Chapter One: Darkly Dangerous

The summer my cousin was killed, the heat was oppressive.

Maybe if it hadn't of been, she wouldn't have died.

Maybe if it hadn't have been, she wouldn't have said or done the things that had got her killed.

But maybe it would've all happened anyway.

Because really, it wasn't the heats fault that she was killed.

It was hers.

And mine.

The water that dripped onto my back was my first clue that my cousin and her boyfriend had gotten out of the pool.

Turning my head wearily, I squinted up towards the sun to see them kissing and giggling just above me, oblivious to both my glare and the fact that not only were they blocking my sun but they were also dripping on me.

I couldn't say anything because my cousin was my cousin. Tall, tanned, toned, Blonde, blue eyed and beautiful, Hannah was everything I'd ever wanted to be and everything I had no hope in being.

As a result, I was slightly cowed by her if I was not scared of anybody else. It was her that I'd always wanted to be. And living in the shadow of the Perfect One all my life had left me rather scared of her.

Her brother, Jack, however, had no such qualms.

"Ugh, get a room." He whacked his sister with his towel as he passed, pulling a face as he dropped onto the sun lounger beside me. "Can't you see you're dripping on Jo?"

I turned my burning face back to my book and pretended I couldn't hear their conversation as both Max and Hannah jerked and looked down on me guilty.

Hannah pulled that face she always did, her embarrassment cover up face that never failed to enchant the people who looked at her. She shrugged and dabbed her slender hand on my back, smearing the water over a bigger surface area instead of blotting it out.

"Oops. Sorry, Jo."

I waved it away, flipping the page of my book even though I hadn't read it.

"No problem." I mumbled.

Hannah's hand stilled on my back, before I felt her shrug and turn back to Max, who hadn't removed his hands from her person.

"So, what do you wanna do now?" She purred and I could just see that smile on her face.

I could see that smile on his face too.

"Oh, I dunno. Best stay in the sun, don't want you getting cold." His voice was mumbled now and I almost choked, flipping a page once more.

"I could never get cold around you."

Hannah clearly had forgotten that Jack, Emma and I were still within ear shot of her conversation.

"Ugh. What did I say about getting a room, guys? Seriously, Emma's still an innocent and I'm pretty sure Jo doesn't wanna hear this anymore then I do."

And Jack was brilliant at reminding her of that fact.

"God, Jack!"

Hannah spun on her heel and pressed her hands down onto her hips, glaring at her brother with intense irritation. When I peered up at them, Max raised his eyebrows and jerked his head at his girlfriend in a 'What can I do?' kind of movement.

I shrugged and rolled my eyes back at him, trying to keep the heat in my cheeks to a minimum.

"What, Hannah?" Her brother mocked her, leaning back to plug his ear plugs into his ears.

"Stop embarrassing me!" She hissed, stalking around my sun bed to yank at his ear phones, bringing his attention right back to her again.

I flipped a page irritably, then another one, and another one, unable to focus and restless as Hannah and Jack started to charge around together.

"Not that interesting, huh?" Max asked, sitting down on my sun lounger beside me, indicating his head towards my book.

I bit down hard on my lip to stop myself from saying something completely and utterly embarrassing.

"No, not really. I'm just a bit restless today, I suppose. Must be the heat."

"Hmm." Max squinted up at the sun, ignoring the cousins that ran around the pool like five year olds, carelessly knocking my younger sister, Emma, into the brambles that marked the perimeter of the property. "I don't think it's that warm today."

"Well, you've just got out of the pool." I pointed out practically, hoping I didn't sound to rude or blunt.

He shrugged his massive, muscle encased shoulders.

"True."

I waited a couple of moments whilst we were both silent before flinging the book beneath the sun bed and on to the stiff, dried out grass and shifting myself to sit up. Max moved obligingly to accommodate my movement but didn't get up off the sun bed.

I braced my hands against my knees and stared right across the gardens towards the house before finally standing straight up, stretching lazily like a cat. I'd been lying down a long time and my muscles protested at the sudden quick movement.

I glanced down at Max who was dividing his attention between Hannah and myself. I then took a deep breath and dredged up all the courage that I possessed, refusing to look at Hannah because to look at Hannah was to loose all the courage I had.

"Is the pool nice?" I then asked Max, pulling at the sleeves of the over-large T-shirt I wore when Hannah was around.

Max squinted up at me and nodded.

"Yeah. Really nice. Good temperature." He told me in true guy form.

I nodded back at him, biting my lip to try and keep my courage where it was.

"I think I might go for a swim." I declared before grabbing hold at the bottom of the T-shirt and pulling it up over my head, sucking in my stomach and shaking my hair out.

"Swim?" Max asked again. "I've not seen you swim before."
"Hah! Where've you been the whole time you've known her?" Jack demanded, rolling his eyes from where he stood at the other end of the grounds with Hannah. "Jo's a swimming champion. Can't get her out of the pool long enough to eat sometimes."

Max now looked at me more keenly.

"Really?" He asked, clearly impressed.

I shrugged, glancing across at Hannah who's Blonde hair glistened like a halo around her head, her baby blues watching mine and Max's interaction with curiosity.

"I'm not as good as Jack makes out. Hannah's better." I offered. "No big deal."

Hannah eyed me.

"Don't be modest. You're better then me by far."
Well, I knew that but if I said that people were far more likely to believe Hannah was and think I was a liar so I was much better off saying that she was and be done with it.
"That's your opinion." I shrugged and stepped around Max's legs, hoping he wasn't watching my wobbly bits wobble and his eyes were focused on the angel that was my cousin.

I stepped up to the side of the pool, and positioned myself for a dive. I tried to ignore the fact that everybody was watching me intently.

I dived.

The cool water was my home away from home, clearing my thoughts as it pulsed through my hair, massaging at my scalp. I did four strong strokes to the other end of the pool before coming up for air.

"Where are they going?" I asked Emma, trying to ignore Hannah as best I could as I watched Jack and Max amble off towards the main house.

Surprisingly, it was Hannah who answered.

"To get some refreshments."

By refreshments she meant alcohol. Well, good. At least then I could go to my room and drink myself to oblivion.

Then, her phone rang from her sun bed. It had been ringing almost the whole time we'd been there but she never answered it.

She growled and stalked towards it, checking caller ID before holding one finger up towards me.

"Sorry, I have to take this." She pressed the phone to her ear and turned away from me. "Hello?...Oh, hi...I'm still on holiday...yeah, sure, just gimme a sec...wait, what?..."

And she was off towards the trees that provided shade from the beating sun.

Emma and I looked at each other then to where Hannah had gone.

"Wonder who that was." Emma wondered, brushing off her back from where the brambles had scratched her.

I shook my head and smiled at her.

"Probably nobody. Just one of her friends." I quickly changed the subject, hoping that Hannah wouldn't plague me once she'd gone as well as when she was still around. "You should probably go get some plasters for those. Mum's on her balcony if you want to go ask her where they are."

Emma frowned in thought as she stared out towards the trees.

"I'll wait. I wanna see who Hannah is talking to." She decided.

I rolled my eyes and splashed the water over my body to keep myself cool.

"You can ask after you got the plasters. Go on, it won't take long and it'll stop them from hurting."

I splashed her when she still didn't move.

"Go on!"

Emma looked on at me in a state of out rage that I had dared to splash her before sticking her nose high into the air.

"Fine. And when I get back, I expect an apology." And off she went.

"I have no doubt that you will." I murmured after her before sighing and also looking towards the trees. Now that nobody was here I could finally do some proper swimming.

I must've been in the pool for about ten minutes, swimming length after length after length.

When I finally surfaced, nobody had returned to the edge of the pool and I was free to go get my towel without fear of anybody judging me.

"No. NO!" A voice bellowed from the trees from where Hannah was.

I paused in the act of towel drying my hair.

"Hannah?" I called out worriedly.

"I said, no!"

I paused, uncertain at her half hysterical, half angry tone, unsure if she actually needed me or not.

"You ok?" I continued to towel my hair as I slipped on my flip flops and approached the trees with caution.

No more noises came from the trees and I sped up my pace, darting in and out of trees until I came across Hannah, who was still safe and unharmed, pacing with the phone in her hand clutched tightly to her ear.

"No more. I could get caught...You can't make me...I've got more power over you now...No, don't go getting cocky...what do you mean, Jo?...Leave my family out of this...and Max...Jo is none of your concern...That's hardly her fault...Jo is-... I'm dealing with it!...What did I say?...Ugh! I've had it with you! No. More!"

And she hung up, chucking her phone at the tree trunk, which it easily bounced off thanks to it's rubber casing.

"Hannah?" I asked cautiously, approaching her. "Are you ok? You were shouting..."

She spun around on her heel, clearly shocked that I was there at all.

"Jo?" Her eyed widened, but then her annoyed face set in, the face that never failed to have me feeling like some piece of shit that she'd just wiped off her shoe. "How much of that did you hear?"
"None of it." I lied.

She was still looking at me with suspicion.

"You sure?"

I plucked up all my courage once more to give her a flippant reply.

"Like I'd be interested in your conversations. Jeez, big head much?"

Then I awaited the slap or ear bashing. Instead, she paused before deciding to give me that patronising smile.

"Yup, that's me. Hannah with the big head." She replied with that sweet smile. She then glanced behind me, and I'd changed subjects enough times to know when somebody else was attempting to do the same. "Have the guys come back with the snacks yet?"

I considered not giving her an answer and returning to the subject of who was on the phone, but my courage was now almost completely exhausted and I could take no more of her patronising attitude and presumptions ways, especially in this heat.

"No."

"Hmm. Best go see where they got too." She started to skip off passed me, but stopped when she was right next to me, shoulder to shoulder, and turned her head. "This conversation." She paused, clearly deliberating between continuing on this path. Her eyes met mine head on and I flinched away from their intensity. "You won't tell anybody about it, right?"

I scoffed, feeling sick to my stomach, like a big void of blackness.

"I've got better things to talk about then your hysterical conversation." I informed her.

She raised her eyebrow sceptically.

"Really?"

She didn't wait for my answer. Off she went. And I was left standing in the shadows of the trees as Hannah entered the light, looking even more beautiful. That was clearly the essence of our relationship.

"Go get Hannah."

"Where is she?"

"Outside."

"Then, no."

My aunt Selene gave Jack the biggest glare in the world that evening as we all sat around the dinner table, unable to eat as Hannah hadn't arrived yet.

My stomach rumbled loudly and Emma gave me an amused glance from across the table.

"Jack." I hissed. "Just go get Hannah."

He looked completely offended.

"Why me? Just because I'm her younger brother does not mean I'm her keeper."

Max snorted and I resisted giving him a death glare before turning back to my cousin.

"Just because you're not her keeper does not mean you can't go find her."

"Why can't you go find her?" He challenged. "You were the last person to see her."

I flushed.

"No, I wasn't. Max was." I didn't look at him as I lay the accusation at his doorstep.

He shrugged as if it was no big deal.

"It's cool. I know where I last saw her. I doubt she'd be in the same place but I could go check." He suggested, pushing back his chair and starting to get up.

"Oh, nonsense!" Aunt Selene waved her hand and ushered him back into his seat. "You're our guest here. My family knows how to treat guests."

"Unfortunately, how to treat family members kind of escapes us." Jack muttered to me.

Despite myself, I giggled.

Aunt Selene shot us a death glare again, this time dividing the poison equally between us.

"No, don't you worry about it Max." She continued airily. "Jo and Jack will go looking for Hannah. God knows where that girl has gotten too now."

Jack and I stopped laughing then stared at Selene with something close to horror.

"What, us?" Jack demanded.

I gestured towards both our bodies.

"As in, us us?"

"Do you see another Jack or Jo in this room?" Selene asked ironically and all the adults laughed, including Emma, who silenced her giggles when Jack and I cut her a look.

"Did you not hear my protests earlier?" Jack demanded. "I. Ain't. Going. Nowhere."

Selene's eyes flared with fire and her hands braced against the wooden table. She rose out of her seat slightly, towering above us. I gulped.

"I am the adult, you are the child, Jack." She told him with deadly calm. I heard him gulp too. "You will do as I say. Alright?"
Jack slowly nodded, his hands clutching at the arms of his chair until his knuckles went white.

"And, of course, Jo's a good girl." Selene turned her attention on me instantly, her neck clicking as she snapped it towards me. "She'll help you."

Now, as I've said before, nobody except Hannah scares me. But I wasn't exactly telling the truth. I like to pretend nobody except Hannah scares me. But when the woman who birthed Hannah gets angry, she gets angry. And I get scared. As does everybody else.

So I rose from my place as gracefully as possible, ignoring the quivering in my bones.

"'course, Aunt Selene." I gestured to Jack. "We'll find her easy, won't we?"

Jack gave me the look of death as he shoved himself from his chair in a less graceful manner then me.

"Yeah, whatever. You better not have eaten all the food by the time we get back. Hannah may not eat much, but Jo and I do. God knows why we even wait for her."

"Hush." I elbowed him in the ribs and together we pushed the front door open and ventured into the darkness.

"See her?" Jack hissed ten minutes later.

I cursed and stumbled over a bramble, slicing my leg open.

"Bugger!" I swore, dropping my torch to the ground and rubbing a hand over my bloodied leg. I squinted up at Jack who had turned his torch on me and my leg. "Oi, get that thing out of my face, will you, otherwise I'll be blind as well as bloodied."

Jack obediently did as he was told, instead turning the light on my leg.

"You'll need a bandage for that." He told me off-handedly.

"Thank you, Doctor Jack." I muttered back, easing my weight off it. "I'm not likely to go back inside without her, am I?"

"So you're just going to let yourself bleed all over the grass?" Jack asked sceptically.

I grimaced and tried to wipe the blood off my leg as best I could.

"What would you suggest I did?" I demanded. "I'm starved and bleeding and scared as hell about when we go back inside without Hannah."

Jack glanced around the torch across the ground, finally leaning in to pick up something.

"Well, here, put this on it." He passed me a torn up leaf, which I supposed was better then nothing so I couldn't complain. "And she can't have gotten far. There are gates at the end of the drive that need a password to get out of them and the fencings all electric. She couldn't have gotten out."

"Well, where the hell is she then?" I asked roughly. "She's preventing me from having my dinner!"

Jack's stomach rumbled.

"Yeah, me and all." He muttered. "I wish she'd hurry up and turn up. They've probably eaten everything by now."

I finished securing my leaf to my leg and glanced up at him again, picking up my torch from where it'd been tossed.

"They wouldn't." I gaped.

"Oh, they would." A deep chuckle started Jack and me. I let out a small scream, clutching Jack's arm tighter then perhaps was necessary as I leaned into his support.

Max emerged from the shadows, a wide grin on his face as he caught my face of pure terror.

"Hey, no need to look so terrified, it's only me." He gently chastised me, grinning at both of us. "And they've already started eating. Said there was no point in waiting, so I slipped out to find the three of you."

"The greedy beggars!" Jack snarled, sliding a hand around my waist and shifting me against him so I was more secure and in a more comfortable position. His hand tightened around my waist in anger.

That's when Max spotted my leg.

"Hey, what have you done there?" He asked gently, squatting down to get a better look at it.

"Don't you dare remove that leaf or the blood will go everywhere." I warned him. "Including your shiny new expensive clothes."

He held up his hands in a surrender like motion with a small, choked laugh.

"Consider me warned." He grinned, straightening up. "Does it hurt?"

"From the amount of weight she's leaning on me, I'd hope it did." Jack grumbled.

I glared at him, outraged.

"I am not that heavy!"

"I'll take her from you, if you like?" Max offered kindly but I shot him a look as well, my cheeks blushing a bright crimson at the thought of his arm wrapped so tightly around my waist. "Take her inside then come back out here to help you look for Hannah?"

Jack, sensible lad that he was, seemed to sense my feelings and tightened his grip around me in almost a protective gesture.

"Nah, it's alright, Max. I got her."

I wrenched myself away from his grip, swinging my torch light between them.

"You've got no such thing!" I told them stoutly. "I'm fine on my own and I'll find Hannah with you."

Both males looked at my sceptically.

"Jo, your leg looked cut up pretty bad." Jack told me.

I shrugged.

"I've survived worse. I've been worse."

"But-" Max started to argue when Jack put a hand on his chest, turning his back to both of us.

"Don't bother, dude. She's made up her mind. She won't be doing anything other then what she wants to do until she's collapsed on the floor. But before that, we'll get her inside." He gave me a warning glance over his shoulder. "Did you hear me, Jo? We'll be watching you."

I snorted.

"Yeah, alright. Let me just tell you that that sounded completely creepy and stalker-ish."

"Uh, huh. But its true."

And with that both males set off further into the grounds, leaving me within a relative distance to the main house, just near the pool and the trees.

The pool water rippled in the clear moonlight.

The wind was starting to pick up now, and the air was thick with the anticipation of a thunderstorm. I could already see it raging over the city not that far away. We were tucked up safely in the hills for now, able to see everything from a safe distance and anticipate weather changes. I could already see the wind battering the lower parts of the mountains, so I knew we didn't have long searching outside.

The trees rustled and howled, making me shiver.

Tap tap tap.

It made me jump, the soft noise coming from the trees, like a branch tapping against the bark in the wind.

Tap tap tap.

It was getting louder and more insistent.

I shone my torch towards the woods but could see nothing but the shadows that encased whatever it was that was making the noise.

I swung the torch back towards where Max and Jack had vanished off too, but could only make out their vague outlines, like dots. They were coming back from the perimeters edge, so I wasn't going to have to wait for long for them to reach me. I could see they were jogging too, clearly as aware of the oncoming storm as I was.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

It was stronger, louder and more rapid, this time two paired noises as if one branch hit the trunk, then another branch that was attached to the first hit it.

"Hannah?" I called, deciding to go check it out as shadows started to move through out the trees. Vague shots of lightning from the rapidly approaching storm also assisted my torch with light, allowing me to make out more shapes and shadows.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap BANG!

The sudden loud noise made me jump in fright as the wind picked up in a sudden gusto of energy before dying down again.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

"Hannah?" I called out again, fear sharpening my tone. It made me sound half crazed and most definitely hysterical.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

"Hannah, this isn't funny anymore!" I shouted, even though I was pretty sure it wasn't Hannah making those eerie noises that didn't quite sound like branches against tree trunks anymore.

My flip flops crunched against the fallen leaves and my hurt leg almost gave way. I lent against a tree trunk to take the weight off my leg before once again shining my torch around the thicket of trees. Still, I saw nothing but now I could see the vague shadow of what looked to be the cause of the noise.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

I half limped, half stumbled towards the next heavy tree trunk and lent against it again, glancing down at where the leaf had now fallen off my leg and the blood was flowing bountifully and darkly red, looking almost black.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

I pointed my torch directly towards the source of the shadow, though I couldn't make out everything. I squinted hard against the light and the thing swung again, hitting the two trees either side of it. Long, shoe lace type things hung off the bottom of it and the top part was held thinly to a chunky looking branch, almost like a piece of thick string or a rope.

I choked suddenly, a shiver running down my spine.

"Hannah?" I called, my voice breathy and foreign sounding.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

"Hannah, are you here?"

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

I tried to stumble closer, my blood providing a dark trail of my footsteps. I caught myself on the tree just before the moving shape, my eyes wide as I raised my torch, yet couldn't bring myself to point it directly at the moving figure.

Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap. Tap tap.

"Hannah?"

Tap tap.

The wind picked up.

"Hannah?!"

It now whistled through the trees.

"Hannah?!"

The moving figure finally caught my torch light. I let out a scream.

"HANNAH!"