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“He’s right,” I told her. “A wedding—hundreds of people and Will and me at his side—Damon’s ego couldn’t take it. He wouldn’t stay away.”

“No one’s seen or heard from him in a year.”

I flexed my jaw, anticipation curling its way through my gut. “Yeah, that’s what scares me.”

A year ago, Damon wanted Rika to suffer unimaginably. We all did, actually, but Damon went a little further, and when we didn’t stick by him, we all became his enemies. He attacked us, hurt her, and helped Michael’s brother, Trevor, try to kill her. Michael was smart to assume that Damon’s anger probably hadn’t dissipated. If we knew where he was, that would be one thing, but the detectives we hired to find him and keep tabs on his whereabouts hadn’t been able to locate him.

Which explained why Michael wanted to take measures to keep Rika out of the limelight, as such a grand wedding in our affluent, seaside hometown would put her.

“You don’t care about a large wedding,” I reminded her. “You just want Michael. Why not go off and just do it like he wants?”

She was silent for a few moments and then spoke quietly, her eyes in a far-off place. “No.” She shook her head. “Just behind St. Killian’s, where the forest ends and the cliffs give way to the sea. Under the midnight sky…” She nodded, a beautiful, wistful smile touching her lips. “That’s where I’ll marry Michael.”

I studied her, wondering about that far off, dreamy look in her eyes. As if she’d always known she would marry Michael Crist and had been seeing it in her head all her life.

“What is that building?” Rika asked, jerking her chin, gesturing out the window.

I followed her gaze, but I didn’t have to look to know which building she spoke of. I’d chosen this location for our dojo for a reason.

Gazing out of the glass, I stared at the building on the other side of the street, about thirty stories higher than ours, the gray stone darkened by the rain and the broken street lights.

“The Pope,” I answered. “It was quite a hotel back in its day. Still is, actually.”

The Pope had been abandoned for several years and had been built when there was talk of a football stadium being constructed over here as a way to bring more tourism to Meridian City. And a way to revitalize Whitehall, the rundown, urban district in which we now stood.

Unfortunately, the stadium never happened, and The Pope went under after struggling to stay in business.

I scanned the darkened windows, the shadows of drapes just barely visible inside a hundred rooms that now sat quiet and empty. It was hard to think of such a large place not having an ounce of life in it anymore. Impossible, in fact. My leery eyes watched each dark void, my sight only taking me a few inches into the room before darkness consumed the rest.

“It feels like someone’s watching us.”

“I know,” I agreed, surveying each window, one after another.

I saw her shiver out of the corner of my eye and picked up my sweatshirt, handing it to her.

She took it, giving me a smile as she turned to go back down the stairs. “It’s getting cold. I can’t believe October is here already. Devil’s Night will be here soon,” she sing-songed, sounding excited.

I nodded, following her.

But as I cast one more glance behind me, chills spread down my body thinking about the hundred haunting, vacant rooms at the abandoned hotel across the street.

And a Devil’s Night, so long ago, when a boy who used to be me hunted a girl who might be like Rika in a place that just may be that very same dark hotel out the window right now.

But unlike tonight, he didn’t stop.

He did something he shouldn’t have done.

I walked down the stairs, inches behind Rika and matching her steps in perfect time as I gazed at the back of her hair.

She didn’t realize just how close danger was to her.


Devil’s Night

Six Years Ago

Devil’s Night. This was it.

Our last one.

We were graduating next May, and once the four of us went off to college, we wouldn’t be home unless it was for winter or summer breaks. And by then, we’d be too old for this. We wouldn’t have the excuse of youth to explain why we chose to celebrate the night before Halloween, indulging in pranks and other childish shenanigans, for no other reason than to raise a little hell. We’d be men. It wouldn’t fly, right?

So, tonight would be it. The finale.

I slammed my car door shut and walked through the parking lot, past Damon’s BMW, and toward the rear entrance of the cathedral. Opening the door, I walked into the lounge area, consisting of some tables, a kitchen, a few couches, and a coffee table littered with pamphlets on how to pray the rosary and Fasting in a Healthy Way.

I inhaled a deep breath, the ever-present odor of incense filling the quiet halls. I was Catholic by birth, as was my friend, Damon, but in practice, we were Catholic in the same way Taco Bell was a Mexican restaurant. I played along for my mother, while Damon played along for amusement.

I headed down the hallway to the actual church, but a loud thud pierced the silence, and I stopped short, looking around for where it came from. It sounded like a book dropping onto a desktop.

It was a Friday morning. Not many people would be here, although there were probably a few stragglers kneeling in the pews and praying their penance, since confession had just ended.

“What did we discuss yesterday?” I heard Father Beir’s burly voice from somewhere off to my left.

“I don’t remember, Father.”

I smiled to myself. Damon.

Taking a left, I stepped quietly down another marble hallway, dragging my fingertips over the shiny mahogany paneling on the walls and trying to withhold my laughter.

Stopping just before the open door to the priest’s office, I hung back and listened. Damon’s smooth, calm tone answered Beir as if following a script.

“You’re unrepentant and irresponsible.”

“Yes, Father.”

My chest shook. Damon’s words were always in complete contradiction to how they sounded coming out of his mouth. Yes, Father as if in complete agreement that he’d misbehaved, while at the same time Yes, Father, aren’t you proud of me?

Most of us reconciled in the confessionals out in the nave, but Damon—after many years of failed “redirection” on the part of his father and his priest—was forced to be schooled face to face for weekly counseling sessions.

He fucking enjoyed it. He took pleasure in being anyone’s devil.

Twisting my head around, I peeked into the room, seeing the priest walk around the desk while Damon knelt on a single pew, Beir’s big, black Bible on the stand in front of him.

“Do you want to be judged?” the father asked.

“We will all be judged.”

“That’s not what I taught you.”

Damon’s head was bowed enough for his black hair to hang just over his eyes, but I could see the hint of a smile that Beir probably couldn’t. He wore our school uniform, khakis with his typical wrinkled, white Oxford, cuffs unbuttoned, and a loose blue and green necktie hanging around his neck. We were on our way to school, but he looked like he’d been in his clothes all night.

He suddenly turned his head toward me, and I watched as he jutted out his tongue, moving it side to side suggestively and grinning like an asshole.

I broke into silent laughter, smiling at him and shaking my head.


Turning away, I walked back down the hallway, toward the church, and left Damon to finish his “lesson.”

There were many things I loved about this place, but being lectured like that wasn’t one of them. The masses bored me, the Sunday school monotonous, many of the priests distant and cold, and so many of the parishioners vile to each other Monday thru Saturday who suddenly changed their tunes between ten and eleven o’clock on Sunday mornings. It was all such a lie.

But I liked the church. It was quiet. And you could be quiet here without the expectation of forced interactions.

Heading down the aisle, toward the back, I scanned the four confessionals, making sure no lights were on that signaled a priest inside. Since they were all empty, I walked down to the far right, choosing the last one, partially hidden behind a column and the one closest to the stained-glass windows.

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