by now…”

That quickly, he was on his feet, throwing a sharp right hook into Jason’s jaw. Caught off-guard, Jason staggered back, shaking his head. He managed to dodge the next blow, however, grabbing Gabriele’s arm and shoving him away. He then went for the gun, stumbling over his cousin’s unconscious partner. He fired without looking, turning when Gabriele screamed, seeing blood run from the ragged hole in the man’s knee. He got to his feet as Gabriele fell, grabbing his collar and hauling him up.

“I’ll give you one. Last. Chance,” he growled, shaking his cousin. “Now tell me, who the fuck sent you?”

Gabriele coughed again, glaring at the teen with everything he had left.

“Y-You might as well k-kill me,” he managed haggardly. “I-I’ll never say anything.”

Jason kept glaring at him, his eyes blazing, then abruptly dropped him, turning away.

“Get out.”

All traces of emotion had drained from his voice. Gabriele slumped against the wall, tears starting to run down his cheeks.

“P-Please,” he begged. “J-Just kill me. T-They’ll do it anyway.”

Jason’s shoulders stiffened. He turned back.

“What are you talking about?” he asked, his face blank. Then his eyes narrowed, his jaw tightening. “Who’s ‘they’?”

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