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Good Girl Complex: Chapter 26

MACKENZIE

Give it time, he said.

They’ll come around, he said.

Well, I’m calling bullshit on Cooper’s bullshit. Since the disaster at the party, I’ve been on a hearts-and-minds campaign, doing my damnedest to try to win over Cooper’s “gang.” Though he’d never admit it, I know he’s bothered by the fissures where his friends and I are concerned, and I don’t want to be the reason he drifts away from the people he cares about. They’ve been in his life a lot longer than I have. The way I see it, there’s no reason we can’t all get along.

So I’m trying. I’m really, really trying. Whether it’s out at the sports bar playing darts or hanging on the beach at a bonfire, I’ve been working to make inroads in recent weeks. Most of Cooper’s guy friends—Tate, Chase, Wyatt—seem to have completely warmed up to me. We even went out for dinner one night with Chase and his boyfriend, a cute guy named Alec who also goes to Garnet. Except they don’t count, because they’re not the ones I need to win over. That would be the gang, the inner circle.

Aside from Steph, who continues to be an ally, I can’t seem to crack the iron curtain that is the Alana and Heidi blockade. And while Evan hasn’t been overtly hostile lately, it seems he’s opted for the silent approach where I’m concerned. If you can’t say anything nice, and all that.

Which is why I thought tonight would be the perfect opportunity for a more intimate get-together. Just the gang. S’mores, scary movies, maybe a little Truth or Dare and Never Have I Ever. Bonding stuff and all that jazz.

So of course, by midafternoon the scattered showers predicted for this evening turn into severe thunderstorm and tornado warnings throughout the Carolinas.

Awesome. Even the weather is against me.

An hour ago, Cooper and Evan left to help Levi batten down the hatches at one of his construction sites. So now I’m sitting here at their house with ten pounds of cold buffalo wings and cheesy garlic bread, and beyond the sliding glass doors, the sky grows gray and foreboding over the bay. Without much else to do, and because I happen to love storms—there’s something about the fierce, electric anticipation of chaos—I open the back door to let the cool air in and then curl up on the couch with some homework. The TV is on quietly in the background, turned to the local news, where the weather people are standing in front of a radar image awash in red and orange, tossing around words like hunker down.

I get my anthropology reading done and am watching some clips on my laptop for my media culture class when a huge crack of lightning flashes outside and the resulting thunder shakes the house. The startling barrage knocks the wind right out of me. Daisy, who was curled up under a blanket at my feet, bolts out of the room for her favorite hiding place under Cooper’s bed. Rain begins to pour outside in a sudden deluge that swallows the horizon behind a silver curtain. I jump off the couch and quickly shut the sliding door, then wipe up the water that snuck inside with a dishrag.

It’s then I hear it, a faint wailing in the distance.

“Daisy?” I shout, glancing around. Had she run outside when I wasn’t looking?

Nope. A quick peek into Cooper’s room reveals her lying under the bed, front paws flat on the hardwood, with her little face squished between them.

“Was that you crying, little one?” I ask, only to jump when I hear it again. It’s more of a scream than a wail, and it’s definitely coming from outside.

When it storms you can hear her screaming …

My pulse accelerates as Evan’s words buzz around in my head. Was he serious about this place being haunted? What the hell had he called her again—

“Patricia?” I say feebly, my cautious gaze darting around the room. “Is that you?”

The light fixture above my head flickers.

A startled yelp rips out of my throat, causing Daisy to crawl backward and disappear deeper under the bed.

I leave Cooper’s room, heart pounding. Candles. I should probably find some candles in case the power goes out. Because nothing sounds less appealing to me than sitting in the dark listening to the shrieks of a century-old dead child.

As if on cue, the shrill noises start up again, a cacophony of sound mingling with the crashes of thunder outside the old beach house.

“Patricia,” I call out. Steady voice now. Hands, not so much. “Look, let’s be cool, okay? I know it’s probably not fun being dead, but that doesn’t mean you have to scream your lungs out. If you use your indoor voice, I’m happy to sit down and listen to whatever you—”

Another scream pierces the air.

“Or not,” I backpedal. “Fine. You win, Patricia. Just keep scaring the crap out of me, then.”

In the kitchen, I start opening lower cabinets in search of candles or flashlights. I find a pack of tea lights and breathe in relief. Good. Now I just need to grab one of the gazillion lighters on the coffee table and I’m all set.

On my way back to the living room, a buzzing noise catches my attention. I think it might be my phone, until I realize it’s still in my pocket. I follow the sound to the kitchen counter where Cooper’s phone has now stopped vibrating. Shit. He’d forgotten his phone. With the screen still lit, I see he has several missed calls and text messages. I don’t look long enough to read them, not wanting to invade Cooper’s privacy, but I do note Steph’s and Alana’s names.

Given the number of calls and texts, it could be urgent. I’d get in touch with Evan to give him the heads-up, but I don’t have his number and can’t unlock Cooper’s phone to get it. If it’s important, the girls will try Evan eventually, I reason. So I mind my business and go back to my homework.

But the buzzing continues. For another half hour, about every five minutes, Cooper’s phone rattles on the kitchen counter. Fuck it. I grab the phone the next time a call comes in and this time I answer it.

“Hello, Steph?” I say, reading her name on the screen.

“Who’s this?”

“Mackenzie. Cooper’s out with Evan and Levi. He left his phone at home.”

“Damn,” she says with a frustrated huff. “I’ve been trying to get ahold of Evan, but he’s not answering either.”

“What’s going on?”

“There’s water coming in through the ceiling of the bathroom. We heard something that sounded like a tree falling on the roof, and then suddenly water’s running down the wall.”

“You okay?”

“We’re fine, but we need to fix this before the entire house is flooded. We’ve got towels down, but there’s too much water and we don’t have any way to stop it.”

Shit. If they can’t reach Evan, it probably means the twins are still wrapped up helping their uncle. The storm is really wailing now, thunder and lightning coming every few minutes and the wind and rain battering the windows. And according to the radar on TV, this thing isn’t passing quickly. Which means Steph and Alana are going to need a raft soon.

Pausing for a moment to think, it occurs to me Cooper’s truck is still here, and his keys are sitting on the coffee table. I bet he’s got all kinds of stuff in the garage—a ladder and tarps.

A plan forms in my head.

“Okay. Write down my phone number and text me your address,” I tell Steph. “I’m coming over.”

“Uh…” There’s muted chattering in the background that I assume is Alana. “I’m not sure if that’s—”

“I’m going to grab some supplies from Cooper’s garage and head over there. Trust me, this’ll work.”

“Alright,” she finally relents. There might even be a hint of relief in her voice.

After we get off the phone, I borrow a rain jacket from Cooper’s closet then grab his keys and dash through the rain and mud to his garage. Inside, against the wall, he’s got all sorts of building materials stacked up from the renovations he and Evan have been doing on the house. Among them, some black vinyl-type material and rope. Thankfully, Cooper keeps his tools well organized and I find a hammer, nails, and a heavy-duty staple gun with little effort. Good enough.

Ten minutes after hanging up with Steph, I back Cooper’s truck up to the door of the garage, get everything loaded into the bed, wrestle with the twelve-foot ladder, and then head to Steph and Alana’s house.

Everything looks normal when I pull up to the little blue house. No obvious signs of damage from the front. As soon as I ring the doorbell, Steph flings the door open and pulls me inside with the rain trailing after me and a puddle around my feet.

“It’s this way,” she says after brief hellos. She takes me to the screened-in rear porch. From there, I see the branches of a tree hanging off the back corner of the house. “We were lucky to make it through the last hurricane with those branches overhanging the house. It was only a matter of time.”

“Evan kept saying he’d come trim them back.” Alana steps onto the porch with an armful of wet towels. “But of course he forgot.”

Steph glances at her. “Maybe toss those in the dryer so we can have something to put down when the others soak through?”

Alana sighs. “Hope no one wanted a shower tonight.”

“Give me a hand outside,” I say to them. “First thing, we’ve got to get on the roof and pull those branches off. With the wind and everything, leaving them up there could make it worse.”

“What?” Steph looks at me, aghast. “You’re not going out there?”

“What’d you expect?” I give a wry laugh. “You weren’t calling Cooper for more towels.”

“But it’s dangerous. There’s lightning.”

Steph has a point, of course. The alternative is flooding their whole house and ending up with a massive hole in their roof. Anyway, I spent three years of high school on the stagecraft crew with the drama department. I can be pretty handy when I need to be.

“I’m going to get up on the roof and tie a rope around the branches to lower them down to you two. Then I’ve got some stuff to cover the hole. It’ll be quick.” I’m lying. It won’t be quick. But it’s got to be done, and the more Steph keeps us standing around worrying, the worse it’ll get.

“Just tell us what to do,” Alana says, nodding. This might be the most words she’s said to me that weren’t accompanied by a sarcastic smirk. That’s progress, I suppose.

Together the three of us trudge through the downpour to get all the supplies positioned in the backyard and stand the ladder against the side of the house. RIP their living room carpet. I know I’m taking my life into my own hands climbing a metal ladder in the middle of a thunderstorm, but it’s been several minutes since the last flash of lightning, so I take my chances and climb up with the rope over my shoulder.

Wearing a borrowed pair of Steph’s hiking boots, I walk across the slanted roof. Every step is like being on ice skates for the first time, except here I can’t hug the railing for support. Careful not to make any sudden movements, I manage to tie the rope around the huge, forked branch of the tree, then ball up the slack and make my best Hail Mary pass at throwing it over an exposed limb of the tree to act as a pulley. I succeed on the first attempt. Hell yeah.

On the ground, Steph and Alana take up the weight as best they can as I gingerly help push the branch off the side of the house. As they lower it to the ground, I immediately see where some shingles are missing and a foot-wide dent has been punched through the roof, water pouring inside.

I gingerly make my way down to the ground, where the girls have untied the rope.

“How bad is it?” Steph asks, wiping in vain at the water pouring down her face. We’re standing in about four inches of mud at this point. The yard has pretty much turned to liquid and my feet squish inside Steph’s boots.

“It’s not big, but there’s definitely a hole,” I report.

We’re practically shouting through the deafening wind and rain beating down on the metal porch roof and pelting the trees.

I shove my wet hair off my forehead. “Best we can do is cover it up and hope the rain stops soon.”

“What do you need?” Alana eyes me anxiously from under the rim of a baseball cap. Her bright red hair is plastered to her neck.

“I’ll take the staple gun, hammer, and nails with me. Then you and Steph tie the tarp to the rope so I can pull it up once I’m up there.”

“Be careful,” Steph reminds me for the fifth time.

I appreciate the concern, but really, I want to get this done and get dry. My fingers are already turning pruney, I’ve got a waterlogged wedgie riding up my ass, and the chill has soaked into my bones. After they raise the tarp to me and I cut a large-enough piece off with Alana’s pocketknife, I tack it down with the staple gun to hold it in place while I put in some sturdier nails. I’m shivering so violently, my teeth chattering, it takes forever to get the nails in.

“You okay?” Steph shouts from the ground.

I get a nail about halfway in, then miss it when the hammer slips, and bend the damn thing. Oh, to hell with it. Good enough.

“Coming down,” I shout back.

I scurry my ass down the ladder and we all bolt inside, leaving the rope and tarp in the yard, right as a massive crack of lighting seems to strike right on top of us.

In the laundry room, we strip down to our underwear and toss our wet, muddy clothes in the washing machine.

“That was close.” Alana gives me a wide, exhilarated smile that I wholeheartedly return, both of us seemingly aware that we escaped by the skin of our teeth.

“Too close,” Steph says with a frazzled look. “What would I tell Cooper if you got electrocuted up there?”

“Yeah, no.” From the linen closet, Alana pulls out three blankets for us to warm up in. “We would’ve had to hide the body and tell Cooper you skipped town.” When I raise an eyebrow at her, she shrugs, grinning blithely. “What? You haven’t seen Cooper’s temper. It’s self-preservation at that point.”

Alana and I go into the living room. Steph puts on a pot of coffee. I’m shivering, wrapped up in my blanket cocoon on the couch, when Alana gets a phone call.

“Hey,” she answers. “Yeah, we figured it out. She’s here, actually. Sure. See ya.” She sets the phone down and takes a seat beside me. “They’re on their way over.”

“Think I could borrow some clothes to go home in?” I ask. With my stuff in the wash, I’d rather not leave here in nothing but my underwear and Cooper’s rain jacket.

“No problem.”

Steph comes back with the coffee. I normally take cream and a mound of sugar, but I’m not picky at the moment, and scalding hot black coffee is exactly the thing to chase the frigid out of my blood.

“Okay, so that was legit badass,” Steph admits, squeezing on the couch between Alana and me. “I wouldn’t have taken you for the manual labor type.” She regards me with a regretful smile when it dawns on her that I might take it as an insult.

“Sophomore year of high school, I had this chemistry teacher whose fetish was dragging down his students’ GPAs with impossible pop quizzes. The only way to get extra credit was through volunteer hours, so I helped build sets and stuff for the school plays. It was fun, actually. Except for the time I almost lost a finger when Robbie Fenlowe ran a drill over it.” I show Steph the scar on my index finger. “Mangled flesh and everything.”

“Eww, that’s disgusting.”

“For real, though,” Alana says, her cheeks turning a shade of crimson not far off from her hair. “Thanks for coming over. We would have been shit out of luck.”

“Yeah,” Steph laughs, “Alana’s a total wuss. She’s terrified of heights.”

Alana glowers at Steph, flashing her middle finger. “Thanks, bitch.”

“What?” Steph shrugs. “It’s true.”

“I’m being nice, okay? Give me a break.”

I don’t know Alana well, but I’d call this a breakthrough. All it took was a death-defying act of heroism to break some ground with her. That’s two-thirds. Now if I can figure out how to crack Heidi, I’ll be golden.

For the next fifteen minutes, the girls and I keep chatting. When I tell them about the hotel I purchased, Steph offers a ton of details about the place, gathered from the three summers she worked there. Realizing her knowledge is invaluable, I make a mental note to invite her to the site once I take possession. Her familiarity with the hotel could be a real asset.

“Help has arrived, ladies!” Evan bursts through the door not long after, shirtless and dripping. “Where’s the fire?”

Somewhere, someone has fantasized about exactly this. Which is weird, because even as I’m sleeping with his identical twin, a half-naked Evan does nothing for me.

“You’re about two hours too late,” Alana says flatly, unimpressed with his grand entrance.

“Oh, I’m sorry.” Evan shakes the water from his hair with all the grace of a stray dog and shoots Alana a sarcastic glare. “I guess I didn’t get your retainer fee this month to be at your beck and call.”

Cooper has to practically push his brother through the door to get inside and out of the storm. He appears a bit perplexed to see me on his friends’ couch, wrapped up in a blanket like a soggy corn dog.

“Couldn’t help noticing my truck outside,” he says with a raised eyebrow. “Went and helped yourself, huh?”

I shrug, meeting his crooked grin. “Stole a bunch of stuff too. I think you’re a bad influence on me.”

He huffs out a laugh. “That right?”

Something about the gleam in his eyes starts to feel like foreplay. That’s how quick it happens when he’s around. From zero to fuck me in ten seconds flat. I can’t help feeling like everyone else can see it, and yet I don’t care. Cooper Hartley walks into a room and I lose my whole damn mind. I hate it. I love it.

“We’re lucky she came,” Steph says as the guys pour themselves a couple cups of coffee in the kitchen.

“This crazy bitch got up on the roof and patched the hole all by herself.” Alana holds out her coffee mug for Evan to refill, which he does, rolling his eyes at the sight of the three of us bundled up in our cocoons. “On a related note,” she adds, “no one use the guest bathroom. It’s an aquarium now.”

“I’ve always hated the wallpaper in there anyway,” Steph remarks, and for some reason that gives Alana and me the giggles.

“Hold on.” Cooper comes up short, standing in the middle of the living room. His distrustful gaze singles me out. “You got up on the roof?”

“I might have found a new calling,” I tell him, sipping my coffee. “I should do the hotel renovation myself like the people on TV.”

“Ooh.” Steph smacks my arm. “I call dibs on hosting the reality series.”

“I still can’t believe you bought The Beacon,” Alana marvels. “That’s so frickin’ random.”

Cooper slams his coffee cup down on the TV console, liquid splashing out and startling the room silent. “Neither of you even tried to stop her?”

“Coop, it was fine.” Steph disregards his outburst. “It was only a little rain.”

“It wasn’t your ass up there.”

The venom in his voice is striking in its severity. I’m not sure where all this sudden anger is coming from. Was it a particularly responsible thing to do? No. But nobody got hurt. Except Cooper’s butt, apparently.

I fix a small frown in his direction. “Hey, it’s fine. I’m fine. They needed help so I offered to come over. It was my decision.”

“I don’t give a shit whose dumbass idea it was. You shoulda known better,” he tells me with a condescending tone, not unlike the one I heard from Preston when I showed him the hotel.

And now I’m kind of pissed. Why does every guy I date think he needs to be my dad? I didn’t break up with Preston to start letting another guy treat me like a child.

“And you two,” he glowers at the girls, “shoulda stopped her.”

“Dude, chill.” Alana throws her head back with a bored sigh. “She’s a big girl. And we’re glad she’s here.” I sense that’s about as sincere an apology one gets out of Alana. Our efforts tonight have thawed the cold shoulder she’s been giving me, and I think we’re on good footing now.

“Shove it, Alana. She only pulled this stunt so you and Heidi would stop freezing her out.”

“I don’t remember asking you to speak for me,” I snap at him, because thanks, asshole. I was making progress here and this isn’t helping.

Cooper stalks toward the couch, looming over us. “You could’ve been killed,” he snaps back. “In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re practically in the middle of a hurricane.”

My jaw drops. “Are you kidding me right now? In case I hadn’t noticed? And now you’re suddenly worried about my safety? You’re the one who left me at your house in the middle of a hurricane. I was all alone there! Just me and Patricia screaming like a banshee!”

He blinks at me as if I’m insane. “Her name is Daisy.”

I stumble to my feet, clutching the blanket against myself like a toga. “I’m not talking about the dog! I’m talking about Patricia!”

“I don’t know who Patricia is, you lunatic!”

“The little dead girl who drowned outside your house a hundred years ago and—”

I stop, my outraged gaze swinging toward Evan, whose lips are twitching wildly.

“You asshole!” I snarl. “Seriously?”

Evan crosses his arms over his chest. “Mackenzie. Sweetheart. I’m not gonna apologize for you being gullible. This one’s on you.”

On the couch, Alana and Steph are in hysterics. Steph has tears running down her cheeks as she wheezes out little dead girl between giggles.

In front of me, Cooper is clearly trying not to laugh too.

“Don’t you dare,” I warn, jabbing a finger in the air between us.

“I mean,” Cooper trembles as he battles his laughter, “he’s not wrong. That one’s on you.”

I glare at him. “He’s a sadist! And you’re a jerk.”

“I’m a jerk? Remind me, who went out on the roof and almost got struck by lightning?”

“Oh my God, I did not almost get struck by lightning. You’re being ridiculous right now.” Indignant, I plant my hands on my hips, forgetting about the blanket wrapped around me.

It falls to the wet carpet, leaving me in nothing but a black sports bra and neon-pink bikini panties.

Evan licks his bottom lip. “That’s what I’m talkin’ about.”

Despite the flicker of heat in his expression, Cooper’s tone remains cool. “Get your clothes, Mac. We’re leaving.”

“No,” I say stubbornly.

His eyes narrow. “Let’s go.”

“No. I live here now.”

Alana snickers.

“Mackenzie.” He takes a menacing step forward. “Let’s go.”

“No.” My throat is suddenly dry. Tension thickens the air. I don’t know if Cooper is angry or turned on, but his blazing eyes are sucking up all the oxygen in the room.

Cooper glances at his brother. “Evan, gimme your keys. You can take my truck home.”

With a knowing grin, Evan reaches into his pocket then tosses a set of keys at his twin.

I jut my chin. “I don’t know what you think is happening right now, but I am not going—”

Before I can blink, I’m being flung over Cooper’s shoulder. Staring at his wet boots as he marches us to the door.

“Put me down!” I yell, but the downpour that hits us the moment we leave the house drowns out my furious request.

Cooper unceremoniously shoves me into the passenger seat of Evan’s Jeep before running to the driver’s side. When he starts the engine and turns to look at me, I have the answer to the angry versus turned on question.

His gaze has turned molten. “I’m going to be inside you the moment we get home.” A threat. A promise.

Turned on.

Most definitely turned on.


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