“What would you like to wear today, Miss Wildfox? How about your new Chanel two-piece?”
“I don’t care,” I groan, pulling my feathery-soft pillow over my head. “God, Maggie. Please shut the drapes. Nobody should be awake at this time of day.”
“But Miss Wildfox, it’s time for your four thirty a.m. yoga lesson!” Maggie clicks her tongue, torturing me by pulling the duvet cover off me.
“Please, Maggie, can’t we move it?” I’m pulling at strings, but I don’t want to get up and face another day of my boring routine. It doesn’t bring me any joy. Nothing has for freaking months. “I’m so exhausted… I’ve gotten up before five a.m. for six weeks in a row!”
“I’m sorry, Miss, but your schedule is jam-packed.”
I want to cry, but instead, I push my legs down to the hardwood walnut floor and stretch my limbs like a cat. “It’s okay, Maggie. It’ll calm down at some point, I’m sure. Any word from Kade or Parker?”
I should really stop asking at this point. Even my maid feels sorry for me. Well, they probably all do. I have four maids who work in shifts because some days, I’m on my feet for twenty hours. Each one looks at me with pity when I mention my stepbrothers.
And as I stare with empty hope at yet another one of her embarrassed-for-me frowns, I realize they’re just never going to call.
“Why don’t they want to talk to me?”
“Not this again, Miss Wildfox,” Maggie begs, groaning. “They are mean boys. You don’t want boys, Miss Wildfox. You want a man.”
“They’re my brothers.”
“Stepbrothers,” she reminds me. This time, I don’t fight her on the statement. The truth is, I only see one of them as my brother. The other is… well, the other one is Kade. “You will have to forget about them, Miss Wildfox. Keep yourself busy, and you will move on in time. They don’t deserve your energy.”
“Maybe I don’t want to move on. Maybe all I want is...” My words falter off, and I bite my bottom lip.
“Would you rather be in pain?” Maggie muses. “Hurting by blaming yourself forever? No, Miss Wildfox. It’s time to move on, don’t you think?”
I don’t answer her question. It’s too loaded for me to even consider an answer. With a sigh, I head to my bathroom, where my rigorous beauty regime begins.
I take a frustratingly short shower and let Maggie choose something for me to wear. She loves going through my clothes. I’m fairly sure she or one of the other maids have nicked a few things from my wardrobe too, but I’m too busy to deal with that on top of everything else on my to-do list.
Maggie helps me do my hair and makeup, sprays my wrists with my mother’s perfume, and brings me one of my Dolce bags. I scrutinize my appearance in the mirror.
Waist-length dark hair falls in rich waves down my back. My outfit is worth thousands, but I’m worth more. At twenty-one years old, I have the world at my fingertips. I could have any one of the eligible bachelors in this city. Unfortunately, I only have my eyes on one... and he's the one I can't have.
Once I get ready, my trainer is already waiting. Before six a.m., I’ve finished my yoga session, drank a disgusting green smoothie, and went for a swim in the heated pool in the house. Then I'm off to the offices downtown to meet some investors—my least favorite part of the business.
While my employees are mostly running the place on their own, Wildfox Miller Inc is first and foremost a family company. So, I'm required to come in daily to keep up morale and appearances.
I prance around the office in too-high heels and too-expensive clothes. I eat a little and work out a lot, making myself look perfect from the crack of dawn to the late hours of the night. I work myself until I'm so tired I collapse on the fluffy pillow in my bedroom with my clothes and heels still on. Another one of my maids, Patty, has to force me to get up again and wash my makeup off, change into pajamas, and complete another rigorous beauty regimen.
I lay down a pair of panties and silk pajamas for the night in the bathroom and drop my dirty underwear to the floor. Jumping into the steam walk-in shower, I allow the hot mist to envelop my tired body.
Ages later, I come back out and reach for my panties as I wrap a towel around my wet hair. But they aren't there.
Confused, I check the spot where I left them, but there's nothing there. I grab another towel from the rack and wrap it around my torso.
"Patty!" I call out, but there's no answer.
I find the late-night shift maid in the hallway dusting a vase.
"Patty, did you take my clothes?" I demand, and she gives me an empty stare.
"No, miss, not yet," she says apologetically. "I'll have them taken down to the laundry room and cleaned now."
"But I..." I furrow my brows, wrapping the towel tighter around my chest, my hair now falling down my back in wet tendrils. "Never mind. Sorry."
I return to my quarters to blow-dry my hair and pin it up in curlers for the night. As I go back to my bedroom, I notice the balcony doors are open, the white silk curtains billowing in the wind. How strange. I never keep those open. The white-washed French doors keep rattling if I do.
I close the doors and pick a new set of pajamas and underwear to wear, trying not to worry about my mind playing tricks on me.
As my head hits the satin pillow, I'm thinking about the twins again, hoping I'll dream of them that night. The nightmares that plagued me as a little girl seem to be gone… But the memory of my night terrors is still there—frightening, dark, and as alarming as ever.
* * *
15 years ago
Little girls develop dangerous crushes. And from the moment I laid eyes on Kade Miller, he was my new obsession.
I could tell the twins apart from the first time I saw them. Kade—with his dark, intent gaze that spoke of intelligence beyond his ten years of age, and Parker—goofy, sweet Parker, who would move mountains to give me what I wanted.
Our parents introduced us. Any other pair of brothers would have shunned me, but not Kade and Parker. No, they took one of my hands each and led me out to play while the movers unpacked mine and my mother’s things in the new house.
The twins took me into the backyard. The house we were to live in had a big backyard, and the boys had a treehouse on a large oak tree by the fence. They helped me climb the rickety stepladder leading up to their haven. When I stepped into their abode, a special feeling settled over me. I was in their sacred place now, and I wanted to be respectful. I wanted them to like me. The need to please, to be their friend, made me desperate.
They showed me their things. Weather-beaten comic books that were stained from the rain that fell through the cracks in the treehouse roof. Bones they found buried in the backyard. Tiny, pretty, fragile white bones, licked clean by the earth and the weather. I was as mesmerized by their possessions as I was by them. They were enchanting. Different. So very beautiful.
I admired what they were showing me and said the right things so they’d like me. Parker did so from the start, admiring me, trying to impress me. But Kade was a tougher nut to crack. He was mostly silent, contemplating before speaking out loud. Parker was his bright opposite. They were yin and yang, the sun and the moon—opposites that completed each other in the most intoxicating way.
It took me an hour to be comfortable around them. Just one hour until Parker took Kade aside and begged him to show me something. Kade didn’t want to. I flushed a deep shade of red as the twins argued on whether I was trustworthy enough. I buried my little fingers in the pockets of my pink dress, biting my lower lip.
My eyes met Kade’s. He didn’t like me, I could tell, but he was being nice for his brother’s sake. I wanted to cry, but I forced the tears back and managed a tentative smile instead.
Kade groaned, turning his attention back to his brother. Finally, they seemed to agree on something, and Parker proudly brought over an intricately carved wooden box.
“It’s beautiful,” I breathed as my fingertips glided over it.
“It’s our mother’s old jewelry box,” Parker explained.
“What’s in it?”
Parker grinned before lifting the lid. Inside the box, there was a wooden plaque. A white butterfly was pinned to it, the pins holding it down. The insect was still alive, but barely. It flapped its wings pathetically. It was dying, dying in a horrible way that made me feel sick and twisted my stomach into a painful knot.
“Why…” I swallowed thickly. “Why are you hurting the butterfly?”
“Because it’s beautiful,” Kade answered me resolutely. “And we want to keep it. If we didn’t do this, it would get away.”
I stood then. I was tall enough to stand in the treehouse while the boys had to crouch. I put my hands on my hips and glared at the older one of the twins.
“You’re hurting it.”
“So?” He laughed easily. “It’s weak. It can’t fight back.”
“It’s not right,” I shook my head resolutely. “You can’t hurt innocent things just because you’re stronger than they are.”
“That’s where you’re wrong, little girl.” Kade slammed the lid of the box shut, grabbed it out of his brother’s hands, and put it away without giving me a second glance.
Our parents called us down a moment later, and I followed the brothers down the oak tree and into the house while a plan formed in my head.
Kade had underestimated me. I may have been a little girl, but I was determined, and I wasn’t going to let him get away with this. That butterfly didn’t deserve to die, and I was going to save it. And nobody was going to stop me.
* * *
I waited until darkness fell that night. It was a cold late summer night, and I didn't catch a wink of sleep. My nightmares had plagued me night after night lately, so it suited me just fine. This way, I avoided waking up in a cold sweat with my heart racing.
When Mom checked on me to turn off my night-light, I pretended to be asleep. And once complete silence enveloped the house, I crawled out of bed, bare feet hitting the hardwood floor.
Going out through the back door, I winced as the screen squeaked. But everyone in the house was fast asleep.
I ran through the grass damp from the night to the treehouse. I remembered where the boys kept the flashlight they'd shown me earlier, and I used it to guide my way.
My heart was thumping in my chest—I was terrified. But there was no way I was going to give up. I needed to save that innocent creature.
My fingers shook and the flashlight fell, clattering to the floor. I picked it up, feeling as if someone was watching me. The fear crept under my skin as I scrambled to find the wooden box. Finally, my hand wrapped around the familiar, carved shape of it, and I pulled it free of the drawer.
I knelt on the rickety floor, carefully lifting the lid of the box.
The butterfly was still there, but barely moving. Its wings were paper thin. I wanted to cry when I saw it struggling to break free.
I took out the pins as carefully as I could, but the insect was too hurt to move on its own. I was so focused on my task I didn't see someone else coming up the stepladder behind me. Not until the lid of the box snapped shut, making me scream as it smashed my fingers.
I retrieved my hand, crying softly as I blew on my throbbing fingers. I raised my eyes to the figure before me—one of the twins, wearing pajamas and a dangerous scowl.
"Thief," he spat out at me, and I realized it was Kade. "You're trying to take something that doesn't belong to you."
"No," I hissed. "I'm trying to save the butterfly."
He glared at me with angry eyes. Then a smile pulled at his lips. He knelt on the floor where I was still nursing my injured hand. He blew on my fingers, asking if they hurt. I nodded. I didn’t understand how he could switch from being so cruel to so very kind.
Carefully, he retrieved the butterfly and held it up for me to admire. It was beautiful despite being so weak. Its wings were nearly translucent, and it was slowly recovering from the ordeal the twins had put it through. That is, until Kade crushed it in his fist.
I screamed again, the sound echoing in the night.
I watched as Kade opened his palm, and the crushed body of the insect fluttered to the floor. I gathered the broken butterfly in my palms and watched a tear fall from my eyes to its unmoving body.
"You killed it," I whispered, looking up at Kade. "How could you?"
He hesitated before finally muttering the answer. "You loved it. I don't want you looking at anything or anyone like that."
"What do you mean? Are you crazy?" My bottom lip wobbled.
He didn't answer. Instead, he took me by the hand. He helped me bury the butterfly underneath the oak tree. Wordlessly, he walked me back to my bedroom, tucked me in, and turned on my night-light, as if he knew I always turned it back on when I woke up in the middle of the night.
That night, I had no nightmares.
I was still afraid of the darkness then... but the twins would teach me to embrace it.
"Good night, Junebug," Kade had whispered.
The nickname was sweet, adorable, but I hadn’t answered. The way he killed that butterfly was still playing in my head—cruel, vicious, and unnecessary.
And that was how my obsession deepened... Because as frightening as the darkness was, it was more interesting than its light counterpart.