GAMES AREN’T FOR KIDS—THEY’RE FOR KILLERS.
For Kylene Danners, there’s only one fate worse than death: entering a beauty pageant. So when her friends (and a shot at a twenty-thousand dollar college scholarship) push her into one, she assumes she’s found hell on earth—until girls start dropping out under suspicious circumstances, and Ky finds herself smack dab in the middle of another dangerous mystery—a twisted web of duplicity and deceit far more deadly than she expected.
COME OUT AND PLAY, the third young adult mystery novel in the Hometown Antihero series by USA Today bestselling author Amber Lynn Natusch.
Come Out and Play by Amber Lynn Natusch
SERIES Hometown Antihero | GENRE Young Adult Mystery
PUBLISHER Independent | PUBLICATION DATE November 16, 2021
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COME OUT AND PLAY
A Hometown Antihero Novel
© 2021 Amber Lynn Natusch
The dim light at the top of the stairs beckoned me, as did the silhouette it framed. AJ, in all his shirtless glory, reached his hand to me expectantly. “C’mon, Kylene…it’ll be fine.”
I extended my arm to him and he took it, pulling me closer as the light grew brighter with every step, until it was almost blinding. I blinked repeatedly, trusting his hold on me as he drew me up to join him.
The light dimmed to near darkness, and I opened my eyes to find AJ kissing me softly and surely as he backed us toward his bed. We fell in a tangle of limbs and anticipation, clothes and inhibitions disappearing with every passing moment.
“AJ,” I whispered against his lips.
“Don’t worry,” he said, as though he knew my every thought, “I have protection.” He pulled away from me and climbed off the bed, headed for his dresser. The top drawer opened with a creak, and he reached inside. Those piercing green eyes stared back at me as he pulled out a gun and smiled. “See? You’re safe now…”
I shot up on the bed. “But Dawson says you can’t depend on a gun to keep you safe.”
AJ’s brow furrowed with confusion as I backed toward the door. “He’s wrong. You have to stay here, Ky—”
“No,” I said softly, a stabbing sensation gnawing at my chest. “I have to go.”
I stepped through the door into a lush green yard surrounded by trees, a thunderstorm roaring in the distance as rain poured down. The crack of a branch behind me caught my attention, and I spun around to find Donovan standing there, baseball bat in hand, raised and ready to crack a home run.
“You should have listened, Danners,” he said with a sneer.
Then he swung wide and hard.
The bat snapped in half when it hit me. I flew across the yard in a shower of splinters and hit the wet ground, my face buried in the sopping grass. With a shake of my head, I pushed up and tried to stand, my mind still spinning. My vision swam as I tried to focus on the room in front of me. Bright white tile and walls, beeping sounds, and flashing lights surrounded me; and, in the distance, someone was standing next to a hospital bed.
I tried to stand, but something snagged my leg. Evil laughter filled the space as I turned to see what lay on the floor behind me. The cold, dead stare of the sheriff looked back.
“Like father, like son,” Luke called in a singsong voice from next to the hospital bed. Garrett lay there, tubes and wires hooked to his battered body, as Luke leaned over him, a needle in his hand.
“No!” I screamed as I scrambled to my feet. But no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get any traction.
Luke looked back at me and smiled. “It’s all your fault, Kylene.”
He jabbed the syringe into Garrett’s arm, and the blare of a flatline rent the air. I lunged for Luke, but something hooked me around the waist and flung me backward through the hospital room door. My back smashed against a hard surface, and I slid to the floor in a lump.
The stench of mildew filled my lungs in the cold, damp basement of Mr. Matthew’s cottage. I searched the room for an escape, but there were no windows this time—no stairs, either—only Matthew himself, standing next to the stainless-steel table in the center of the room.
I kicked and screamed and fought as he approached, but somehow, even with all my fighting, my body never moved. It just lay in a dormant, silent heap against the cinderblock wall as Mr. Matthew pulled a gun from behind his back and took aim. “I know the AD,” he said as footfalls above sent dust and dirt raining down upon us.
“Don’t shoot him!” I shouted as a door appeared on the far side of the room and a dark silhouette filled it.
I ducked as shots rang out through the cramped basement. When they finally stopped, I looked down to see my shirt riddled with holes. Blood seeped through them, slowly at first, then flowed fast and free. My gaze drifted up to see if Mr. Matthew had survived, but he wasn’t there.
Instead, my father and his partner stood shoulder to shoulder, staring down at me in silence.
On hands and knees, I crawled toward his unmoving feet, leaving a trail of blood on the dirt floor beneath me. No matter how far I went, he always seemed to be just out of reach, and I grew tired from my efforts. My vision blurred, my arms shook, and my head bobbed, too heavy to hold any longer.
Until someone crouched down in front of me and lifted it in his hands.
Dawson’s cool stare looked back at me as he held my chin hostage. “You really screwed up this time, Danners.” He released me with a shove, and I collapsed to the ground as my heartbeat slowed to a life-threatening pace. “I guess you should have listened.”
He got up and walked away, slamming the door behind him.
I shot up in bed, rivulets of sweat pouring down my face and my back, heart racing like I’d just run the hundred-meter dash. The recurring nightmare that had come in one incarnation or another every night since Grant Matthew had kidnapped and attempted to torture me to death was the newest enemy I couldn’t escape. Couldn’t outrun. Couldn’t deny.
And no matter what I did or how hard I tried, it always ended the same way.
AMBER LYNN NATUSCH is the author of the bestselling Caged series for adults. She was born and raised in Winnipeg, and is still deeply attached to her Canadian roots. She loves to dance and practice Muay Thai―but spends most of her time running a chiropractic practice with her husband, raising two young children, and attempting to write when she can lock herself in the bathroom for ten minutes of peace. Dare You to Lie is her debut YA novel with Tor Teen.