The Girls in the Snow (Nikki Hunt #1) - Stacy Green
Up and down. Side to side. Was she on the water? She didn’t remember getting into her father’s old fishing boat, but she must have. God, the water’s choppy. I’m getting seasick, she thought.
“Nik, we’re here.” Someone pushed on her shoulder. “Wake up.”
Nikki’s eyes peeled open. She wiped the saliva off her mouth, her mind sluggish. “Where?”
“Your house, remember?”
A yawn made her jaw crack. Blurry images of the past few hours flashed through her head. Stupid, stupid. “Sorry. Fell asleep.”
“More like passed out.” Annmarie helped her escape her seat belt. “You sure you’re okay? You still look green.”
Nikki had already vomited three times in the last hour. Her stomach had to be empty. “I’m good. Where’s my bag?”
“In the back. I’ll grab it.”
Nikki fumbled with the handle of the door and shoved it open. The house was dark; her parents would definitely be in bed. She just had to quietly sneak inside and get to her bedroom. As long as she avoided the squeaky parts of the steps, her parents would never know about what happened tonight.
She tested her balance, putting both feet on the solid ground before she carefully stood. Her legs seemed strong enough, but she still held onto the car as she tiptoed around and collected her purse.
“Thanks again for picking me up.” Acid rose in Nikki’s mouth. She told herself she would not puke in the driveway.
“No problem,” Annmarie said. “Call me when you wake up tomorrow afternoon. We can talk more about what happened…”
Nikki preferred not to talk about tonight ever again. “Okay.” She quietly shut the door and shouldered her purse.
Annmarie whipped the little Escort around the circular drive, and her headlights disappeared down the lane.
Summer wind rustled through the cornfields, and Nikki tried to walk faster. She hated the cornfields at night and wished her parents would put up some sort of security light in front of the house. She grabbed the stair rail and took the steps one at a time. The old wooden slats creaked as she crept to the door, fumbling in her bag for her keys.
She found her key and reached for the door.
And then her hand froze in midair.
The door’s decorative glass pane had been shattered.
She tried the handle, and the door swung open. Fear locked her knees and made her stomach turn. Her vision cleared, her body on high alert.
Darkness greeted her, but she could see the shards of colored glass scattered on the floor.
Nikki’s gut told her to run to the neighbor’s. But what if her parents were hurt?
She took a shaky step inside and reached for the light switch. The sudden intrusion of light made her wince, and the hallway seemed to narrow and lengthen, like the funhouse at the state fair. Her knees knocked together as she crept down the hall toward the stairwell, listening for the sound of her father’s snoring.
He was probably awake and waiting for her, she reasoned. Nikki could just imagine her parents’ reaction if her paranoia about being caught after sneaking out made her overreact and waste the police’s time. They didn’t live in Minneapolis, she told herself. Stillwater was about as safe and boring as church on Sunday.
Thirteen steps to the second floor. Nikki once scared Annmarie into believing the thirteen steps meant the house was a spirit portal. Nine-year-old kids believed anything.
The loose railing rattled from Nikki’s shaking hand. Random dark spots dotted the carpet; she rubbed her eyes, but the spots were still there. Dribbles, and then blobs that got a little larger on each step until they took a definitive shape. Shoe prints on the beige carpet leading to her parents’ bedroom, a familiar swoosh logo visible in the stronger prints.
Nikki stopped outside the closed door to her parents’ room.
No sound came. No snoring.
Her pulse thundered in her ears as she slowly opened the door.
Blood dripped down the side of the bed. Her mother’s arm dangled off the edge, her hand limp.
More bile rose in Nikki’s mouth. Her vision blurred again. Her face had gone numb, but her heart raced.
She had to be dreaming.
Then why did she smell copper and gunfire?
The hall light burned a spotlight on her mother. Nikki inched toward the bed, panic attacking her nervous system.
Lifeless brown eyes stared back at her. A face frozen in anguish, blood on her nightgown pooling next to her body and dripping off the side.
Nikki grabbed her mother’s hand and put two fingers on her wrist. No pulse.
Nikki’s breath came in short rasps, the vodka still