My Secret Heart: a dark high-school romance
Now you know my secret.
Bit of a doozy, isn’t it?
Sorry 'bout that.
The problem is, someone else knows too.
Someone who’s already buried me once.
This time, they’re determined to finish the job.
Three broken princes stand between me and my doom:
The fallen king with his thirst for vengeance.
The rock god who sings of blood and stars.
The sweet one who’s drowning in hate.
Three spoiled princes who own my heart of ice.
Keeping them secret is the only way to save them.
But my betrayal will drive them into my enemy’s hands.
Alea iacta est.
Let the die be cast.
Welcome to Stonehurst f**king Prep.
Release date: October 30, 2020
Publisher: Bacchanalia House
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My Secret Heart: a dark high-school romance
PROLOGUE: NOT-MACKENZIE (FOUR YEARS EARLIER)
“Stop twitching like a teenager on a meth binge, Jesus fuck.” Antony rocks beneath me. “You nearly took my eye out.”
“You want to try balancing on my spindly shoulders while cutting this?” I snap back, sucking my bleeding finger into my mouth as I aim the cutters at the next coil of barbed wire. “Stop whining. If the neighbors hear us, we’re done for.”
Antony grunts and shifts his weight beneath me, and I tighten my thighs around his neck as a tremble rocks through my body. I’m not shaking because I’m struggling to balance sitting on his shoulders – I’ve always been pretty good at that sort of thing. I’m a wreck because I’m still living inside the nightmare of waking up in a coffin, of sucking in stale air and knowing my last breath will taste of graveyard dirt and loneliness.
If Antony hadn’t found me…
I should be dead right now. My parents are dead. The truth of it hasn’t hit me yet. It’s a story of something terrible that happened to someone else. When Daddy talked to me about his work, he had the same matter-of-fact tone he used to discuss the weather. Grey skies and drug deals, el Nino and Al Capone – it’s all the same to him.
I’m detached from my life, floating in the ocean of my own delusion as I snap, snap, snap at the barbed wire.
Is this how Daddy stayed sane? I discard the thought as soon as it comes to me. Daddy was many things, but sane wasn’t one of them.
Finally, I have a section of wire cut away that’s wide enough for me to slip through. Antony gives me a boost, and I vault over the wall. I tuck my knees to my chest and throw my arms out as I land to cushion the impact the way Antony taught me. It doesn’t work. I cry out as my ankle rolls and the force radiates up my leg.
“You okay?” Antony yells, his voice muffled by the high stone wall between us.
“Shut up.” The last thing we need is some nosy neighbor overhearing him and calling the cops. Although there doesn’t appear to be neighbors nearby. A strip of manmade woodland surrounds the mansion on two sides, closing us off from the rest of Harrington Hill. And those neighbors probably had their own woodlands and fancy gardens and huge fuck-off walls, too.
Rich people love their privacy. Behind their barricades, they can get up to all the illicit things that have lined my family’s coffers for centuries.
I lean my weight on my good ankle and stand, taking in my surroundings. I’ve landed on a tiled bar area – upturned pool furniture scattered around a sunken fire pit and outdoor kitchen festooned with spiderwebs. In front of me, the azure waters of a swimming pool glisten in the moonlight. A blow-up unicorn bobs in the water, its neck bent at an impossible angle as it slowly deflates – a remnant of the life of the girl who grew up in this palace. It’s a fitting metaphor for Mackenzie Malloy – the spoiled princess touched by magic who’s discovered she bleeds like the rest of us.
Beyond the pool, the house glitters, bright and inviting. Strips of LED lighting glow softly as they illuminate a path across the garden. Dorothy’s yellow-brick road through the land of Oz. I see more lights on inside, and hip furniture arranged just-so behind the tinted windows. It looks as if the owners will be home any minute.
I’m itching to explore inside, but I need to find a way to let Antony in first. I duck through an iron gate down the side of the house and into the front yard, picking my way gingerly around evil-ass looking succulents. Whoever did the landscaping has a hard-on for spikes.
Twin iron gates tower above me, topped with more spikes and hung from a pair of stone pillars that could pass as the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. We already tried a crowbar on the gates, but that wouldn’t fly. I spy a metal box screwed into one of the pillars. I kick off the front panel. Inside is a manual override, in case the gate’s electronics short during a storm and the rich bastards inside need to send out their servants to restock the cellar with Dom Pérignon and gilt-edged toilet paper. I crank the handle to make a gap wide enough for Antony to fit through, and we’re both inside.
Our feet crunch on the stone pathway as we walk toward my future. Or my doom. It’s too soon and I’m too fucked-up to know which one yet.
“Welcome to your new home, Claws.” Antony gestures to the front door like he’s a real estate agent on a property reality TV show. He picks up one of the decorative rocks and lobs it at the window beside the door. The rock bounces off and knocks over a cactus, but there’s not a single scratch on the glass.
“Ballistic glass.” Antony steps in close to inspect the window. “And this door is bulletproof. Whoever built this house was expecting trouble.”
That makes it the perfect place to hide.
If we can get in.
Antony has a gun tucked into his belt, and I consider the possibility of using it – multiple shots fired at the same location will eventually break ballistic glass. But he doesn’t have a silencer and we don’t need to announce ourselves to the neighborhood by opening fire. We circle the property to look for another entry point, stomping through the gardens and doing battle with the evil-looking cacti. The spiky bastards emerge victorious – by the time Antony yells in triumph from somewhere up ahead of me, my pajama leg is bristled like a porcupine.
“Look at this.” Antony stands in front of the pool, pointing to a box on the wall of the house, beside the outdoor fireplace. It’s filled with logs. “Pull those out while I search for a hammer.”
I do as I’m told, only dimly registering the splinters that puncture my fingers as I toss the wood into the garden. My leg itches from where the cacti got me, but I fancy I can still taste the graveyard in my mouth, and that’s all I can think about.
My pajamas are covered in sweat and sawdust by the time I’m done, but I empty the box. At the rear is another door – I realize this must open inside the house, so the family can stoke an indoor fireplace using the same wood supply. Clever thinking, Antony.
I push on the door, but it’s stuck fast.
“Step aside.” Antony strides across the garden toward me, carrying a sledgehammer over his shoulder. I tug off my pajama pants and sit on the edge of the swimming pool, dangling my legs into the cool water while he swings at the inner door. I think about the newspaper article he showed me in the car on the way here – about the family who used to live here, about the girl who looks just like me who disappeared without a trace – and his plan to use that to our advantage. Any other day I’d have punched Antony for being a crazy mofo. But he has grave dirt under his nails. My grave dirt. Crazy has gone out the fucking window.
I was buried alive along with my daddy, who didn’t survive. My mother was sliced up in our home, her head nearly severed from her body.
Nothing seems crazy after that.
Antony calls me over. I peer into the dark void of the hole he’s made in the wood. Antony steps back. “Ladies first.”
It can’t be this easy. “How come no alarms have gone off?”
“The family has been missing for at least six weeks. I’m guessing they stopped paying their bills. There’s only one way to find out.”
I step through the hole. This room isn’t lit like some of the others. I can’t see a thing except for the shaft of pale moonlight across the floor, but the place has a feeling of oppressive gloom. I turn to help Antony through the gap. He fishes his phone from his pocket and turns on the flashlight, handing it to me so I can shine it around the space.
We stand in a grand living room. Dust dances in the beam of the flashlight as we move through the space. Everything seems eerie without the presence of people – the weird hip furniture takes on the shape of sinister, half-human forms.
A home without occupants is like a husk – a body without a soul. Although it’s hard to imagine this house feeling like a home to anyone. It looks more like a modern art museum.
The living room leads into a bar area and a formal dining room that seats twenty. The table looks like the kind you see in medieval artworks where everyone’s gnawing on wild-boar legs and someone’s getting their head chopped off because they slurped their soup the wrong way.
The thought sends up images of my mother’s body, and I swallow down bile.
“This place is unreal,” I breathe. I can’t resist the urge to run my hands over the table, imagining the meals that had taken place here, the intellectual discussions, the titillating parties for famous movie stars and worldly business-people. Did the same elite guests who attended my parents’ dinner parties come here, too – only in different outfits, with a different agenda? Had my father ever set foot within these walls? Had he been responsible for the acquisition of the strange art adorning the cavernous rooms?
Did he come here, too? The man who lives in a dark box in my mind? Did he sneak away from one of those parties and make his way upstairs…
Or were these a better class of people – the kind with superior morals? If so, what would they think of this cat creeping through their secrets, ready to sink her claws into their life?
“I can’t believe no one else has broken in here.” I point to a cabinet on the wall holding a collection of ancient coins. I recognize several designs from my father’s books, including a golden solidus of Emperor Theodosius I, which Daddy told me is worth around twenty grand. “This place is filled with expensive shit.”
“This isn’t like our neighborhood, where you need to keep your treasures hidden away.” There’s a darkness in Antony’s voice. We both know he’s not talking about Roman coins. “The cops have been swarming all over the place since the family disappeared. Plus there are stories about the family, about what happened to them. Any smart crook is too superstitious to touch it. But we’re not here to steal shit. We’re here to find you a hiding place.”
We move from room to room, taking in the scope of the place – the office lined with mahogany bookshelves stuffed with history books and more ancient artifacts, the bright kitchen with gleaming appliances that looks as though its never been used, the media room with its movie-theatre seats and huge curved screen, the girl’s room on the second floor with the shelves of creepy porcelain dolls, the gym and sauna and motherfucking bowling alley in the basement. The more I see, the more overwhelmed I feel by the sheer size and opulence and volume of stuff. Malloy Manor is not a gift but instead the weight of six feet of earth that will bury me alive.
Yeah, I’m not getting over tonight any time soon.
Finally, overcome by the scale of the house and the exhaustion dragging our limbs, we sink down into the impossibly soft sofas in a living room that’s larger than every house I’d ever lived in jammed together. And Daddy was no pauper, so that’s saying something.
“Here’s how this is going to work,” Antony says. “You are going to live here. If anyone comes to the house, you have two choices – hide or pretend you’re the ghost of the dead daughter.”
I snort. “You’re cracked. Are you sure you weren’t the one inhaling all that graveyard air? No criminal is going to pass up the chance to loot this Tutankhamun’s Tomb because I jump out with a sheet over my head and yell boo.”
“I wouldn’t be so quick to doubt, cousin. You read that article – the Emerald Beach gossip queens are filling in the blanks in the official disappearance story with wild theories. Adding a ghost to the mix will only build on their narrative. If we can make people frightened enough to stay away, and it becomes too much of a focal point for thieves to bother with, you’ll be able to live here unmolested for five years.”
“Why five years?” How can I possibly stay hidden here for that long?
“The State of California recognizes squatters’ rights. After five years, when you’re over eighteen, you’re able to take legal ownership of the property.”
“What?” I can’t even contemplate it. “This house would be mine?”
“Yup. There are a few stipulations, but I think we can find a way to make it work. Namely, we have to continue to pay the property taxes. And obviously, we’ll need to keep services like water and power running so the place doesn’t turn into a cesspit of filth. I can get someone I know to hack into the family’s accounts and get all the details. You’ll need to get a job, and I’ll contribute what I can. We might be able to quietly sell off some of these antiques. Once this place is officially ours, we sell it off and pocket the money.”
“What about you? If Brutus did this for control of the family, then he’s going to clear house. You have to stay here with me. If you go back, you’re dead.”
Antony’s face darkens. “And if I disappear, he’ll never stop hunting me, and I’ll lead him straight to you. This is only going to work because you happen to look like this Harrington Hills bitch. I don’t have a handy doppelgänger, so I’m going back to Tartarus Oaks. I’m not worried about convincing Brutus to trust me. He already believes I’m on his side. That’s how I found you tonight.”
“You knew he was going to move against Daddy?” My hands ball into fists. “How could you stand by and do nothing?”
“Because if I did it would’ve been both of us in that coffin tonight,” Antony shoots back. “I didn’t do nothing. I got you out. Protecting you is my job. That’s what Uncle Julian wanted. That’s why I have to go back – we know there’s at least one other person out there who knows what you look like.”
His words slice the air in half, severing the chains that tether me to that particular box of memories. I shove them away, sending them bobbing untethered in the vast ocean of my pain. I breathe hard, forcing myself to remember the stale air in the coffin, the panic of feeling those walls closing in on me. I need to not think about what’s inside that box.
“This doesn’t make any sense.” I gesture to the enormous room, desperate to leave the box untethered. “Why is this house just abandoned like this? It’s too easy. What if the family isn’t dead? What if they come back?”
“The word is that they’re not coming back.” Antony gives me a wink. I wonder if my father had anything to do with their disappearance.
“What do you know?”
“Nothing more than that, but I trust my sources.” There’s more to the story, but he won’t tell me. Antony takes his oath to my father seriously – if Daddy said he wasn’t to tell, then he wouldn’t. But I don’t like the fact that Daddy’s keeping secrets from me in his grave.
I’m not convinced by his assurances. “What about other relatives? Lawyers? Someone trying to sell this place off?”
“Nope. Apparently, no one wants to touch it. And I can help with expert legal advice if they try.” Antony cracks his knuckles. “If we do run into any problems, don’t forget – you’re the spitting image of our young Malloy heiress. You’re our secret weapon. If someone tries to claim the house, in rolls Ms. Mackenzie Malloy, haughty-as-fuck, and scares them off. I’m betting we won’t need to do that, but it’s in our arsenal if required.”
Despite my reservations, excitement glissades down my spine at the thought of pulling this off. Maybe it’s the lure of gold and antiques and riches around every corner. Maybe it’s the fact I woke up in my own grave and I understand that my life will never be the same again. Or maybe it’s the idea that I have a chance to make a home for myself on my own terms, that I don’t have to follow Daddy’s rules or be beholden to our family business. Behind the battlements of Malloy Manor, I could truly be queen.
I pick up a bottle of Champagne from a silver ice bucket on the coffee table. The ice inside has long since melted into brackish water. I start to untwist the cork. “Let’s say I agree to this insane idea, and I’m not saying I will. But if I did, I’d have one condition.”
Antony rolls his eyes. “You are so your father’s daughter. Saving your ass was a favor. You’re supposed to owe me one.”
“And you’re asking me to live alone in this house of horrors and pretend to be a ghost so that in five years we can be millionaires. So yeah, you owe me. Luckily, I think even you’ll agree to this. If we pull this off, you’re getting out of the family business, Antony.” I shudder to think of my cousin buried alive in a pine coffin. My father was one of the most powerful men in Emerald Beach, and that didn’t protect him. I won’t let Antony share his fate. “We take the money and we pay whatever we need to stop the family coming after us. And we get the fuck out of Emerald Beach forever.”
Antony frowns. “You know it’s not that easy. I’ve sworn loyalty to Brutus and can’t back out, and you—”
I give up on the bottle and hand it to him. “I know who I am. We’ll find a way. A lot can happen in five years. As Daddy would say, alea iacta est – let the die be cast.”
Antony sighs, but he pops the cork and fills two glasses. “So be it.”
I sip my lukewarm Champagne and try to stomp down the terrifying sensation of the coffin walls closing in on me. As cages went, this one was pretty magnificent. Five years. Five years of waiting and hiding and hoping. If that’s all it takes for a chance at getting out of the hell my legacy has gifted me, then I’m all in.
Just call me Mackenzie Malloy, the Ice Queen of Emerald Beach.
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