“What did you say?”
“I told her we’re killers. What else? She needs to know.”
I stare at my sister, tempted to choke her again, but no. That’s not the man I am. I won’t let myself go down that path.
“I hope you didn’t do something stupid,” I say.
“I’m bored, Case! You can’t keep me locked up in here!”
“I can and I will,” I say.
“You can’t!” Suddenly, her joy turns to rage. “You can’t! You fucking can’t!”
I step toward her and she stops. Her smile comes back.
“Please, Case. You know I won’t do it again. I won’t. I’m trying to be like you.”
I stare at her, and I know she’s a liar. A very good liar, but a liar.
And a goddamn killer.
“Fox will look after you while I’m gone,” I tell her. “We’re not done talking yet.”
“Case!” she screams after me, but I’m already leaving the house. “Fuck you, fucking piece of shit! You can’t keep me locked in here forever!”
As I head outside and get into my car, I know she’s right. That’s the most terrifying thing right now.
I know she’s right.
Sooner or later, I have to do something about Jessamine. It won’t ever be easy or pretty, but I can’t put it off forever.
The girl is dangerous. Very, very dangerous. I remember the first day I realized it, back when she was only ten years old.
I found her out back beating our old pet dog to death with a stick.
Poor, broken Jessamine. It’s horrible that she’s so beautiful. It draws men to her, gives her easy targets.
It took me a while to figure out what she was doing, but when I did, I took steps. I locked her away, kept her locked in a room for an entire year before finally letting her out.
We made a deal. She stays in the house, doesn’t stray, and I don’t lock her away again.
That deal’s been good for years now, but she’s starting to push back. Sooner or later, she’s going to get away.
And she’s going to do something very, very bad.
I sigh and drive. That’s a problem for another day.
Right now, I have to find Eden, and I have to make her understand.
* * *
Eden’s mother answers the door, looking tired. I give her my best smile. “Hi, Lorie. Can I speak with Eden?”
Lorie sighs. “She’s up in her room. Wouldn’t talk to me when she came in. Looked spooked. Something happen at work?”
I shake my head. “That’s why I’m here, honestly. I’ve been away all morning.”
She nods, expression tight. “Stay here. I’ll see if she wants to talk to you.”
I nod and step back. The door shuts and I wait almost ten minutes before Eden finally appears at the door.
She looks out at me, and for a second, it breaks my heart.
Because she looks afraid of me.
“What do you want?” she asks.
I raise an eyebrow. “I want you to do your job, but here you are, hiding away instead.”
That annoys her, like I knew it would. “Did you talk to your sister?”
“So, you know what she… what she said.”
“Then…” She trails off, looking for the words.
“Come outside,” I say softly. “Come for a walk with me. We can talk.”
She stares at me for a second. “I don’t know.”
“Eden, please. Jessamine is a little… difficult. I’m sorry she was messing with you.”
She takes a deep breath and slowly lets it out. “Okay,” she says finally. “Let’s go for a walk.”
She comes outside a minute later dressed in jeans, a sweater, and white sneakers.
“Come on,” she says, hopping lightly down the front steps and walking down the driveway.
I catch up with her and we walk side by side down the street. Up ahead, there’s an entrance at the dead end that leads into the woods.
“What was all that crap about being a psycho?” Eden finally asks me.
I walk silently next to her. I steal a glance in her direction, and for once in my life, I want to tell the truth.
It hurts so fucking much keeping my family’s secrets. I hate them, hate them so fucking much. The things I’ve seen would’ve broken any other person, but I’ve had to be strong. I didn’t have any other choice.
First, it was my father. Then it was Jessamine. And now I’m keeping it together for the whole fucking town, because without the Hammett family, half the people in Pine Grove lose their jobs.
“What exactly did she tell you?” I ask finally.
“She says you’re a killer. She says you’re both psychopaths.”
I grunt a little. “Not entirely true,” I say.
“Entirely?” She gapes at me.
“I’m not a killer,” I say quickly. “But you have to understand that there is something of a darkness in the Hammett family line.”
She sighs. We step through the guardrail barrier at the end of the street and into the woods. There’s a well-worn path that leads into the forest and we walk together, slowing down now and then to step over roots and holes in the muddy ground.