Ever since her father was stabbed to death in a home invasion, Julia “Jules” Farentino has been plagued by nightmares. Her half-sister, Shaylee, now seventeen, has had her own difficulties since the tragedy, earning a rap sheet for drug use, theft, and vandalism. Still, when Jules learns of her mother’s decision to send Shay to an elite boarding school in Oregon, she’s skeptical. The Academy has a reputation for turning wayward kids around—but one of its students went missing six months ago and her body has never been found. There are rumors she may have died during one of the school’s questionable treatments. Once enrolled, Shay grows fearful, convinced her every move is being watched. And the deeper Jules digs, the more concerned she becomes.
On impulse, Jules applies for a teaching job at the Academy. Though the facility boasts state-of-the-art equipment and a breathtaking campus, Jules senses cracks in the director’s do-good demeanor. Shortly before Jules arrived, a student was found hanged, and a hysterical Shay believes it was murder. Staff members are wary and unwelcoming—all except Cooper Trent, another recent hire who has his own suspicions, and his own secrets.
Then another girl goes missing, and yet another is found dead. There’s no doubt something sinister is at hand—but Jules may be too late to stop it. Behind the Academy’s idyllic veneer lurks an evil force on a brutal and terrifying mission. And Jules has become the next target of a bloodthirsty killer without limits, without remorse, without mercy…
“Help me . . .oh, God, please someone help me . . .” The voice was a desperate plea, barely audible over the sounds of a familiar song and the a steady drip of liquid splashing, like a single drop of rainwater hitting the ground. Over and over again.
Her own heartbeat pounding in her eardrums, Jules Farentino,
barefoot, wearing only a nightgown, made her way toward the den where a fluttering blue light was barely visible through the sheers on the French doors.
“Hurry . . . there isn’t much time . . .
She wanted to call out, but held her tongue. The feeling that something was wrong here . . . something dark and evil caused her to creep silently along the icy floors.
Slowly, she pushed open the door to the den and peered inside. The L-shaped couch and a recliner were illuminated by the weird, flickering light of the muted television.
“ . . . Billie Jean is not my lover . . .” Michael Jackson’s voice sang through the speakers.
Above the melody:
Drip. Drip. Drip.
Like rolling thunder in her aching head.
Liquid warmth splashed on the tops of her bare feet and she looked down quickly. Her eyes rounded as she saw the blood dripping from the long blade of knife in her hand, the red stain spreading into a pool.
She tried to scream but couldn’t and as she looked toward the open French doors, she saw her father lying on the floor near the coffee table. “Help me, Jules,” he said, lips barely moving. He stared up at her, eyes unblinking, a jagged gash on his forehead, a stain spreading on the front of his rumpled white shirt.
“ . . . she’s just a girl who said . . .
Blood gurgled from the corner of Rip Delaney’s mouth as he stared up at her, whispering in a wet rasp, “Why?
Transfixed, her hand now sticky with blood, she started to scream—
“ . . .seven forty-five in the morning. It’s a chilly thirty-seven now, that’s only five degrees above freezing, you know, but temperatures will climb until mid afternoon, topping out near fifty. It’s going to be a cold, wet one today, a major storm expected roll in later this morning. Now for the traffic report–”
Jules awoke with a jerk.
Her heart was pounding, her head splitting, the radio announcer’s voice an irritant. She slapped off the alarm and shivered. Her bedroom was freezing, her window open a crack, wind rushing inside, rain beating a steady tattoo against the roof.
“Damn,” she whispered, wiping her face, the vestiges of her ever-recurring dream slipping back to the dark corners of her mind. She glanced at the clock and groaned, realizing with a sinking feeling, that she’d forgotten to reset her alarm.
Rolling off the bed, she disturbed her cat who had been sleeping in a ball on the second pillow. He lifted his gray head and stretched, yawning to show off his needle sharp teeth as she snagged her bathrobe from the foot of the bed and threw it on. She didn’t have time for a shower, much less a jog.
Instead, she threw water over her face, tossed down a couple of extra strength Excedrin and washed them down by tilting her head under the sink. After yanking on jeans and an oversized sweatshirt, she found an old Trailblazers cap. Then she searched for her keys, scrounging in her purse and in the pockets of the jacket she’d worn the day before.
Her cell phone rang and she found it plugged to the charger on the floor near her bed.
Flipping it open, she saw Shay’s face on the small LED screen.
“Where are you?” her sister demanded.
“I’m on my way.”
“It’s too late. We’re almost there!
“Already?” Jules tugged on one sneaker as she glanced back at the clock. “I thought you were leaving at nine.
“The pilot called. There’s a storm or something. I don’t know. He has to fly out earlier.
“Oh, no! Make him wait.
“I can’t! Don’t you get it! She’s really doing it, Jules,” Shay said, and some of the toughness in her voice disappeared. “Edie’s getting rid of me.”