Home > RIOT HOUSE (Crooked Sinners #1)

RIOT HOUSE (Crooked Sinners #1)
Author: Callie Hart




I can’t move.

Not even an inch.

The foul smell of rot seeping through the tiny holes in front of my face makes me gag. I’ve thrown up four times in—I don’t know how long it’s been—and but that isn’t even the worst part of this nightmare.

The worst part is the terror of not knowing when he’s coming back.

Night turns into day, turns into night, turns into day.

My knees, and my hips, and my shoulders scream, constricted and long dead from lack of blood flow.

I think, perhaps, that I might die.

Dying would be preferable to this.

But I don’t. I keep on breathing, my mind spiraling away from me until my thoughts are unrecognizable noise.

And all I can do is kneel here.

All I can do is wait.









Thank fuck it’s dark.

Nothing could be worse that arriving at a new school in broad daylight.

The Lincoln Town Car jolts as it hits a dip in the road, and a wave of panic lights me up—an immediate, unfortunate response to the last two years that I’ve spent living in a war zone. And no, I’m not talking about the fact that my previous home in Israel occasionally felt like a war zone. I’m referring to the fact that I was living under the same roof as my father, Colonel Stillwater, whose idea of a relaxing weekend was beating me black and blue during our Krav Maga training sessions.

I still flinch every time I hear someone politely clear their throat. When Daddy Dearest clears his throat, it usually means I’m about to endure humiliation at his hands. Or some form of embarrassment. Or both.

“Looks like they left the lights on for you, Miss Elodie,” the driver says through the open privacy window. This is the first thing he’s mumbled to me since he collected me at the airport, bundled me into the back of this gleaming black monstrosity, gunned the engine, and headed north for the town of Mountain Lakes, New Hampshire.

Up ahead, a building looms like a proud, ominous sentinel out of the dark, all sharp, tall spires and turrets. Looks like something out of the pages of a Victorian Penny Dreadful. I avoid peering out of the window at the stately structure for too long; I glared at the academic pamphlet Colonel Stillwater shoved at me when he unceremoniously informed me that I’d be relocating Stateside without him for long enough that the academy’s imposing façade is already burned into my memory in intricate detail.

Tennis courts.

Swimming pool.

Fencing studio.

Debate lounge.

A library, commemorated by George Washington himself in 1793.

It all looked great in print. Only the height of luxury for a Stillwater, that’s what my father said gruffly, as he threw my single small suitcase into the back of the cab that would whisk me away from my life in Tel Aviv. I saw straight through the building’s state of the art facilities and it’s well-heeled, old-money veneer, though. This place isn’t a regular school for regular kids. It’s a jail cell dressed up as a place of learning, where army officers who can’t be bothered dealing with their own kids dump them without a second thought, knowing that they’ll be watched over with a military-like focus.

Wolf Hall.


Even the name sounds like it belongs to a fucking prison.

Mentally, I’m backing up, moving further away from the place with every passing second. By the time the car pulls up in front of the sweeping marble steps that lead to the academy’s daunting front entrance, I’m back on the road behind me, three miles away, fleeing my new reality. At least that’s where I would be, if I had absolutely any choice in this whatsoever.

I wasn’t exactly popular back in Tel Aviv, but I had friends. Eden, Ayala and Levi won’t even realize that I’ve been transferred from my old school for another twenty-four hours; it’s already too late for them to come and rescue me from my fate. I knew I was a lost cause before the wheels on the army plane went up back in Tel Aviv.

The Town Car’s engine cuts out abruptly, plummeting the car into an awkward, unfriendly silence that makes my ears ring. Eventually, I realize that the driver’s waiting for me to get out. “I’ll get my bags then, I suppose?”

I don’t want to be here.

I sure as hell shouldn’t have to lug my own bags out of the trunk of a car.

I’d never rat on the driver, that’s just weak, but my father would have an aneurysm if he found out the guy he hired as my escort hadn’t done his job properly once we reached our dreaded destination. As if the guy realizes this, too, he reluctantly hauls his ass out of the car and heads for the rear of the vehicle, dumping my belongings onto the small sidewalk in front of Wolf Hall.

He then has the audacity to wait for a tip, which just plain isn’t happening. Who aids and abets in the destruction of someone’s life, and then expects a thank you and a hundred-dollar bill for their troubles? I’m three-parts gasoline, one-part match as I snatch up my stuff and begin the hike up the steps toward Wolf Hall’s formidable double oak doors. The marble is worn, bowing in the middle and smooth from the thousands of feet that have trudged up and down these steps over the years, but I’m too sour right now to enjoy the delightfully satisfying feel of them underfoot.

The driver’s already gotten back in the car and is swinging out of the turning circle in front of the academy when I reach the very top step. A part of me wants to dump my bags and run after him. He isn’t one of Colonel Stillwater’s regular employees, he’s an agency guy, so he doesn’t owe my old man anything. If I offered him a couple of grand, he might be persuaded to drop me off in another state somewhere, far from my father’s prying eyes. My pride won’t let me beg, though. I’m a Stillwater, after all. Our pride is our most notorious trait.

My only means of escape burns off down the driveway, leaving me faced with two heavy brass knockers, one mounted onto each of the double doors in front of me. The knocker on the left: a grotesque gargoyle, clasping a patinaed ring in his downturned mouth. The knocker on the right is almost identical, except for the fact that his mouth is turned up in a leering, garish smile that sends a chill deep into my bones.

“Creepy much?” I mutter, grabbing hold of the knocker on the left. The sad gargoyle’s far from pleasing to look at, but at least it doesn’t look like it’s about to leap down from its mounting and devour my fucking soul. A resounding boom thunders on the other side of the door when I slam the knocker against the wood, and I realize with a sense of irony that the noise is similar to that of a gavel being struck, sealing a criminal’s fate.

“Wouldn’t bother knocking. It’s open.”

Holy shit.

I nearly jump out of my fucking skin.

Spinning around, my legs nearly quit on me as I scan the darkness, searching for the owner of the voice that just startled the ever-loving shit out of me. It takes a second, but I locate the shadowy figure, perched on the rim of a white stone planter off to the right, thanks to the pop and flare of a glowing ember—looks like the cherry of a cigarette.

“Jesus, I didn’t know there was anyone out here.” I pat a hand against my chest, as if the action will slow my jackrabbiting heart.

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