Release Date: September 6th, 2016
There may only be one killer, but no one is innocent in this new thriller from Natasha Preston, author of The Cellar and Awake.
When Mackenzie treks to a secluded cabin in the woods with six friends, she expects a fun weekend of partying, drinking, and hookups. But when they wake to find two of their own dead and covered in blood, it’s clear there’s a killer among them.
As the police try to unravel the case, Mackenzie launches her own investigation. Before long secrets start to emerge, revealing a sinister web of sins among the original seven friends. The killer is still free. Every one of them is a suspect. And Mackenzie starts to realize that no one is innocent…
Friday, August 7
“Do you have everything you need, Mackenzie?” Mum asked, watching me stuff clothes in a bag.
“I think so. We’re only going for two nights anyway.” Two painful nights of dealing with Josh.
“Remember to leave the address and phone number on the fridge.”
“I don’t think the cabin has a landline, but I’ll leave the address. I’ll get cell reception out there, apparently, and I’ll let you know when we arrive.”
She nodded nervously and gave me a weak smile.
“Mum, I’ll be fine.”
“You’re spending the weekend with someone you don’t like.”
“No, I’m spending the weekend with Aaron, Courtney, Megan, and Kyle. It’s just unfortunate that Josh will be there too.” If I could have uninvited him, I would have.
But the cabin is his parents’, so that didn’t seem too likely. Or reasonable. He’d invited us all to spend the weekend at his family’s cabin since school was out. The UK had finally realized it was summer, and next year, we’d all be going our separate ways for university.
“If you need to be picked up early…?”
I shook my head. “Thanks, but I’ll be fine. There’s no way I’m letting him ruin a weekend with my friends. Anyway, I need to go.”
“I’ll drop you off at Joshua’s.”
“No, it’s fine, Mum. I can walk.” I grabbed my bag and swung it over my shoulder. “See you Sunday night. Love you,” I said, kissing her cheek.
“Love you too, sweetheart. Call if you need anything.”
“I will,” I replied.
Josh only lived a two–minute walk away, so it wouldn’t take me long. I slammed the front door behind me and headed down the path. The weather was superhot, it being the beginning of August, and I was glad I’d opted for shorts and a T–shirt.
When I got to Josh’s, everyone was outside his house, cramming bags into cars. Seriously, we were going for two nights, but it looked like Courtney and Megan had packed for a week.
“Kenz!” Courtney shouted, jogging toward me. Her red ponytail swayed and her green eyes danced with excitement. She was the only person genuinely happy about this trip.
Taking a deep breath, I pushed away every ounce of doubt I had about this weekend and smiled. “Hey, Court. Is everyone ready?”
“Almost. Josh will be back soon,” she replied with a goofy smile. “Don’t look like that,” she added when I grimaced at his name.
Whoops, she caught me. “Sorry. I didn’t mean that. It’s…nice of him to invite us to his folk’s cabin.”
She took my lame apology with a smile. “He wants things back the way they were.”
Did he have a time machine so he could go back and not say those awful things about my friends? Could he take back what he’d done to me? What he still was doing to me?
Josh might be trying to make amends for the past—-if we were even to believe it was genuine—-but we weren’t going to forgive him so easily. Some hurts aren’t that easy to get over, and I couldn’t forgive someone who wasn’t sorry and hadn’t changed their behavior. Courtney had forgiven him already, of course, but she never could see what a waster her boyfriend was.
I lifted my eyebrow.
“Mackenzie, please,” Courtney said, sighing as she pushed her bangs out of her eyes. “He’s trying, and it will mean so much to me if you’ll try too. Please?”
I groaned and my shoulders sagged. “Fine. I’ll play nice.”
Two nights, that’s it. You can do that.
“We all will,” Megan added, stepping beside us. “Right, guys?” Aaron and Kyle nodded along, agreeing to put their differences to the side—-for the weekend at least.
“Where is Josh anyway?” I asked.
“Picking up his brother.” Courtney rolled her eyes. “Blake wanted to see him again, so Josh invited him this morning. Technically the cabin belongs to Blake too, so there’s not much anyone can do to stop him from coming with.”
“Oh,” I muttered, not sure how I felt about a stranger joining us. We didn’t know Blake, and if he was anything like Josh, the weekend was going to be a nightmare. “So the estranged brother is coming.” Great. This trip keeps getting better and better.
I had seen Blake before, on about two occasions, when his parents were doing a kid swap, but I’d never spoken to him. Blake had moved away with his dad after their parents divorced. Josh stayed with their mum. The two boys didn’t spend much time together while they were growing up, which was probably a good thing for Blake.
Courtney pushed her bangs aside again. They never stayed put, so I didn’t know why she didn’t just cut them shorter. “They’re hardly estranged.”
They rarely saw each other; I’d call that estranged. “Why is he crashing his brother’s party?” I asked.
“He’s lonely?” Kyle offered, making a sad face.
Courtney leaned against Aaron’s car. “No, he just wants to spend time with his brother. They both want to.”
If Blake was like Josh, I would be coming home early for sure. I didn’t even want to breathe the same air as Josh, so I sort of hoped Blake was an idiot too, then I would have an excuse to leave that wouldn’t hurt Courtney’s feelings.
The warm air blew my long chestnut hair in my face. I brushed the strands from my eyes just in time to see a metallic–black Mitsubishi Warrior—-the only car I recognized without reading the logo because it was Kyle’s favorite subject—-pull up beside me.
Here we go…
Josh was sitting in the passenger seat and his brother was driving. They both had the same dark–brown hair and blue eyes, but apart from that, they looked totally different. Josh definitely didn’t inherit the looks. Blake snapped every ounce of drop–dead gorgeous and left nothing for his younger brother. Lucky for Blake.
I looked away and walked around to Aaron’s car, wanting to put as much distance between me and Josh as possible. Even just seeing his face made me want to punch him, especially after his demands. Courtney was smart, but when it came to him, she was as thick as a post.
Josh got out of the car. “Hey, guys. You remember my brother, Blake?”
Megan shook her head. “Nope, but hi.”
Blake walked to the front of his truck and casually leaned against the hood as if he was bored. “Hey,” he said with a nod.
He wore chunky black boots, dark jeans, and a black jacket, making him look mysterious and maybe a little dangerous. His dark hair stuck out in all directions in a messy style that looked like he didn’t give a crap—-which I assumed he didn’t. His bright–blue eyes scanned the group, checking us out one by one.
His gaze was intense and it was like he saw everything. I didn’t want him to see anything about me. “Let’s just leave already!” I said, opening the car door and climbing inside. The sooner we got there, the sooner we could get back. Damn, I sounded like my parents on Christmas Eve when they would try to get me to sleep as the clock ticked dangerously close to midnight.
But at least I would get two nights adult free to spend with my friends. That was something to look forward to for sure.
“Err, Mackenzie,” Courtney said. “You’re in the car with me.”
My face fell. I knew what that meant. “What?”
She stepped forward and leaned in the car so we could talk privately. “You’re coming in the car with me, Josh, and Blake.”
“Yeah, I’m not,” I replied.
“Please? Look, I know you’re mad at him, and I understand why, but will you try? I really think you two need to spend the car trip together to work through this.”
“We really don’t, Court.”
“This weekend is going to suck if you’re pissed at Josh the whole time.”
I frowned. I wasn’t the only one who didn’t like him though, so why was I the only one being forced to make the extra effort? “His brother’s weird,” I whispered as if that was going to change Courtney’s mind.
“Blake is harmless.”
I’d run out of excuses. Sighing in defeat, I replied, “All right! But if he pisses me off by making his usual stupid comments, I’m switching cars.”
Courtney held up her hands. “OK, OK. Thank you.”
“We’re taking Blake’s car then?”
“Yeah, they must have decided to bring Blake’s instead. I can see why.” Courtney was a car person; she knew all the different types and models by sight. I couldn’t even tell if something was wrong with one—-unless the engine actually fell out.
“His car, so I guess.” She shrugged, watching Josh with a loving look that made me want to shake some sense into her.
“I call shotgun,” I replied. If I had to be in the same car, at least I wouldn’t have to sit next to him. I was aware that I was behaving like a child, but I didn’t care. Josh had crossed a line, and I wasn’t going to forgive him. Actually, Josh had crossed about a million lines.
I got in the passenger seat before Josh had a chance to say or do anything. He could shove it if he thought I was moving. Blake smiled a little awkwardly and started the car. He didn’t ooze confidence, but he looked like he didn’t care what anyone thought.
“I’m coming in your car too,” Kyle said.
Courtney narrowed her eyes. “You’re with Aaron and Megan.”
“There’s space with you for another, isn’t there?”
“Kyle, five in one car and two in another is stupid. No one wants to be cramped in the back.”
“Oh, for Christ’s sake, Kyle, just get in Aaron’s bloody car,” Josh snapped, shoving past him. “Pathetic arsehole.”
I ground my teeth. Did it really matter which car he rode in?
The answer was no.
Blake and I hadn’t spent any time together, so we quickly fell into an awkward silence while we waited for Josh and Courtney to get in the car. I bit the inside of my cheek and twiddled my fingers. Say something to him! We had never actually spoken to each other before. That was about to change. We had a forty–five–minute car ride to a remote part of the Lake District ahead of us.
“Why do you hate Josh?” he asked.
I was surprised by his bluntness. It was no secret that I didn’t like Josh, but I didn’t expect his brother to come straight out and ask. “Um, because he’s a bloody idiot.”
Blake’s eyebrow rose, and he pursed his lips. Finally, he nodded once. “Yeah. OK then.”
“You don’t see him much, do you?”
“Not really. Growing up, my parents couldn’t get their shit together long enough to schedule proper visits for us. Most of the time, when they finally got around to it, they swapped us over for a day or two. I think I can count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen my mum in the last twelve years.”
My heart ached for him. I couldn’t imagine what he went through as a kid. He must’ve missed his mum. I would have; my mum was the person I went to with every problem—-well, almost every problem. “That’s really sad.”
He lifted his shoulder and let it drop. “That’s how it goes sometimes.”
“Yeah, but…” I shook my head. I couldn’t imagine not seeing my mum every day, as crazy as she drove me sometimes. Blake must have felt abandoned by his mom if she never made the effort. Maybe that was how Josh felt about his dad? Wow, Josh and deep feelings. That was strange to think about… Everything I’d witnessed of his character had been shallow and selfish.
Josh and Courtney got in the car, and I zipped my mouth. The atmosphere turned tense, like it always was when Josh was around. He knew I wished he wasn’t with Courtney after all of the horrible things he’d said about our friends Tilly and Gigi. He loved that Courtney wouldn’t ditch him for treating her friends like rubbish. Bastard.
“Oh, I don’t mind you sitting up front with my brother, Mackenzie,” Josh said sarcastically as he climbed into the backseat.
I clenched my fists. Don’t let him get to you.
“My car, Bro, and I’d rather sit near a pretty face than your ugly mug,” Blake responded.
Smiling to myself, I grabbed my bag of lollipops and offered one to Blake. I should probably have been annoyed at the “pretty face” comment, but that was overshadowed by him calling Josh ugly. Blake took an orange lollipop—-my favorite—-and gave me a wink.
“Not sharing, Mackenzie?” Josh asked.
I took a deep breath, resisting the urge to jam the plastic stick into his eye. “Sure,” I replied, holding out the bag. He took two, probably to annoy me, so I said nothing.
“OK, everyone, please play nice,” Courtney whined. “This weekend, parent free, is going to be epic, so will you all make up?”
“You know I don’t have a problem with any of them, babe,” Josh replied.
“Whatever,” I muttered, clenching my jaw.
I watched Blake as he drove. His eyes slid over, occasionally catching me, but he didn’t say a word. I found myself wanting to get to know him, but I wasn’t sure why. He would go home after the weekend, and I’d probably never see him again.
Still, Blake was gorgeous, and I was drawn to him.
We reached the cabin without bloodshed, so I was pleased with my self–control—-so far. Courtney kept Josh in check by flirting with him and getting him to listen to music. I couldn’t wait until she saw through him and his crap. I was going to make sure I had a front–row seat when she dumped his arse.
“This is it?” I asked, looking out the window up at a huge, two–story cabin. It could easily house about ten people.
Blake cut the engine and smirked. “What did you expect? The Ritz?”
“This is amazing. I didn’t think it would be this big.”
“Three years ago, I would have made some sort of sexual innuendo,” Blake replied.
“All grown up now, are we?”
“Nah, that was just when I noticed Josh trying to act the big man and I realized how lame those comments actually sound.”
I grinned and got out of the car. I liked Blake and his painfully beautiful face. Maybe this weekend wouldn’t be so miserable. Kyle and Aaron bundled bags out of the trunk and chucked them on the ground. Halfway to the cabin I guess. Kyle grabbed his phone and started to film, like he usually did. He wanted to do something in the film industry, and I think he’d be awesome at it.
“Smile, Kenz,” he said, pointing it in my direction.
I stuck out my tongue and Aaron made an obscene gesture.
“Nice, Aaron,” Kyle said sarcastically.
Megan stared up at the enormous house. You could tell from the overgrown plants and faded window frames that no one had been here in a while. Josh and Courtney had spent all last weekend here getting it ready, but they’d just cleaned the inside.
The cabin was set in a clearing; the woods surrounded it on three sides, and a gorgeous lake ran along the front of the property. The scenery was beautiful. I didn’t understand why Josh’s family didn’t use it more often.
“You happy to be back?” I asked Blake as we walked to the front door at a snail’s pace. He dragged his feet like he didn’t really want to be here.
Blake shrugged and grunted. “Just here for the booze.”
Of course you are.
Josh unlocked the front door and turned to us. Kyle rolled his eyes, guessing what was coming, and I tried not to laugh. We—-eighteen and however old Blake was—-were about to be given rules.
“Courtney and I have worked hard getting the cabin ready for you all, so I would appreciate it if you would respect the place and not leave it looking like a Dumpster.”
I bit my tongue. How pompous. None of us were going to trash the cabin and he knew that. Courtney stood beside him like the lady of the manor, eating up the attention. I loved that girl, but she needed a good slap to knock some sense into her.
Josh opened the door and walked in ahead of Courtney. Gentleman my arse! And Court didn’t even care; she followed him like a little lapdog.
“I’ll grab the rest of the bags,” Aaron said, heading back out of the door.
I walked in and my jaw dropped. Wow.
The cabin was beautiful, albeit a little dated. The view of the lake from the family room window was to die for. The sun shone down on the water’s surface, making it glisten. There was a large fireplace that I could have stepped into.
Kyle walked behind me, capturing the view with his phone.
“I’m going to explore. Anyone wanna come?” Megan asked, bouncing up and down like a toddler. Her short, overly hair–sprayed bob barely moved an inch. She had already dropped her bag by the bottom of the stairs, which was about as much unpacking as she ever did.
I handed a case of beer to Courtney, who was organizing the food and booze in the kitchen.
“Don’t fancy getting lost in the forest, thanks,” I replied.
Aaron dropped a load of bags on the floor. “I’ll come.” He walked out before anyone could stop him and make him help. I watched them walk into the woods. The bright midday sun shone down on Aaron’s white–blond hair, making it glow. They both looked happy to be away, and I was going to try and do the same.
“Going for a walk,” Kyle said, shaking his head at them as he lowered the phone. He held up a six–pack in his other hand. “Crazy. Hey, Blake, where’d you want the beer, man?”
“In the oven,” he replied dryly.
I tried not to smile but failed miserably. I wasn’t sure what Blake was doing here. He didn’t seem to have a good relationship with Josh, and he didn’t seem to be making much effort.
Kyle’s mouth thinned in a tight smile, and I could tell he was fighting the urge to say something back. Instead, he narrowed his eyes and spun on his heel. Shaking his head, he walked away. Kyle was a sensitive soul and was never very good with anyone making fun of him.
Then, Blake and I were left in the living room. Alone again. I pursed my lips, not knowing what to say. Should I even say anything? The silence was awkward, but it didn’t seem to bother him at all. Nothing seemed to affect him. Blake was cool, calm, and almost robotic. But I wasn’t naive enough to think that nothing got to him.
“So…did you come here much when you were a kid?” I asked to fill the silence.
He looked over his shoulder, half smiling at me. “You’re asking if I come here much?”
“No, I asked if you came here much.” There was a big difference.
Blake turned his body so he was fully facing me. I don’t know if he did it to be intimidating, but it was. He had this cockiness about him, but it wasn’t off–putting like Josh’s.
“We came here a lot before our parents separated. After the divorce, the place stayed empty, until now.”
I didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.”
“Why? People divorce all the time.” Before I had the chance to say anything else, he walked outside. There was definitely a lot more to him than he let people see.
“Beer, Kenz?” Kyle asked from behind me.
I turned and smirked. “You know it’s eleven in the morning, right?”
“Yeah,” he replied, tilting his head, waiting for me to explain.
I smiled and took a beer from his outstretched hand. “Never mind.”
Kyle and I sat on the sofa while Josh and Courtney messed around putting things away in the kitchen. “You think we should help?” I asked.
“I offered. You know what Josh is like.”
Control freak. We wouldn’t do it the way he wanted. How many different ways were there to put food in a cupboard? This was “Josh’s” place though, and we were being made very aware that we were just guests. “I’m going to need a lot of alcohol to get through this weekend,” I said. I’d promised my parents no drinking, obviously, but we were all parent free and determined to make the most of it. They think we’re swimming in the lake, cooking out, and roasting marshmallows around a campfire. We are, so it’s not a total lie, but there will be drinking.
Kyle nodded in agreement and raised his bottle. “Let’s keep it coming, then.”
I clinked the top of my bottle against his and took a swig.
Kyle and I had just finished our thirds when the rest of the group joined us. “Wow, this looks fun,” Aaron said, grinning at the bottles of alcohol spread out over the coffee table.
“Yep, Kyle and I thought we should have it all at arm’s reach. Cheers,” I said, raising my half–full bottle.
“Well, if we’re doing this, we’re doing it right. I’m well up for getting wasted,” Aaron replied, picking the Absolut Vodka. “Everyone’s in, no backing out. Josh, shot glasses, my man!” My smile grew. I wasn’t a big drinker, especially after last time, with the accident, but I wanted to have stupid, immature fun tonight.
“Err, guys, I don’t want anyone throwing up in my house,” Josh said in his annoying, stuck–up, I’m–better–than–you way. I had a very sudden, very childish urge to drink until I puked.
Everything he wanted, I wanted to do the opposite. I knew that was dangerous though. I knew I couldn’t—-and I wasn’t stupid enough to do it—-but I damn well wanted to.
“Lighten up, mate, come on. We all want this to be a good weekend,” Kyle replied.
Josh glared and his jaw tightened. He didn’t like to be challenged. “I am relaxed,” he growled through his teeth.
Aaron lifted a freshly poured shot glass and raised it to Josh, his own little in–your–face, before knocking it back. I smiled and did the same. And then I regretted it because Josh’s eyebrow arched and I knew exactly what he was thinking.
And he wouldn’t hesitate to open his big mouth. But before he could say anything, Aaron spoke. “A toast,” he said, raising a bottle this time. “To a killer weekend.”
We lifted whatever we had in our hands. “To a killer weekend!”
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