Going Down in Flames (Going Down in Flames #1)

Going Down in Flames (Going Down in Flames #1)

Chris Cannon

Chapter One

Bryn yanked down the school bus window. Not that it helped much. The bus still smelled like sweat and nacho cheese. The sweat could be explained by the freshman boys who had gym last hour and considered showering optional. The nacho cheese was a mystery.

When the bus came to her stop, Bryn stood, cringing at the suction-type sound her thighs made as her skin separated from the vinyl seat.

“Hey, Bryn just ripped one,” an idiot yelled from the back of the bus. It was the same stupid joke every time someone’s legs stuck to the seats.

She pretended to scratch the back of her head and flipped him off as she shuffled down the aisle. Laughter followed her out the door into the semi-fresh air. And now it was time for her daily hike.

On a good day, Bryn hated the walk home from her bus stop. The up-and-coming industrial neighborhood where her family lived had ended up down and out. Boarded-up storefronts lined the street, making it look like the set of a low-budget zombie film.

The roar of motorcycle engines reverberated through the air from the crowd gathered outside Joe’s Pawn Shop. People came and went, ducking into vacant buildings for reasons she’d rather not know.

A man standing in the shadows of an abandoned auto shop tracked her progress as she walked past. Her heart kicked up a notch. She glanced over her shoulder just to make sure. Yep. The hot-guy stalker was back. This was sighting number three. She’d spotted him across the street from the high school parking lot yesterday and outside McDonald’s the day before. It’s not like he blended in anywhere.

With his pale skin and dark hair fixed in three-inch spikes, he looked like a demented manga character. The black muscle shirt he wore showed off the elaborate dragon tattoo running the length of his arm. And now he’d caught her staring. One corner of his mouth turned up in a lopsided grin.

Fantastic. It would be just her luck if Tall, Dark, and Tattooed thought she was flirting with him.

The morning news story about a sixteen-year-old girl found dead in a Dumpster just a few blocks away flashed through her mind. Despite the sticky heat of the August afternoon, a chill slithered down her spine. If she wanted to reach her own sixteenth birthday next week, she might not want to give this guy the benefit of the doubt. He could be harmless. Or, he could collect heads and hang them on meat hooks in his freezer.

Her parents’ yoga and martial arts studio sat at the end of the block. The late-afternoon sun glinted off the metal fire escape that led up to their apartment. It was too far. She needed a plan.

Just a quick look to see how close he was. Crap. He’d halved the distance. Less than a dozen feet separated them. He was closing in on her. Time to run.

She took a deep breath, checked for cars, and bolted across the street toward the used bookstore. The shopkeeper’s bell rang out as she crossed the threshold, and the cashier acknowledged her with a smile. Bryn nodded, moved to the section of teen books by the front window, and scanned the street. No manga-haired guy in sight, but he could be lurking nearby. Now what?

She knew what she should do, and she didn’t want to do it. Because of the crappy area they lived in, her dad had just started letting her walk home by herself. If she called him, he’d be back on guard duty. And he seemed to be in her business more than usual lately. Did she really want to encourage that? Then again, it was better than ending up in a Dumpster. She pulled the cell phone from her pocket and dialed home.

The call went straight to voicemail. According to the time on her cell, her parents would be off work in fifteen minutes. Then they’d check for calls.

“I’m in Pennywise Books. I think someone is following me.”

That should do it. Now, she’d sit tight and wait for the cavalry to arrive. Glancing around the store, she felt ridiculous. Had she overreacted?

People sat at tables in the back of the store, reading books, chatting, and drinking herbal tea. The smell of peppermint and bergamot filled the air. A calico cat slept on the windowsill next to a sign that read: Cat not for sale. Everything else is negotiable.

“Hey, kitty.” She stroked his head. He purred, leaning in to her touch. Life seemed normal again. The stupid news story had made her paranoid. She turned away to browse the store and find a new book.

Tap. Tap. Tap.

The simple sound made the hair on her neck stand up. It couldn’t be. In slow motion, she turned back to the window. There he was, on the other side of the glass, smirking at her.

She jumped back like he’d given her an electric shock. A weird, tingling sensation ran down her spine as she watched him enter the store.

Amusement shone from his eyes as he approached. When he was close enough, he whispered, “If I wanted to harm you, no one in here could stop me.”

He seemed to be teasing. Instinctively, she knew he spoke the truth. “What do you want?”

“We have important matters to discuss, Bryn.”

Whoa. “How do you know my name?”

“Names are easy to come by. It’s the pictures that are hard to find. I wondered who you’d favor. Apparently, blue and red makes strawberry blond.” He brushed his fingers through her hair.

She jerked away. “Back off.”

Tilting his head, he studied her. “Amazing. They haven’t told you. Have they?”

This guy wasn’t right in the head.

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