Home > Trapper Road (Stillhouse Lake #6)

Trapper Road (Stillhouse Lake #6)
Author: Rachel Caine

 

PROLOGUE

 

 

Some things weren’t meant for daylight, and the Shadow Shack was one of them. It was a place meant for the darkness—for drinking, and hooking up, and any number of things parents wouldn’t approve of. The old abandoned house was far enough from town, and tucked deep enough in the woods, that parties could rage in the surrounding clearing without fear of being detected.

Juliette had been there a few times. Underclassmen weren’t generally invited, but that didn’t seem to apply to girls. Especially ones like Juliette and her friends, Mandy and Willa, who didn’t look their age. The parties had always been fun—bonfires raging, car stereos blaring through open windows—but Juliette never truly felt comfortable. It was the house that made her uneasy. It seemed to hover in the background, an ever-present, menacing shadow with blank, broken eyes that were always watching.

No one knew long it had been there, or when someone last lived in it. Few people had ever been inside, and rumor was it was haunted. Juliette figured any ghost trapped in a monstrosity like that wouldn’t be friendly, so she was happy to keep her distance.

But then summer had come, with its long, unbroken days of heat and boredom. Mandy had been the one to suggest they check out the Shadow Shack, and Willa had instantly agreed. They both wanted to see what the fuss was all about, and they figured actually going inside the house would give them something to brag about at the next party.

Juliette could have pushed back against her two best friends, but that would have caused trouble. It would have led to a fight, maybe even tears. Juliette didn’t have the energy for that. Which was how she found herself standing alone in a second-floor bedroom of a crumbling old house that had definitely seen much better days. She wrinkled her nose at a sagging couch in the corner, its upholstery covered in stains, and wondered how many people had been half-clothed on those cushions without realizing how filthy disgusting it was.

That was the beauty of darkness, Juliette thought. It tended to hide the stains, the cracks in the plaster, the warped floorboards, and the uneven stairs. The daylight was what turned everything ugly. That was when you could see the truth of things

“Hey, come check it out,” her friend Mandy called from somewhere deeper in the house. “It looks like a bird got trapped in the attic. Something big. It didn’t end well.”

Juliette frowned. “Gross. I don’t want to see that,” she shouted.

“Yes you do,” Mandy called back. “Get your ass up here.”

Juliette rolled her eyes. She could just leave. She probably should. She hadn’t even wanted to come here in the first place. She kicked at a hunk of plaster, sending it careening toward a crumbling wall. She was tired of her friends, tired of the relentless summer heat, tired of the boredom, and tired of her life.

She thought of Beau, the guy she’d been talking to online. The guy she was in love with. The guy who was in love with her. The guy she’d told no one about, not even her two best friends. They would be meeting in person today for the first time. As soon as his parents left town and he was able to get away, he planned to text her a place to meet up. Her cheeks flushed with anticipation. She’d been on edge, alternating between panic and irritability at not having heard from him yet.

Her friends yelled for her again, and she fisted her hands in frustration.

“Coming!” She stomped her way across the room, the old floorboards creaking and shifting under her weight. She reached the second-floor landing, careful to keep close to the wall to avoid the section of broken railing, the remains of which lay in a heap on the foyer floor more than a dozen feet below.

She followed the sound of her friends’ voices to the back of the house where a narrow door led to an even narrower staircase that disappeared into a dusty darkness. Several of the treads were missing and even more looked like they’d crumble to dust at the slightest touch. She started up the stairs, testing each step with a press of her toe before giving it her full weight. Paint flecked under her fingers as she dragged her hand against the wall for balance.

Mandy appeared at the top, tapping a toe impatiently. “Took you long enough.”

Before Juliette could come up with a snarky response, she felt a buzz in her pocket. Her pulse kicked into overdrive, and she nearly dropped her phone in her effort to yank it from her pocket. The screen lit up with an alert that she had a new message. It was from him. Her body flooded with adrenaline as she clicked on it. There were no words, just a series of numbers and she frowned in confusion until she realized it was a link.

Her finger shook slightly as she clicked on it. Her maps app opened, a pin dropping on a set of coordinates. She stared at it. This was it, the place they were going to meet. The place she would see him in person for the first time. The place she’d be able to touch him, hold him, hopefully kiss him, and hear his voice.

Her head swam at the thought of it all.

It was finally happening. Her life was about to change. Everything would be better once she had Beau by her side.

She looked up to find Mandy considering her. There must have been an old window up there because a dim light glowed off to her side, throwing her face in shadow, but Juliette could see that her eyes were narrowed.

Juliette held up her phone. “Gotta go. Sorry.”

She spun on her heel, anxious to leave, then pulled up short. Willa hovered at the bottom of the stairs, her mane of frizzy blond hair filling the narrow doorway.

“Everything okay?” she asked as she started to climb.

Juliette shook her head. “Yep, all good. My mom texted to remind me to pick up her prescription so I gotta run.”

“I don’t believe you,” Mandy called behind her.

It took a minute for Juliette to actually realize what her friend had just said. Once she did, she sucked in an outraged breath and turned to face her. “Are you serious right now?”

Mandy nodded and crossed her arms, defiant. “I am. You’ve been acting weird all summer. Something’s going on that you’re not telling us about.”

It was true, of course. She’d never told them about Beau because he’d asked her not to, but that didn’t give her best friend the right to call her a liar.

“Whatever,” she grumbled, turning on her heel to leave.

But Willa was there, on the step below her, blocking any exit. The staircase was too narrow to push past her. Juliette would have to shove her friend down the stairs and into the hallway if she wanted to escape.

“No secrets, remember?” Willa said in her soft, lilting voice.

Juliette clenched her jaw tight. She knew what would happen if she told them about Beau; they’d tell her she was being an idiot. They’d ask if she’d ever talked to him on the phone or seen him via video, and when she told them he wasn’t allowed to take his phone to school and lived out on a farm with crap reception, they’d use it as proof that he wasn’t who he said he was.

They’d claim he was some forty-year-old pervert luring her into a sex trafficking ring, or a serial killer, or old Mr. Cooper from school who was skinny and bald and rumored to have a thing for young girls.

They wouldn’t understand that she and Beau had been talking for months. He’d sent photos, and she’d been smart enough to reverse image search them to make sure they weren’t fake. He’d even sent an audio recording of him singing a song he wrote for her. No pervert or serial killer would waste that much time on someone like her.

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