A gripping, ripped-from-the-headlines, #1 New York Times bestselling thriller from Natasha Preston, author of The Cabin!
Summer is trapped in a cellar with the man who took her-and three other girls: Rose, Poppy, and Violet. His perfect flowers. His family. But flowers can't survive long cut off from the sun, and time is running out...
Don't miss the next heart-pounding thriller from Natasha Preston, You Will Be Mine, coming February 2018!
Also by Natasha Preston:
You Will Be Mine
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Saturday, July 24th (Present)
Looking out my bedroom window, I'm faced with yet another dull English summer day. The heavy clouds made it look way too dark for July, but not even that was going to faze me. Tonight I was going to celebrate the end of the school year at a gig by a school band, and I was determined to have some fun.
"Hey, what time are you leaving?" Lewis asked. He let himself into my room-as usual-and sat down on the bed. We'd been together over a year, so we were more than comfortable with each other now. Sometimes I missed the time when Lewis didn't tell me he was getting off the phone because he needed to pee or when he would pick up his dirty underwear before I came over. My mum was right: the longer you were with a man, the grosser they became. Still, I wouldn't change him. You're supposed to accept someone you love for who they were, so I accepted his messiness.
I shrugged and studied my reflection in the mirror. My hair was boring, flat, and never looked right. I couldn't even pull off the messy look. No matter how "easy" the steps to the perfect bedhead look were in a magazine, I never could make it work. "In a minute. Do I look okay?"
Apparently the most attractive thing was confidence. But what did you do if you weren't confident? That couldn't be faked without it being obvious. I wasn't model pretty or Playboy sexy, and I didn't have bucket loads of confidence. Basically, I was screwed and downright lucky that Lewis was so blind.
He smirked and rolled his eyes-his here she goes again look. It used to annoy him at first, but now I think it just amused him. "You know I can see you in the mirror, right?" I said, glaring at his reflection.
"You look beautiful. As always," he replied. "Are you sure you don't want me to drop you off tonight?"
I sighed. This again. The club where the gig was being held was barely a two-minute walk from my house. It was a walk that I had done so many times I could make it there blindfolded. "No thanks. I'm fine walking. What time are you leaving?"
He shrugged and pursed his lips. I loved it when he did that. "Whenever your lazy brother's ready. Are you sure? We can give you a lift on the way."
"It's fine, seriously! I'm leaving right now, and if you're waiting for Henry to get ready, you'll be a while."
"You shouldn't walk alone at night, Sum."
I sighed again, deeper, and slammed my brush down on the wooden dresser. "Lewis, I've been walking around on my own for years. I used to walk to and from school every day, and I'll do it again next year. These"-I slapped my legs for emphasis-"work perfectly fine."
His eyes trailed down to my legs and lit up. "Hmm, I can see that."
Grinning, I pushed him back on the bed and sat on his lap. "Can you take your overprotective boyfriend hat off and kiss me?" Lewis chuckled, and his blue eyes lit up as his lips met mine.
Even after eighteen months, his kisses still made my heart skip a beat. I started liking him when I was eleven. He would come home with Henry after football practice every week while his mum was at work. I thought it was just a silly crush-like the one I also had on Usher at the time-and didn't think anything of it. But when he still gave me butterflies four years later, I knew it had to be something more.
"You two are disgusting." I jumped back at the sound of my brother's deep, annoying voice.
I rolled my eyes. "Shut up, Henry."
"Shut up, Summer," he shot back.
"It's impossible to believe you're eighteen."
"Shut up, Summer," he repeated.
"Whatever. I'm going," I said and pushed myself off Lewis. I gave him one last kiss and slipped out of the room.
"Idiot," Henry muttered. Immature idiot, I thought. We did get along-sometimes-and he was the best big brother I could ask for, but he drove me crazy. I had no doubt we would bicker until we died.
"Summer, are you now leaving?" Mum called from the kitchen. No, I'm walking out the door for fun!
"Sweetheart, be careful," Dad said.
"I will. Bye," I replied quickly and walked out the door before they could stop me. They still treated me like I was in elementary school and couldn't go out alone. Our town was probably-actually definitely-the most boring place on earth; nothing even remotely interesting ever happened.
The most excitement we'd ever had was two years ago when old Mrs. Hellmann-yeah, like the mayonnaise-went missing and was found hours later wondering the sheep field looking for her late husband. The whole town was looking for her. I still remember the buzz of something finally happening.
I started walking along the familiar pavement toward the pathway next to the graveyard. That was the only part of walking alone that I didn't like. Graveyards. They were scary-fact-and especially when you were alone. I subtly glanced around while I walked along the footpath. I felt uneasy, even after passing the graveyard. We had moved to this neighborhood when I was five, and I had always felt safe here. My childhood had been spent playing out in the street with my friends, and as I got older, I hung out at the park or club. I knew this town and the people in it like the back of my hand, but the graveyard always creeped me out.
I pulled my jacket tightly around myself and picked up the pace. The club was almost in view, just around the next corner. I glanced over my shoulder again and gasped as a dark figure stepped out from behind a hedge.
"Sorry, dear, did I frighten you?"
I sighed in relief as old Harold Dane came into view. I shook my head. "I'm fine."
He lifted up a heavy-looking black bag and threw it into his garbage can with a deep grunt as if he had been lifting weights. His skinny frame was covered in wrinkled, saggy skin. He looked like he'd snap in half if he bent over. "Are you going to the disco?"
I grinned at choice of word. Disco. Ha! That's probably what they called it back when he was a teenager. "Yep. I'm meeting my friends there."
"Well, you have a good night, but watch your drinks. You don't know what the boys today slip in pretty young girls' drinks," he warned, shaking his head as if it were the scandal of the year and every teenage boy was out to date-rape everyone.
Laughing, I raised my hand and waved. "I'll be careful. Night."
"Good night, dear."
The club was visible from Harold's house, and I relaxed as I approached the entrance. My family and Lewis had made me jumpy; it was ridiculous. As I got to the door, my friend Kerri grabbed my arm from beside me, making me jump. She laughed, her eyes alight with humor. Hilarious. "Sorry. Have you seen Rachel?"
My heart slowed to its normal pace as my brain processed my friend's face and not the face of the Scream dude or Freddy Kruger. "Not seen anyone. Just got here."
"Damn it. She ran off after another argument with the idiot, and her phone's turned off!" Ah, the idiot. Rachel had a very on/off relationship with her boyfriend, Jack. I never understood that-if you pissed each other off 90 percent of the time, then just call it a day. "We should find her."
Why? I had hoped for a fun evening with friends, not chasing after a girl who should have just dumped her loser boyfriend's arse already. Sighing, I resigned myself to the inevitable. "Okay, which direction did she go?"
Kerri gave me a flat look. "If I knew that, Summer..."
Rolling my eyes, I pulled her hand, and we started walking back toward the road. "Fine. I'll go left, you go right." Kerri saluted and marched off to the right. I laughed at her and then went my way. Rachel had better be close.
I walked across the middle of the playing field near the club, heading toward the gate at the back to see if she had taken the shortcut through to her house. The air turned colder, and I rubbed my arms. Kerri said Rachel's phone was off, but I tried calling it anyway and, of course, it went straight to voice mail. If she didn't want to speak to anyone, then why were we trying to find her?
I left an awkward message on her phone-I hated leaving messages-and walked through the gate toward the skate ramp at the back of the park. The clouds shifted, creating a gray swirling effect across the sky. It looked moody, creepy but pretty at the same times. A light, cool breeze whipped across my face, making my light honey-blond hair-according to hairdresser wannabe Rachel-blow in my face and a shudder ripple through my body.
"Lily?" a deep voice called from behind me. I didn't recognize it. I spun around and backed up as a tall, dark-haired man stepped into view. My stomach dropped. Had he been hiding between the trees? What the heck? He was close enough that I could see the satisfied grin on his face and neat hair not affected by the wind. How much hairspray must he have used? If I weren't freaked out, I would have asked what product he used because my hair never played fair. "Lily," he repeated.
"No. Sorry." Gulping, I took another step back and scanned the area in the vain hope that one of my friends would be nearby. "I'm not Lily," I mumbled, straightening my back and looking up at him in an attempt to appear confident. He towered over me, glaring down at me with creepily dark eyes.
He shook his head. "No. You are Lily."
"I'm Summer. You have the wrong person." You utter freak!
I could hear my pulse crashing in my ears. How stupid to give him my real name. He continued to stare at me, smiling. It made me feel sick. Why did he think I was Lily? I hoped that I just looked like his daughter or something and he wasn't some crazy weirdo.
I took another step back and searched around to find a place that I could escape if needed. The park was big, and I was still near the back, just in front of the trees. There was no way anyone would be able to see me from here. That thought alone made my eyes sting. Why did I come here alone? I wanted to scream at myself for being so stupid.
"You are Lily," he repeated.
Before I could blink, he threw his arms forward and grabbed me. I tried to shout, but he clasped his hand over my mouth, muffling my screams. What the heck was he doing? I thrashed my arms, frantically trying to get out of his grip. Oh God, he's going to kill me. Tears poured from my eyes. My heart raced. My fingertips tingled and my stomach knotted with fear. I'm going to die. He's going to kill me.
The Lily man pulled me toward him with such force the air left my lungs in a rush as I slammed against him. He spun me around so my back pressed tightly against his chest. And with his hand sealed over my mouth and nose, I struggled to breathe. I couldn't move, and I didn't know if it was because he had such a strong iron grip or if I was too stunned. He had me, and he could do whatever he wanted because I couldn't bloody move a muscle.
He pushed me through the gate at the back of the park and then through the field. I tried again to scream for help, but against his palm, I hardly made a sound. He whispered "Lily" over and over while he dragged me toward a white van. I watched trees pass me by and birds fly over us, landing on branches. Everything carried on as normal. Oh God, I needed to get away now. I dug my feet into the ground and screamed so hard that my throat instantly started to hurt. It was useless, though; no one was around to hear me but the birds.
He tugged his arm back, pressing it into my stomach. I cried out in pain. As soon as he let go to open the van's back door, I screamed for help. "Shut up!" he shouted as he pushed me inside the vehicle. My head smashed into the side of the van while I struggled.
"Please let me go. Please. I'm not Lily. Please," I begged and gripped the side of my throbbing head. My whole body shook with fear and I gasped for breath, desperate to get some air into my lungs.
His nostrils flared and his eyes widened. "You're bleeding. Clean it. Now," he growled in a menacing tone that made me tremble. He handed me a tissue and sanitizer. What? I was so scared and confused that I could barely move. "Clean it now!" he screamed, making me flinch.
I lifted the tissue to my head and wiped away the blood. My hands shook so much that I almost spilled the sanitizer as I squirted it onto my palm and rubbed it into the cut. The stinging caused me to clench my jaw. I winced at how much it hurt. The man watched me carefully, breathing heavily and appearing repulsed. What the heck was wrong with him?
My vision quickly blurred as fresh tears spilled over and rolled down my cheeks. He grabbed the tissue, careful not to touch the bloody part, threw it into a plastic bag, and shoved it into his pocket. He then cleaned his hands with the sanitizer. I watched in horror. My heart slamming against my chest. Was this really happening?
"Give me your phone, Lily," he said calmly, holding his hand out. I cried harder as I reached into my own pocket, took my phone out, and handed it to him. "Good girl." He slammed the back door shut, immersing me in darkness. No! I screamed and banged against the door. A moment later, I heard the unmistakable roar of the engine and felt a rocking sensation as the van began moving. He was driving. Driving me somewhere. To do what?
"Please help me!" I shouted and repeatedly slammed my fists down on the back door. It was useless; there was no way the door was going to move, but I had to try. Every time he turned a corner, I fell against the side of the van, but I got up and continued shouting for help and banging on the door. My breathing turned to panting, and I gasped for breath. I didn't feel as if air was getting into my lungs.
He continued driving, and with every passing second, I started to give up hope. I was going to die. The van finally came to a stop and my body froze. This is it. This is where he kills me.
After a few painful seconds of waiting and listening to his footsteps crunch on the ground outside, the door flew open and I whimpered. I wanted to say something, but I couldn't find my voice. He smiled and reached in, grabbing my arm before I had chance to jump back. We were in the middle of nowhere. There was a large redbrick house sitting at the end of a stone path; tall bushes and trees surrounded the house. Who could ever find me here? There was nothing around I recognized; it looked the same as every other country lane surrounding my town. I had no idea where he'd brought me.
I tried to resist as he pulled me from the van and pushed me toward the house, but he was too strong. I screamed loudly in one final attempt to get help, and this time he allowed it, which was so much scarier-it meant that he didn't think anyone would be able to hear me.
I repeated over and over in my head I love you, Lewis as I prepared to die-and for whatever he had planned for me before that. My heart sunk. What did he plan? He pushed me through the front door and along a long hallway. I tried to take it all in, the color of the walls, where the doors were, in the hope I could escape, but the shock of what was happening stopped anything sticking. From what I could tell the hall was bright, and it was warm, not what I expected at all. My blood turned to ice in my veins, and the pinch in my arms as his fingers dug into my skin stung. I looked down and saw his fingertips sink into my arm, making four craters in my skin.
My body came into sharp, hard contact with a mint-green wall as he shoved me forward. I pressed myself into the corner of the room, shaking violently and praying he would miraculously have a change of heart and let me go. Just do what he says, I told myself. If I stayed calm and maybe got talking to him, I could convince him to let me go, or I could somehow escape.
With a small grunt, he pushed a shoulder-height bookcase out of the way, revealing a door handle. He pushed the hidden door open and I gasped as my eyes landed on a wooden staircase inside. My head swam. Down there was where he was going to do whatever he planned on doing to me. I pictured a dirty, dingy room with a wooden operating table, trays of sharp equipment, and a mold-covered sink.
I found my voice and screamed again, this time not stopping when my throat burned. "No, no," I shouted over and over at the top of my lungs. My chest heaved as I gasped for air. I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming. I'm dreaming.
With his strong grip, he dragged me with ease even though I thrashed around as hard as I could. It was like I weighed nothing to him. I was pushed to the narrow, exposed-brick wall opposite the door. He gripped my arm again, harder, and pushed me halfway down the stairs. I stood still, frozen in shock and not fully registering what was happening.
My eyes widened as I looked around. I was in a large room painted in a surprisingly pretty light blue-too pretty for a crazy man's torture cellar. There was a small kitchen along one end, two brown leather sofas, and a chair in the corner that faced a small television in the middle of the room, and three wooden doors opposite the kitchen. I was almost as shocked by what was actually down here than I was relieved.
It didn't look like a cellar. It was too clean and tidy, everything tucked away neatly. The smell of lemon hit me, making my nose tingle. Four vases sat proudly on the side table behind the dining table and chairs; one held roses, one violets, one poppies. The fourth was empty.
I collapsed on the step, grasping the wall to stop myself from falling down the stairs. The door slammed shut, sending a shiver down my spine. Now I was trapped. I let out a startled cry and jumped into the hard wall as three women stepped into view at the bottom of the stairs. One of them, a pretty brunette who reminded me a little of my mum in her early twenties, smiled warmly but sadly and held her hand out. "Come, Lily."