My feet don’t stop moving as I travel through the park in a town I’ve been in for less than twenty-four hours. It’s dark and clouds cover the sky, preventing any light from shining through as I try to figure out where I am. The scent of rain still lingers in the air and I suppress a shiver. 

It’s hard enough to maintain my footing as I slip on the wet leaves beneath me. Branches overhead drip with leftover raindrops from the storm that just ended. Thunder is still in the distance, so I pick up my pace, glancing around to see if anything looks familiar. But no, it’s just more fucking trees because my dumb ass thought taking a shortcut in a town I don’t know, in the middle of the night, was a genius idea.

“You are such a moron, Elodie,” I grumble under my breath, cursing myself for being so damn stupid. 

I’m lost. Of course I am. Of course this would happen to me. To make matters worse, my cell service sucks in this damn town. At least I’ve got my flashlight on my phone to lead me toward the light coming from the lampposts ahead. 

“Come with me, Elodie,” I mock my sixteen-year-old sister. “It’ll be so fun, Elodie.” 

Ugh! It was not fun. In fact, it was tortuous. 

I stop walking, do a quick one-eighty, and when I’m back to facing the direction I was headed, I move again, this time faster. 

Yep. I’m lost. 

With no idea where I’m at or where I’m going, I raise my phone above my head, searching for a bar. But there’s still nothing. Defeated, I let my hand fall to my side with a heavy sigh.

Going to that stupid party was the worst decision I’ve made all year. Who goes to a party full of people they don’t know in a town they’ve never been to? 

Me. That’s who. Elodie Astor—book smart, but socially stupid. 

In my defense, it was Brogan’s grand idea. My sister is all-in when it comes to anything social. Bonus points if it involves boys. She begged me to go. Promised to stay by my side. Then, ditched me the second she caught the eye of some jock whose name she didn’t even know. 

Brogan and I are polar opposites. She’s an extrovert by nature—cheerleader, life of the party. Whereas I’m more introverted—class president, honor society. 

Although, I did get a small tattoo spontaneously when I was sixteen, and to me, that was pretty damn ballsy. I walked around feeling tough as nails for a week. I laugh about it now because it really wasn’t that big of a deal.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a total prude. There was a guy who piqued my interest tonight. He was a masterpiece in human form. His tousled, yet sexy, dark blond hair fell in front of his bright blue eyes. I could tell from his build he was athletic, even before he mentioned playing football. He was exactly the type of guy I avoided, yet for some reason, I wanted to stand there all night talking to him. 

That is, until he stopped talking mid-sentence to make out with some girl who approached us. To make matters worse, she was a cute girl. The type of girl who brings all your own insecurities to the surface. 

I’m not talking about a little peck on the lips, either. Those two were ripping into each other’s mouths like they were sharing their favorite dessert. It was disgusting, and a little embarrassing to watch. 

So, I stood there, tapping the toe of my sandal on the pavement beside the pool while fighting to avoid looking at them. 

With his hand resting on her ass, he licked her spit from his lips and proceeded to finish telling me all about his record-breaking pass this season. 

I am not the type of girl that sits back while assholes like him do whatever they want, so I just walked away. He got all puffy chested and told me I better not walk away from him when he’s talking, so I spun around and stepped into him.

Other people might not stand up to that guy, but I’m not from here, so I never have to see him again, therefore consequences for my actions don’t exist. 

His eyes lit with a challenge and I happily accepted. The girl that was all over him decided to take a step back, giving me enough space to slowly back him up to the pool’s edge. The second he reached for me, I put my knee to his balls and a light shove was all he needed to go falling backward into the pool.

For the brief moment he was under the water, people laughed, but as soon as he could hear them again, crickets. I ran out of that place faster than the speed of light. 

Now I do have to pay the consequences, and it’s all for going to that party in the first place. 

The truth is, I love socializing for an hour or even two, but then I’m peopled out and ready to go home to climb back into my bubble. 

My mom forced me and my two younger sisters to go on this four-hour road trip with her to the town she grew up in, because “it’ll be a fun adventure and a great opportunity for me to bond with my girls.” Her words, not mine. We’re staying at a small hotel not far from the school and I have yet to spend any quality time with my mother and sisters since we arrived.

Mom’s a sucker for nostalgia. She kept all her old cheerleader uniforms and let us try them on as kids growing up. I swear that woman would keep a gum wrapper if it was given to her by the right person. The day we arrived, she even had the grand idea of taking us to her old high school to show us around once classes let out for the day. 

When we got to the school, my mother used the perfect opportunity to ask if they had a photography room just to see Lake’s expression. It was only a couple days ago Lake got caught making out with a boy in the dark room at our high school. The principal called Mom and we’ve been teasing Lake about it ever since. Mom still treats my youngest sister like she’s a baby. She’s fifteen years old now. Of course she’s kissing boys. 

Two years younger than me and Lake’s tongue has probably seen more action in a year than mine has my entire life. 

I’ll be the first to admit, I can be somewhat of a party pooper. I’m the girl who takes drinks from the hands of already drunk people. I cover my tests in class just to make sure no one is cheating off mine. I volunteer my free time at the children’s hospital. I’m basically the child every parent dreams to have—except my own. 

I can’t pity myself too much. My parents are amazing. They’ve been divorced for over a year now, but they both still show up for me and my sisters when needed. 

My dad is my biggest cheerleader and supporter. If it weren’t for all the scholarships I’ve already accumulated, I know he’d financially support any career path I chose. And my mom’s proud, too. She just has it in her head that I’m missing out on my youth and trying to grow up too fast. 

Not to pat my own back, but my head is on completely straight. I know what I want in life and I refuse to let anything get in my way. My mom keeps telling me I need to start enjoying life more. Though, I don’t think getting lost in a park at midnight is what she had in mind.  

The lampposts ahead come into view and I sigh in relief, hopeful I can get back to where I started and figure out how to get home from there. I click the flashlight off on my phone to save my battery, all the while my heart hammers in my rib cage. An eerie feeling settles inside me, as if the darkness behind me holds secrets I know I don’t want to hear.

When I finally make it out into the light, I find myself in a playground area. Passing by a row of swings, a chill runs down my spine when their chains begin to rattle and squeak as they get caught in a gust of wind. They sway back and forth, almost as if someone is sitting in them and forcing the movement. 

When a tiny droplet hits my nose, I squint, looking up at the clouds in disbelief. In a matter of seconds, the sky opens up and rain pours down on me in heavy sheets. In my short time at Willow Creek, I’ve learned the weather has a mind of its own. One minute, the sun can be shining bright, and the next, we’re under a downpour like now. 

I throw my hands up in defeat, feeling the weight of the storm on my shoulders. “That all you got, universe?” 

I’ve always appreciated nature and have a deep love for the rain, but I’m not exactly thrilled that it has to happen on a night when I’m walking alone in the dark in a place I’ve never been before. 

I drop my hands and bring my face forward, my lashes attempt to flutter away the moisture. Blinking a few times, I make sure my eyes aren’t deceiving me as shadows come into view in the distance. To my surprise, a group of three people enter the park, totally unbothered by the rain.

They’re not far enough into the light, so it’s hard to tell, but by the sounds of their voices, I’d say most, if not all, are guys. 

As they stroll into a beam of light shining down from a lamppost, I can see clearly that there are three guys, all of whom I’m certain were at the party. Their deep voices echo off the trees and playground equipment around me.

The last thing I want is an altercation with locals, so I make a quick decision and bolt underneath a slide to stay hidden. Rain pelts against the metal in a symphony of pins and clanks and I’m grateful because it masks the sound of my heavy breathing.  

The group walks deeper into the park, stopping underneath a small gazebo right beside the slide. Every muscle in my body tenses. One wrong move and they’ll find me. 

As quick as the rain started, it suddenly stops, leaving a deafening silence that is broken when one of the guys raises his voice. 

“Dude, there’s no way in hell that girl was leaving the party with you. We’re seniors, and she’s a fucking sophomore.” 

“Shut the hell up. That girl would have dropped to her knees if you hadn’t got us kicked out of the party.” 

I can’t see their faces, so I have no idea who’s talking, but one guy appears pissed while the other two find it humorous.

“She’s not even from Willow Creek. Said she was just visiting for a couple days. Move on. You’ll probably never see her again.” 

Sophomore? Not from Willow Creek? Could it be? 

No. That’s far too much of a coincidence. Then again, this town isn’t huge. 

“Even better.” The guy scoffs. “She might be cool and down to have some fun. Unlike the stuck-up bitches that live in Willow Creek.” 

I’ve always been somewhat impetuous, but I’ve never considered myself to be a complete idiot…until now. 

I jump out from under the slide, knocking my shoulder against the ledge. “Are you talking about Brogan?” I rub the ache in my arm, attempting to hide my nervousness. 

I need to know if they’re talking about my sister, and if they are, I need to know she’s okay. 

Three pairs of eyes fixate on me and suddenly, the trio isn’t as gabby as they were before I came out of hiding. Their gazes are harsh, as if I’m butting into a conversation I have no right to be part of. 

They continue to assess me, eyes plodding up and down my body, and suddenly they seem much more interested as their expressions become sinister. When the taller guy with bright blond hair and piercing emerald eyes smirks, I know I’m in trouble. These are not boys to be messed with, and I’m alone, dangling myself in front of them like a piece of meat.

Blondie’s tongue drags across his lower lip and I have to suppress a gag from the way he undresses me with his eyes.  

 “Well, well, well. Who do we have here?” The blond comes closer, his side brushing against mine as he circles me.

I feel three feet tall and helpless as I stand there, allowing them to drink up my presence. I have no idea who these guys are or what they’re capable of. What I do know is that my fear will give them power if they see it.

Straightening my back, I steel my shoulders and lift my chin. “Who’s the girl you were talking about?”

“Forget her,” another guy chimes in, wearing the same sinister grin as his friend. This one has jet-black hair and eyes so dark I can barely see them. “You’re here now. She’s just a distant memory.” 

I cross my arms over my chest, eyes dancing from one guy to the next. “Tell me if the girl you were talking about is Brogan?”

They share a look, shrugging. The blond says, “Hell if I know her name. What I do know is she had sexy curves and big tits that popped out of her pink tee shirt.” 

Sounds like Brogan. In which case, I’m proud of her for not leaving with these guys. Also a bit surprised because she usually makes terrible decisions for herself. 

The blond continues, “She also had a mouth on her.” He nudges my shoulder with his. “One I wanted to come all over.” 

My insides twist in a mix of disgust and terror. I make no attempt to mask my disdain as I snarl at his response. “You’re sick,” I spit out. “I’d say my sister did herself a favor rejecting you.” 

A deep, guttural laugh escapes from his lips, sending chills down my spine. My instincts scream at me to run away as fast as I can. 

“Sister, huh?” Mischief sparks in the blond’s green eyes. 

The shorter of the three, with red hair, pats his hand on the dark-haired guy’s shoulder. “Come on, guys. Just leave her alone and let’s get to the car.” 

“Fuck off, Miles!” Blondie snaps as he steps even closer to me. With the dark-haired guy at my side and this one in my face, I’m certain if I try to run, they’ll snatch me up and keep me in place. 

My pulse quickens and I force a smile on my face. “This was fun.” I shoot a thumb over my shoulder. “But I really should go.” 

“You should have never been here in the first place.” Blondie scoffs. “The residents of this town aren’t too keen on outsiders snooping around.” 

“There was no snooping.” I chuckle nervously. “I’m simply just passing through.” 

I go to step around him, but as suspected, my wrist is snared. I’m not certain by who, and I don’t care. My first instinct is to jerk away, but I fail miserably. I attempt to twist it so that I have the advantage, but I’m too slow and he gains the upper hand.

“Let me go!” I growl, my voice thick with anger and frustration. In seconds, I’m surrounded as the sound of devilish laughter drowns everything out around me.

I shouldn’t have tried to take a shortcut. I knew going through the park was a bad idea. But my laziness overpowered my shrewdness, and here I am. Captured by some wannabe thugs who will probably rape me and leave me for dead. 

When he tries to pull me close, I shove at his chest, now able to see that it’s the blond. “Keep your dirty-ass hands off of me, you disgusting son of a bitch. My sister was an idiot for even talking to your ugly ass.”

My eyes go wide when I see him go from playful to downright evil in a split second. His grip on me tightens to the point of pain as he pulls me up against him with his two friends right at my back, leaving me no escape. I’m certain he can feel the thudding of my heart as he grinds his jaw. 

His hot breath fans my ear as he whispers, “Your sister might have rejected me, but what she doesn’t know is when I want something, I get it.” He squeezes my wrist even tighter, causing me to bite my tongue in order to keep from crying out. “And right now, what I want is for you to get on your knees and say you’re sorry for running that pretty little mouth of yours.” 

He’s delusional if he really thinks I’m getting on my knees for him. I heard what he said about Brogan. He thinks all he needs to do is snap his fingers and girls will drop for him. I know damn well he’s testing his limits right now. If I get on my knees, I’ve no doubt he’ll force more than an apology out of me. I may be terrified of how he’ll react when I say no, but I will put up a fight until my dying breath before giving in to him.

I might walk the straight and narrow—might even be considered a goody two-shoes, but what I’m not, is weak. And I’m certainly not a pushover. 

I gnash my teeth together, allowing two simple words to spill out. “Fuck you.” 

My eyes narrow, challenging him. In the blink of an eye he has my hair in his fist as he jerks my head back, breaking my eye contact. “Is that an offer? Because I’ll gladly accept.” 

“I wouldn’t fuck you if you were the last man on earth.” I try to pull on his grip but it’s steadfast. I can see his friends getting a kick out of this from my new angle and I want nothing more than to put them all in their place. 

“So cliché,” he tsks. “I take you to be that type of girl. Probably come from a rich little family. Bet you drive an Audi. Captain of the cheer team and all that jazz.” 

“All that jazz?” I laugh glumly. “Sorry, asshole, but you’re mistaking me for my sister. She drives the Audi.”

“Of course she does.” He chuckles, looking at his friends as if communicating a secret. “Just another family full of spoiled brats who will live off Mommy and Daddy’s money for the rest of their lives.” 

“You don’t know a thing about me or my family.” I cock an eyebrow when he finally loosens his grip on my hair. “Don’t act like you’re any better. Pretty sure Willow Creek was built on rich soil. From what I gather, everyone in this town has money, so don’t act like I’m the only one here who was fed with a silver spoon.” 

“Who said we were from Willow Creek?” Blondie looks at the dark-haired guy. “Damon, are you from Willow Creek?”

Damon shakes his head. “Definitely not, Winton. Thank fuck.”

So the blond’s name is Winton. At least I have some names to go with these faces. I’ll know to walk away if I ever see them again. Not that I will. 

Winton looks at the shorter guy. “Miles, are you from Willow Creek?” 

Another name. Even better for when I report this. 

Miles hesitantly shakes his head no. 

I crane my neck in confusion. “Well, if you’re not from here, why are you here?”

Damon laughs and the sound is harrowing. “This girl has no idea she tripped the line into unchartered territory.” He tips his chin. “You’re not in Willow Creek anymore, baby. This is Bulldog territory here, and we just kicked the Misfits’ scrawny asses on the field tonight.”

They start up a barking chant, and as much as I wish it didn’t terrify me, it does. All the way down to the bones. These men aren’t pretty rich boys who are used to getting their way. They are the scrappy ones who have fought for everything they have and take whatever they can get their hands on. And right now, that’s me.

I have no idea who the Misfits are, but I can only assume it’s Willow Creek’s football team and these guys play for their rival team. And I’m the idiot who crossed the boundary into their town. 

The two jerks laugh at my misfortune while their friend stands by idly. He might not be saying anything, but he’s an accomplice to their asshole ways; therefore, he’s just as guilty. 

Winton breaks his grip on my hair and I try to pull away from his hand, but his fingers dig in deeper and I know I’ll bruise from this. “Just let me the fuck go so I can get out of this town and never come back.” 

“Not so fast,” Winton growls. “We’re not finished with you yet. I want that apology.” 

I snicker, going lax in his grip so maybe he loosens his hold. “Over my dead fucking body.” 

His tongue clicks on the roof of his mouth. “That can be arranged.” He grabs the V-neck of my dress, his rough hands scraping against my skin while Damon grabs my wrists and pins them behind me. In a swift motion, he tears it in a jagged line, exposing my bare skin from my chest to my waist. Terror grips me as I realize his intentions. 

I panic, trying to pull away, my nails digging into his skin as I try to fight them off. But there’s nothing I can do. Damon struggles to keep hold of me. When I break from his grip, Winton’s hand shoots out, going around my neck in a threat.

“Please don’t do this,” I try not to let my voice shake, but who am I kidding, I’m terrified and even I know there’s no way out now.

“Oh, we’re doing this,” he chuckles dryly. 

“And if you tell anyone,” Winton whispers in my ear, a firm hold on my throat while Damon secures my arms again, “you’ll live to regret it.” 

My heart jumps into my throat and the sound of laughter coming from the two of them will forever be ingrained in my memory. 

This is it. This is where I get raped and left for dead. 

I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block out the reality around me. A chill runs down my spine and when I feel cold fingers trailing down my bare chest, I force myself to watch. I might be scared, but I plan to fight every second I get. And I can’t do that with my eyes closed. 

“She’s fucking stacked.” Winton bites the corner of his lip as he pushes my dress off my shoulders. “I might just fuck these titties and let you guys have the rest.” 

He drags his fingers upward, peeling up the cup of my bra just to pinch my nipple. I want to cry out, but I refuse to give him anything right now. 

I’m frozen, unable to move or make a sound. I’m not even sure if I’m still breathing and at this point, I don’t care. To be honest, I’d rather die than face what’s in store for me.

“Get on your knees,” Winton says, his voice laced with intent. “Lemme slip my dick between those perky breasts.” 

“Winton, careful.” Damon lets go of me. “We could lose a lot for this. Is she really worth it?”

Winton shoves him. “If you don’t want in, then stand back with Miles.”

I try to turn so I can run but his rough hands grasp my shoulders as he forces me down. My knees buckle under his strength. The damp ground feels cold, dirt clinging to my knees and digging into my skin as I accept my fate. My whole body shakes as Winton fists my hair, yanking me closer while unzipping his pants.

Tears burn the backs of my eyes as I fight to keep some of my dignity. I breathe in through my nose as I clench my jaw shut. If he wants this, he’s going to have to fight for it.

“Oh, don’t do that, little rabbit.” His fingers pinch my jaw forcefully, causing me to open my mouth slightly. He bends in front of me, shoving two fingers between my lips until they hit my gag reflex. This time, I don’t fight the tears.

“That’s better.” Keeping two fingers in my mouth, he stands. “Now keep those teeth away from me and we won’t have problems. But if you keep fighting me, I’ll knock you the fuck out and do whatever I want with that tight little body of yours.”

“Winton,” Damon chides. For a brief second I allow myself to hope maybe this won’t happen. That’s easily squashed when Winton’s free hand pets my hair and his eyes dance as if this is just a game. A game he is used to winning.

Winton glares at his friend. “Try to stop me, Damon. See what happens to that leg you need to play running back.”

Damon raises his hands, the threat clear. 

Bile rises in my throat as I relax my jaw and all hope fades. I have no choice in the matter. I could just bite his dick off, but he has the advantage of being above me.

I begin to hyperventilate as Winton takes a step forward and I think maybe I will just pass out so I don’t have to remember any of this.

“Let her go!” The sound of a gravelly voice pierces through the chaos, causing my eyes to shoot wide open.

I cry out in relief and when the guys’ attention is stolen and I jump to my feet, ready to flee. Suddenly, Winton grabs my arm before I’m able to run. My dress falls down even farther and I actually sniffle when I realize this guy is all alone.

“I said, let her go,” the newcomer repeats himself, this time his voice even thicker, more domineering. 

It’s hard to see who he is, but he just might be my knight in shining armor. He’s wearing a hoodie that’s flipped over his downcast head, offering only a shadow of his face. Pushing the sleeves of his hoodie up, I catch sight of a broken pipe in his right hand. The veins in his forearms protrude as he taps the bar to his palm in a slow and threatening motion. 

This can’t end well. I might be selfish in my way of thinking, but I don’t care who gets hurt here, so long as it’s not me. 

“Get lost before you get your ass kicked,” Winton warns. 

The newcomer takes two steps forward, his identity still a mystery, though I doubt I’d know him even if I saw his face. “The only ones who will be getting their asses kicked are the three of you if you don’t let the girl go.” 

“You brought a fucking weapon.” Winton actually sounds afraid for the first time tonight. “Hardly seems fair.” 

“Three on one isn’t fair either.” The newcomer growls. “Let her go or your face will be meeting this metal pipe.” 

Suddenly, my wrist is freed. I jump to the left, putting some space between myself and the Neanderthals. I pivot around to face the mystery guy, wanting to run toward him and thank him for saving me. But he isn’t done with these guys. 

He stands tall, probably six foot, shoulders taut, and there is something oddly familiar about him. “Get the hell outta here.” 

“I…I don’t know where to go,” I tell him honestly, pulling the split fabric of my dress together to hide myself. 

“Just go back the fucking way you came,” he barks.

I turn around, and around, and around. Unsure of which way I came. I’m so fucking screwed right now. 

Somewhere between me getting lost in my thoughts to me snapping out of them, the assholes have all huddled around the new guy, exchanging malicious words and threats. 

Without warning, the new guy swings the pipe and it meets the back of Winton’s skull. The sickening crunch of bones colliding with metal echoes through the air and my stomach lurches. 

I gasp at the sight, my hands flying to my mouth. Taking a few small steps backward, I know I need to get out of here. But I’m frozen solid, watching as the new guy tosses down the pipe and barrels toward Winton. He doesn’t slow down as he takes him straight to the ground. 

The new guy lifts his head, hands wrapped around Blondie’s throat, and for a brief moment, I catch a glimpse of his icy blue eyes. 

“Go! Now!” I jolt at the sound of his voice, shaken to my core. 

I nod repeatedly, feeling like all the air has been forced out of my lungs. “I owe you one,” I whisper with bated breath. 

I move quickly through the park, passing by familiar scenery, and before long, I’m positive I’m heading in the direction I came. 

I’m not sure what would have happened to me if that guy didn’t show up tonight. I can’t even fathom what those assholes would have done to me. 

Unfortunately, I’ll never be able to repay him. I’m out of here in a couple days and I’ll never see him again. 

There is one thing I can do to help him, though. I reach into the small pocket of my ripped dress and pull out my phone. I’ve always heard I don’t need service to make an emergency call, and it’s time to test that theory. 

My fingers shake uncontrollably as I tap out 911 on the keypad. With the phone pressed to my ear, I steal multiple nervous glances over my shoulder. 

When it rings, I feel immediate relief. 

A dispatcher comes on the line and I tell her that there is a guy getting assaulted by three males in the park outside of Willow Creek, and the names I got—Winton, Damon, and Miles.

I opt out of sharing my information or requesting a callback because the last thing I want is my name tied to this call. She assures me a trooper is on the way and I hang up, thankful he’ll have backup soon.  

I suppose not all knights in shining armor ride in on horses. 

Some show up as a psychotic misfit cloaked in black with no name. 

At least, that’s how mine presented himself. 

I hope you enjoyed the Prologue! You can preorder Heartless Monster now and have it on your Kindle, Friday, March 29th! If you’d like to order signed paperbacks, you can use the links below, or tap the Store tab at the top of this page!