The Finished Masterpiece Boxed Set - Pepper Winters
SHE’D RUINED EVERYTHING.
She should’ve heard my warnings, seen my threats, read between the cruel lines I’d given her.
I’d done my best to be a bastard.
To be hateful, heartless, and vicious in my denial of everything that existed between us.
But she didn’t walk away.
She ignored my commands like an idiot.
She believed she could help me.
She willingly gave me the heart I’d broken when we were just kids.
And just like back then...it was too late.
Too late because what she didn’t know had the power to kill her.
Not emotionally. Not hypothetically. But murder...in cold blood.
And now, she knew too much.
Now die for me.
I’D HAD A crush on her for almost two years before fate decided I’d waited long enough, and set things in motion that I wished I could undo.
The kinda quirky, slightly rebellious, wonderfully nice girl who sat two rows in front of me in class.
Most days, I slung into my seat exhausted and hungry—fighting to stay awake and learn, hoping to achieve good grades to earn a job but mostly to stay out of the principal’s office so I didn’t get a hiding at home.
I did my best to ignore her.
I didn’t allow her to distract me with her delicate laugh and the annoying way my heart beat harder when she smiled. I didn’t have time to be interested in girls—no desire to get close to anyone.
My life was about survival, not fun.
I wasn’t like my fellow students.
I wasn’t like her.
She didn’t look hungry or tired.
She didn’t seem angry at life or lacking in basic fundamentals of existence.
Her hazel eyes were intelligent. Her popularity impressive. Her acceptance of both good and bad days a lesson I should probably master. However, I was only intimate with the shitty, dark days that made everything else just as depressing.
While Olin hung out with her friends and ate packed lunches on the field, I’d do whatever it took to keep myself alive another day.
Food at home was non-existent. I’d learned that if I helped in the canteen during break, I had better opportunity to steal enough to eat. Filling my belly to the brim, knowing it would be another twenty-four hours until my next meal.
When the final bell went, I didn’t bolt into freedom like the others. I dragged my feet and slinked down alleyways to a neighbourhood Olin Moss wouldn’t be caught dead in.
There, I did my best to forget about the mouldy walls, empty cupboards, and the drunkard down the hall. I used earplugs to block the ranting and homework to ignore the constant stream of stoned guests.
Sleep usually found me face down on a textbook, my dirty blankets thrown over me to ward off the midnight chill.
The next morning was wash and repeat: dash from the house before they woke, spray some deodorant over the unwashed clothes I’d slept in, and collapse onto the chair two rows back from a pancake-and-maple syrup smelling Olin Moss.
For two years, our worlds brushed but never collided.
Until that one fateful day.
A day that ought to have been the best day of my life, but somehow, became the catalyst for the worst.
“HELLO?” MY VOICE echoed in the large industrial space as my red heels clicked hesitantly across bare, paint-splattered concrete. “Anyone here?”
I was on time for my interview, but it seemed I was the only one.
Warehouse number twenty-five yawned in welcome, complete with colourful graffiti on its red brick exterior, a massive roller door with rusty chains, and a cleverly painted sign with the name Total Trickery.
I was definitely in the right place.
It was Wednesday at two.
The email confirmation matched the calendar.
So...where was the body painter who was meant to be interviewing me? Where were the other hopeful interviewees as I stepped through a small opening beside the large roller door and traded outside for in?
Paint fumes floated with paraffin parachutes on the air. Turpentine, oil, acrylic, and papyrus all added to the recipe.
My fingers itched to check my phone for the fortieth time. To triple, quadruple check the address.
The details said today.
With my chin high and heart racing, I strode purposely forward in my red-clicking heels. My interview-acceptable black dress whispered against my skin as I hoisted my small satchel with my resume up my shoulder. “Hello? I’m here for the two o’ clock meeting with—”
A masculine groan followed by a curse whipped my head to the gloomy shadows in the corner. A scuffle sounded, something metallic clattered to the concrete, another curse bit in anger.