14 Jigsaw Puzzle

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The thunder outside won't let up. It sounds like the crashing in my chest. The roar in my head. From the sound of the incessant thumps on the roof, the rain has morphed into hail, and the usual chill in the old house carries a bitter bite.

I don't let Alex out of my sight, except to grab my Pumas and a few dishrags from under the bathroom sink. Ducking my head in Mom's room, I sigh when the sound of her heavy snore greets me.

I'll have to figure this all out by myself.

I drag the wing-backed chair from the foyer and position it across from Alex. He sits on the couch, one leg lopped over the other, pinching the bridge of his nose. After taking a seat in the chair, I hand him a blue-striped dish towel.

But I'm no fool. The clock sits at my feet in case I need to bop him on the head with it.

"Start from the beginning." I wedge my heel into my black tennis shoe.

"What beginning?" He pulls the cloth away from his face, checks it. "Pachuck is a fucked up place. Always has been. Why do you think girls disappear? You think Colby's Pork is doing so well because of their signature applewood-smoked bacon? No. Those psychos sacrifice a girl every two years like clockwork. In turn, The Dust makes them rich."

"The Dust?" I scoff. "What the hell is that?"

"The monster that eats the girls."

"You do realize this all sounds like a bad Supernatural episode, right?" I ask, tying my laces.

"I know it sounds crazy. But this shit is real."

I study his face in case I need to remember it for a police report later. Strong brow jutting over sleepy eyes. The prickle of stubble on his jawline and chin. Angular cheekbones that could book him as a lead on any CW show. He's almost too cute to be a killer.

But that's what I thought about Ethan Morales, too.

"The trap door in your step?" Alex wiggles in his seat and gestures towards the staircase. "That's to help girls get away in secret. Ms. Shannon and Mr. Thatcher took girls they thought were in danger and helped them get the hell out of here. Ms. Shannon was the original founder of The Shields."

"My great-aunt was a kidnapper?" I balk at the thought.

"No." He gives a wry chuckle. "Well, yes and no. She only took the ones the Colbys had their sights on. Your aunt helped those girls. She'd do a little whisperin' to keep The Dust away, and that would keep the girls safe until she could find them a place outside of Pachuck."

"Ok, you're like a jigsaw puzzle right now." I shake my head. "I need you to put the pieces together."

Alex scowls and blots his nose. "How come you don't know any of this?"

"How am I supposed to? I didn't even know Shannon Dawson existed until six months ago."

"That doesn't make any sense. She knew all about you, even when your sister died. Went into mourning and everything. She wouldn't let me come over for our weekly game of backgammon."

My stomach drops to my toes. Fragments of things Sheila and Colt told me about Aunt Shannon whip around my head.

Some people thought she was a witch.

She was real nice, although a little weird.

Wind chimes...

"You said she would do a little whispering," I say, leaning forward on my knees. "What does that mean?"

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