So that ending to CHAOS was really something . . .
If you’re the type of person who hates cliffhangers or if you’re just desperate and clamoring to know what happens next, you can read that now for free before the rest of the book is released to get your fix.
*Note: This scene has not been fully edited yet, so it may not be the exact final version that ends up in the book however, it will mostly be the same. I just wanted to provide it for those who are desperate to know what happens next.
No one moved. No one spoke.
Silence breathed in the room like a living entity settling on those inside the crumbling Victorian house.
Wesley’s eyes went to the closed files lying on the table. The picture of the boy staring back at him flashed in his mind. Charlotte looked at the photos lining the walls on the hallway, remembering the little boy with silver eyes that seemed to reflect the light. Henry shifted his gaze between Elsey and the long-haired boy standing in the hallway. An uncomfortable wave of unease twisted his stomach.
Watching from where she remained standing in front of the dust-covered fireplace, Malini tried to read everyone’s reactions to the newcomer. He held a vague familiarity. Black hair skimmed the collar of his black long-sleeved tee, framing the fine-boned structure of his tapered chin and narrow forehead. The lanterns scattered about the living room cast his light golden skin in a wash of glow and shadow. He looked over everyone with a confused wariness trapped in his round tapered eyes. Unable to place him in her memory, Malini waited for someone to speak.
Elsey remained frozen in place. Shock overrode her rage that had been threatening to bring devastation to her surroundings just seconds ago before the front door opened and he entered.
Carson stared down at the short, scar-patterned redhead who said his name. Something about her made his brain itch. Like a hidden memory taunting him from the depths of his mind. Questions he didn’t know how to speak scraped at his mind, trying to claw their way free. He swallowed hard. “Do … do I know you?”
His thin, hollow voice drew Elsey out of her mystified surprise. “I’m Elsey.”
Digging through his memories, he came up empty. Only a disturbing vile sliminess twisted and coiled around in his gut. Another hard swallow. Not now. He shook his head, glancing at the others but not really taking them in yet before looking back at the girl in front of him. “I’m sorry. That name isn’t familiar to me.”
“Your name is Carson though, right?” A girl stood from the Chesterfield sofa to the side, drawing his attention. Her hazel eyes darted between him and something at his back.
Turning to see what she was looking at, he halted on the sight of a tall, lean boy with honeyed pine skin. His head was tossed back as he tried to shake the last drops from a silver flask onto his tongue. He watched the boy accept his defeat and drop the flask in the pocket of his black wool overcoat. The boy looked up, revealing his chiseled cheekbones, strong square jaw, and—
The girl from the sofa rushed like a blur between them toward the hallway. She returned just as fast and jutted a framed picture in front of his view. “You used to be friends with Elsey.”
Carson swallowed his rising irritation and focused on the picture. A younger version of himself—he could’ve been no older than five—with a thick head of black hair, glimmering silver eyes, and a bright smile stood beside a small redheaded girl. Scars covered her arms, legs, and chest. She had a tear beside her small heart-shaped lips, and a hollow concave in her high cheekbone cut into a deep sickle shape down the side of her face. Her scowl and haunted eyes showed no hint of joy. He glanced at Elsey and back at the photograph. Taking the frame from the other girl, he stared at it. He struggled to recall anything reminiscent of the image before his eyes or the person in front of him. The vile slime slithered around in his stomach again. Not now.
He forced another hard swallow down and held the framed picture out to Elsey. “I’m really sorry. I don’t have any memory of this. Or you.”
Elsey’s eyes locked on the frame. The whispers called out to her. Touch it. Carving into her senses. Touch it. Ripping into her soul and hollowing her out. Touch it and see. Growing louder. You’ll see everything. Drowning out her surroundings. Just touch it, and you’ll see. A siren’s call demanding she listen and follow into the darkness. Just one touch. Just. One. Single. Touch.
A hand snatched the picture and tossed it out of her view. The plastic frame clanked on the coffee table. Elsey jolted her head to the side and saw Henry stood between her and Charlotte. His attention was on her. Sapphire eyes full of stars and that strange look that sent the fire inside her into a roaring blaze.
“Are you okay?” He kept his caramel-smooth voice steady and stepped closer to her. His fingers brushed against her outstretched hand.
A chill flushed her body, smothering any sparks or warmth from his touch. Any memory of her reaching out for the picture was nonexistent, like a whisp of smoke already lost to a strong gust of wind. She jerked her hand back, curling it into a fist. Burying her nails in her scarred palms. She felt the sting from her skin tearing and noticed all the eyes on her. Waiting for her to react—Malini watching her as though she expected a violent outburst. Rage tore away the cold trying to overtake her.
Biting her tongue, she stormed past Henry, Charlotte, and Carson and out the still open front door.
“El, wait!” Henry hurried after her. His heart screamed in his chest.
She didn’t slow down or stop, ignoring the many clamoring footsteps behind her. She stomped down remaining creaky steps of the porch and made a beeline through the dying grass to her motorcycle.
“Wait! El, please!” Henry took long strides. Focused only on her, he didn’t pay attention to the others following him out of the house or see where he was stepping on the stairs. “Can you stop for just—”
The third step split. He caught the railing before he could tumble forward, but the splintered wood scraped at his leg. His foot landed at a twisted angle in the dirt. Pain shot through his ankle. “Fuck!”
“Henry!” Elsey whirled around, eyes wide and heart pounding in her chest. She stepped toward the porch but halted when he raised his free hand.
“I’m fine. Just wait, please.” He reached for the railing, but Wesley appeared at his side and wrapped an arm around his waist. “Thanks. Stairs have always been my mortal enemy.”
Shaking his head, Wesley helped Henry pull himself free. “They wouldn’t be if you paid attention to where you were going.”
“I was paying attention … in theory.” He nodded his head to the side while holding onto Wesley and the railing to hobble down the remaining steps. Pain radiated in his foot and his ankle, but he didn’t flinch from the pressure.
With another shake of his head, Wesley released Henry on the ground. “You have the healing serum?”
“I put it somewhere.” Henry patted down his pockets and retrieved a slim vial.
Carson watched from the porch and saw the bright green liquid catch the light of a lantern as Henry drank. His stomach tied itself into knots. He forced his attention on the tall boy with deep umber skin and a broad, muscular body. His mind grappled with a hazy sense of recognition when he focused on the boy’s round face, low-cut fade, and full cheeks.
Feeling movement beside him, Carson turned and saw the other two girls step out of the house.
The one who showed him the picture tossed him a small wave. She stood about the same height as him. Stray strands of dark brown hair fell out of her bun, and the lanterns highlighted her tawny beige skin. “I’m Charlotte. Sorry, I didn’t introduce myself earlier.”
“It’s okay.” He glanced at the other girl. Her full attention was on the scene in the yard. She was taller than him. Tears streaked her warm olive-toned face. Her dark hair spilled over her shoulders. In the dim light, he couldn’t tell whether the color was black or a dark shade of violet or blue, but he could see enough of the nebula of blended colors twinkling in her dark eyes to come to a conclusion. “I’m guessing I walked in on something.”
Looking back toward the yard, Carson gestured to the boy he thought he recognized. “Who’s that?”
“Wesley Reed.” Charlotte’s hand went to the small silver bird on a chain around her throat. “He’s my boyfriend.”
“Hm.” He bit down on the side of his tongue, and his brow furrowed with faint lines. “I feel like I know him from somewhere.”
“You remember me?” Wesley called from the yard.
Everyone’s attention fixed on Carson.
“Not really.” He shook his head. “I feel like I do though. I feel like I saw you somewhere before.”
Wesley twisted to look at Elsey, noting she kept a sharp brow arched high but didn’t speak. He turned back to Carson. “We were in kindergarten together. You, me, Elsey, and Malini.”
“That explains it.” Malini rested her hands on her hips. “I thought you looked kind of familiar, but I couldn’t really tell.”
“Wait.” Henry lifted his index finger. “How can you recognize Wes but not recognize Elsey?”
Carson held his gaze and shrugged, tucking his hands in his front pockets. “I don’t know. I just do.”
Rolling her eyes, Elsey turned away and started toward her motorcycle again.
Henry spun around and took quick strides to catch up to her. “Wait, El! Please, just listen to me!”
She didn’t stop.
His chest ached as his heart ran at a frantic pace. “I never said any of those things Mal claimed! I would rip out my tongue before I ever said anything like that about you! I swear!”
She stopped beside her motorcycle but didn’t look at him. “That doesn’t mean you haven’t thought it.”
Freezing, his mouth gaped. “Do you really think I could ever think those things about you?”
Elsey whirled. “How am I supposed to know what you really think about me when, for years, you surrounded yourself with people who had no problem making their thoughts about me known to the world?”
It stung, but he knew he couldn’t argue. “I swear, I never once thought anything like that.” He gestured with his hands in a desperate plea. “I know I needed to better, to do more. I know I still do, but I promise the only things I’ve ever thought was how much I missed you and needed you in my life.”
She stared at him, searching the stars in his eyes for the truth.
“Please.” He stepped closer. Hoping she’d hear the earnestness in his voice. “You have to believe me. Please.”
A strange ache crashed over her, calling her attention to the sharp pain tying her blackened heart into knots. She shook her head. “I have to go.”
“Elsey, wait!” Wesley stepped forward. “What about the team?”
Her eyes ripped to him. “You really expect me to give a fuck about this team anymore when you just heard what Malini did? She tried to murder all of us as revenge when she didn’t have any evidence that any of us had anything to do with Kade’s death. She didn’t even know who you and Charlotte were.”
“It was a mistake.” Malini held up her hands.
“A mistake?” Elsey fixed her fiery glare on Malini. “How the fuck do you think Kade would feel if he knew about your mistake? It wasn’t a mistake. It was revenge based on limited information and sloppy guesswork that could’ve resulted in you murdering your best friend and your boyfriend’s brother and friend. You almost murdered people because you let your emotions control you.”
“You’ve done the same thing!” Charlotte shouted from the porch.
Everyone turned their attention to Charlotte, eyes wide.
The past few nights replayed in her mind in an instant. She glanced at Wesley and then focused back on Elsey. “At Arnie’s Deli, you shot that man in the leg, and you almost shot him in the head. Wes pointed it out at Arnie’s house later. You didn’t know at the time that Arnie was murdered. You didn’t know that they were connected to Kade’s murder. You acted in a moment of rage and almost killed someone.”
“You were at Arnie’s house the night he was murdered? Arnie Koch?” Carson looked around at the group of teenagers, trying to make sense of what everyone was talking about.
Arching a brow high, Elsey fixed her eyes on Carson. “You knew Arnie?”
Wesley pressed his lips together in a firm line for a moment. He looked at Elsey. “I think he was the other person who was staying in the attic.”
“What? How do you know?”
“We found files in the boxes from Arnie’s house. His name and picture were in one of the files.”
Glancing at Elsey and then at Carson, Henry stuffed his hands in his coat pockets, and a low rattle murmured from the fabric. “Were you the other person who was staying in the attic?”
Again, Carson nodded. “I escaped through the window when we were attacked. What were you all doing there?”
“I wasn’t there.” Malini lifted her hand. “This is the first I’m hearing any of this.”
Scratching at the skin on her thumb, Charlotte motioned toward Elsey with her other hand. “Elsey has been out fighting people and trying to help people in the city. Wes and I found out what she was doing and joined her because we also learned she may be able to help us figure out who murdered Wes’s brother.” She shot a look at Henry. “I’m not exactly sure why Henry joined.”
“To provide entertainment to the masses.” Henry smirked.
Wesley crossed his arms. “By entertainment, he means headaches.”
“Anyway,” Charlotte focused back on Carson. “The first night we went out as a group, we found Arnie’s Deli being ransacked by people looking for something, which led us to his house. He was already dead when we got there. The killer was still inside, and Elsey chased them off.”
“Only one?” Carson’s brow furrowed. “What about the others?”
“Others?” Wesley and Elsey said in unison.
“I knew that person couldn’t have been the killer!” Henry pulled his hands from his pockets and tossed them up. “Another point for Henry!”
Noticing the silence and everyone staring at him, he dropped his arms back to his side. “Sorry, wrong time.”
“Also,” Wesley said with a pointed look. “That doesn’t mean that person wasn’t one of the killers.”
“How many were there?” Elsey ignored the commentary.
Carson’s gaze grew distant as he fixed it on the newly broken step. The hollowness of his voice deepened. “At least three or four, I think. I only saw two though before I climbed out the window, but I could hear more shouts in the house.”
“And the woman staying in the attic with you? Who was she?”
“My aunt. At least, that’s who she always told me she was.” He looked up, meeting Elsey’s haunting blue-green eyes. Trying to dig for any sense of recognition only to come away with the vile slime winding in his stomach. “I never really remembered her either.”
A chill settled inside Wesley’s chest, and he reached up to rub the back of his neck. “Why were you staying there?”
“We were waiting for someone who contacted Arnie for help finding us.”
“Do you know who it was?”
“Kind of.” Carson nodded. “My dad.”
Charlotte shifted next to him, still scratching at her thumb. “What do you mean, ‘kind of?’”
Biting the side of his tongue, he struggled to find the words.
“You don’t remember him either.” Elsey’s sandpaper voice reached out from the yard.
Meeting her eyes again, he shook his head. “I’ve been trying to remember. It’s been getting easier since we got out, but I’m still only getting bits and pieces. I only recently remembered this house, and I had a hard time trying to figure out where it even was.”
“Got out of where?” She felt like she was sinking with his words. She balled her hands into fists again, hoping the pain of her nails ripping into her skin would keep her grounded. “You’ve been missing for twelve years. Where have you been?”
The vile slime in his stomach turned sharp and biting. He dropped her gaze and focused on Henry fiddling with something rattling in his pockets. “They kept my aunt and me in a facility.”
“They?” The chill inside Wesley grew frosty.
Another nod. “They call themselves the Order of the Favored.” Pulling his hand from his pocket, he tugged his shirt sleeve up and showed a gnarled scar on his forearm. “They put chips in us. We cut ours out.”
The memory of the flesh carved from the woman’s arm flashed in Wesley’s mind. He forced down a deep breath. “When we found her— your aunt—someone cut out a chunk of her arm in that spot.”
Carson’s small lips curved into a deep frown. “I was able to heal her, so she didn’t have a scar from—”
A motorcycle roared to life and chewed up his words. Everyone spun back toward Elsey.
“Elsey, wait!” Wesley tossed up his hands. “We need your help!”
“Too bad,” she snapped. “I’m done.”
“But we have more pieces now. Kade is connected to this somehow.”
She rolled her eyes. “And you can figure out how without me now that you have Malini on the team.”
“It doesn’t have to be like this!” Malini started down the steps. “I have a lot of information and resources. I can help. We can work together. We can go over everything we have and come up with a plan.”
“I have a plan for you. Go fuck yourself.” Eyes ablaze with fury, Elsey looked at the others. “Now, if the rest of you want to work with your attempted murderer, be my fucking guest, but I don’t trust people once they’ve proven the lives of people I care about are expendable to them.”
“What about Carson?” Wesley motioned toward the porch. “Weren’t you curious about what happened and why him and his family went missing?”
“He was in a facility! Mystery fucking solved!” She flung her hand out in his direction, but she wouldn’t look at him. “He doesn’t even recognize me! I’m a stranger to him now!”
Charlotte walked to the top of the stairs. “What about Kade? He was nice to you.”
“That doesn’t mean I need to risk dying for him because his girlfriend takes my existence as a threat.” Elsey took a breath to calm the rage building inside her, and she looked at Wesley. “Look, if you want to keep trying to find out what happened to him, I’ll ask Luci to keep helping you, but this is a dealbreaker for me.”
Wesley frowned. “What are you going to do?”
“Don’t worry about it. You focus on being this city’s saint, and I’ll be its devil.” Elsey glanced at Henry and caught that strange look in his eyes that she still couldn’t decipher. She felt like her stomach flipped as sparks flew off the fire in her heart. Looking away without saying anything, she revved her motorcycle and sped out of the yard.
Henry gripped the pill bottle in his pocket, hoping it would keep his heart from collapsing.
Malini stepped closer to him. “Henry?”
He jerked his head toward her. Anger crashed over him. “I’m not talking to you.” He waved his hand toward Wesley. “Sorry, I’m done too.”
“What about Kade?”
Running his hand through his hair, Henry climbed into his cherry red roadster and shut the door. He started the car and left everyone where they stood.
Chewing on her bottom lip, Malini looked at Wesley and then Charlotte. Tears bubbled up in her eyes. “I’m really, really sorry. I had no idea it was you two. If I’d known—I’m just really sorry.”
“I know.” Charlotte nodded.
Wesley rubbed the back of his neck. “Do you still want to help?”
“Of course.” Malini wiped her eyes before more tears could fall. She motioned toward her mother’s black sedan. “I really need to go talk to Henry though. I have a lot I need to make right.” She looked back at Charlotte and forced a small smile to her lips. “I’ll call you later.”
Silence fell over everyone while Malini left. When her taillights disappeared beyond the trees, Wesley turned his attention to Charlotte. Meeting his eyes, she chewed on the inside of her cheek until she tasted blood on her tongue. Their impending conversation loomed over them.
She twisted and looked at Carson. “Do you mind if we come in and get changed? We were using your house as a base.”
“Sure. It doesn’t really feel like mine anyway.” He led the way back inside and stopped when his eyes landed on the framed pictures lining the wall. “Looks like I have a lot of remembering to try to do.”