A special thanks to my critique partner, Jayde Scott. Thank you for your precious time,
commitment, and dedication. I couldn’t have done it without you. Your magic fingers make my
Sometimes, what seems to be one’s salvation turns out to be one’s doom. When the brochure
for Mount Park Manor arrived in our mailbox, it seemed like the perfect opportunity for a fresh
start, a place to step away from things and forget about my past. The very next day, I mailed the
card back with “Yes” marked in a big red checkmark. About a week or two later, Mom drove me
three hours away to take the entrance exam. I was ecstatic when I received the letter telling me
I’d been accepted. Two months later, when it was time to leave New Orleans behind, I didn’t
cry. I didn’t even look back. I was just relieved to be given a chance at a new life.
The ten- minute wait for the black limousine that would take me from Glasgow Airport to
Mount Park Manor gave me a good picture of what to expect; it was a boring place in the boring
Scottish countryside, with lots of boring people around me, but I was prepared to blend right in.
As we drove out of the gray city, past green fields that stretched for miles on both sides of
the road. We were immersed in semidarkness that wasn’t natural for that time of day, at least not
where I came from. I heaved a big sigh and sank into the soft leather seats, stretching my tired
legs after the nine- hour flight. I closed my eyes and did a quick mental check, making sure I had
everything right, going over my cover story as to why I would have left one of the most beautiful
cities behind. And, of course, there were all those made-up childhood memories of a loving
family I’d never had.
It was September, a few weeks after the beginning of the new school year, when I arrived at
Mount Park Manor, with my suitcase in tow. We’d moved at least twenty times in my young life,
so I was used to not possessing much. It didn’t bother me at all, because settling down—in New
Orleans, Scotland, or anywhere else—was something I never expected to do. It’s not that I
wanted to live a rootless, nomadic life, but it was a necessity. Wherever I went, no one seemed to
get me. Heck, my own parents didn’t get me, and they’d always preferred to abandon me with
some nanny or at a stuffy boarding school while they traveled the globe. After the last incident at
my previous temporary school, I no longer felt a need to be understood. I had a new mantra, The
less attention people pay me, the better, and I was becoming really good at blending in.
The car rolled through the high gates at a leisurely speed. I peered through the rain-stained
windows at the imposing building in front of me. I’d assumed we’d be staying in an old house,
just a mansion, but as I peered at the four- or five-story building with all those arched windows
and tiny towers, I realized I’d be spending the next school year in a magnificent castle. I smiled
at the thought of cliques that wouldn’t pay me any attention in such huge, enchanting
surroundings, and I hoped I could just blend right in to the ancient woodwork.
The door creaked as I entered, and I expected hundreds of eyes to ga wk at me as soon as I
stepped inside. But to my surprise, the hall—a large, open space with a candelabra and a red rug
covering most of the marble floor—was entirely empty, devoid of life, but soft voices and short
laughter carried over from upstairs. I peered down at the layout map they’d sent with my
enrollment papers and headed up the broad staircase.
My room was situated on the second floor, tenth door to the right. The lights were already on,
so I stepped in and stopped midstride, at a loss for words. Whoa! Was the only word that came to
mind as I looked around at my accommodations. The place definitely had some gothic vibes