Vigilante, p.1
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       Vigilante, p.1

           Kady Cross
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Vigilante


  A brutally honest, uncompromising story about a teen girl who decides to take matters into her own hands

  It’s senior year, and Hadley and her best friend, Magda, should be starting the year together. Instead, Magda is dead and Hadley is alone. Raped at a party the year before and humiliated, Magda was driven to take her own life and Hadley is forced to see her friend’s attackers in the classroom every day. Devastated, enraged and needing an outlet for her grief, Hadley decides to get a little justice of her own.

  Donning a pink ski mask and fueled by anger, Hadley goes after each of the guys one by one, planning to strip them of their dignity and social status the way they did to Magda. As the legend of the pink-masked Vigilante begins to take on a life of its own, Hadley’s revenge takes a turn for the dangerous. Could her need for vengeance lead her down a path she can’t turn back from?

  Also by Kady Cross

  and Harlequin TEEN:

  Sisters of Blood and Spirit (in reading order):

  Sisters of Blood and Spirit

  Sisters of Salt and Iron

  The Steampunk Chronicles (in reading order):

  The Strange Case of Finley Jayne (ebook prequel)

  The Girl in the Steel Corset

  The Girl in the Clockwork Collar

  The Dark Discovery of Jack Dandy (ebook novella)

  The Girl with the Iron Touch

  The Wild Adventure of Jasper Renn (ebook novella)

  The Girl with the Windup Heart

  This book is dedicated to all the girls who have survived. You are strength incarnate, and I hope you continue to heal, grow and thrive.

  Also, this book is for Amy Lukavics and Gena Showalter, my signing sisters. Love and miss you both so much! I will always treasure that drive from Houston to Austin where our friendship took root. The two of you are shining examples of light, beauty and strength, and I’m honored to call you my friends.

  And for Steve, because they’re all for you, babe.

  Kady Cross, publishing under various names, is a USA TODAY bestselling author of more than twenty books, including Harlequin TEEN’s Steampunk Chronicles and the Sisters of Blood and Spirit duology. She is lucky enough to have a husband who shares her love for the slightly twisted and all things geek. Visit her on the web at www.alterkate.com or on Twitter, @alterkates.

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  CHAPTER 1

  Before

  Someone had written slut on Magda’s locker again. I watched her try to scrape it off with the zipper of her makeup bag.

  Last time she’d cried, but there weren’t any tears in her dark eyes this time, and instead of being flushed, her cheeks were actually pale. They were getting to her, I realized. Wearing her down.

  I pulled a Sharpie from my bag, walked up beside her and changed the u to an a and added an e at the end.

  “Slate?” she asked.

  “Sure,” I said, my mind frantically reaching for an explanation that might please her. “As in clean.”

  Her face darkened. “I’m not the one who got a clean slate. They did.” But she didn’t go back to scraping.

  I didn’t know what to do. It seemed like I couldn’t do anything right lately. I hadn’t since the night my best friend was raped and images of it uploaded to the internet. Besides me, and Magda’s family, no one really seemed to believe she’d been raped at all. In fact, the boys who did it said she’d wanted to have sex with all four of them, and the entire school believed them, even though Magda hadn’t so much as gone out on a date with a guy before that night. It was easier to believe a teenage girl would want her first time to be with multiple partners than it was to believe four popular boys were capable of rape.

  I looked at my friend; her expression was blank. The fact that Magda didn’t look too upset was good, right? At least, I thought it was. I’d never say anything to her, but I’d been starting to get impatient with her. I knew what happened to her had been terrible—but they hadn’t hurt her so badly that she hadn’t healed properly. She’d survived what they’d done. No, it wasn’t fair that they got to walk around free while people called her a slut, but when was she going to start defending herself? I kept waiting for her to get mad—maybe punch somebody. Tell them off. But she didn’t—she just took what they said and tucked it away inside herself. She hardly smiled anymore, and I was so tired of it. I just wanted my friend back—and I had no idea how to make that happen.

  We walked home together, like we always did. It was a gorgeous spring day—sunny and warm. A block from Magda’s house, a car pulled up beside us. In it were three boys from the senior class.

  “Hey, Magda,” one said, leaning out the passenger window. “We’re having a party this weekend. Want to come? We need entertainment.”

  Her face turned scarlet, but she didn’t say anything. Why didn’t she tell them off?

  “Fuck off,” I said to them, putting myself between her and them. “Just fuck off.”

  He grinned at me. “You can come too, baby. No need to get jealous. There’s enough of us to go around.”

  I had a can of grape soda in my hand, and before I could think about it, I’d dumped what was left over his stupid head. It ran down his surprised face in purple rivers, staining his white shirt. His friends stared at me, mouths hanging open.

  “You stupid bitch!” he cried. He started to open his door, but I kicked it shut, and held it like that with the strength of my leg. I didn’t know what I was going to do if the other two decided to get involved.

  “Cops!” the one in the back shouted. I turned my head and saw the cruiser approaching. The car took off so fast I fell on my ass. Shit. It hurt.

  By the time the police car pulled up, Magda had already helped me to my feet. I recognized the woman behind the wheel as Diane Davies. She’d worked Magda’s case before it became a joke.

  “You girls okay?” she asked, but she was looking at Magda.

  “Yeah,” my friend said. “We’re fine, Detective Davies. Thanks.”

  The cop didn’t look like she believed us. “You want a lift home?”

  Magda shook her head.

  “Okay, then. Be careful.” She didn’t look happy about leaving us, but short of forcing Magda into the car, what could she do?

  We watched her drive away before we started walking again.

  “You don’t always have to defend me.” Magda sounded pissed. “They would have driven away. You didn’t need to start a fight.”

  “Yes, I did. Those pricks deserved it. You shouldn’t have to keep paying for a stupid mistake.”

  Magda stopped suddenly, under the shade of a huge tree. “What mistake?”

  I stared at her. Was she medicated? “Going off with Drew Carson at that party.”

  “You’ve never gone off with a guy before?”

  She knew I had. “You know what I mean.
You just picked the wrong guy.”

  “Was I supposed to know that?” Her voice had gotten louder, and her eyes were wide as she looked at me. “And I didn’t pick him, he picked me, but that doesn’t matter, because I thought he liked me. I never thought his friends would be waiting for us. I never wanted that, Hadley. And that wasn’t my fault!”

  “Calm down.” I’d never seen her like this before. “I didn’t mean it was your fault.”

  “Yeah, you did. Just like everyone else in this shit-hole town. I haven’t heard anyone ask Drew, Brody, Jason or Adam why they raped me, but everyone has questions for me. Why did you wear that skirt? Why did you go with Drew? Why didn’t you scream louder? What did you expect to happen? Here’s a question for you, Had—why don’t you just fuck off?”

  She ran away from me then, leaving me standing on the sidewalk like an asshole, staring after her in openmouthed shock. What the hell? I hadn’t meant to upset her. I was on her side for crying out loud!

  I continued walking home. I could have gone to her house, but I didn’t want to fight, and she needed time to cool off. And so did I. After all I’d done, all the times I’d defended her, this was what I got in return? If she thought I appreciated being lumped in with the rest of the people who blamed her, she was stupid and wrong. I’d believed her when no one else would.

  Yes, it had been stupid of her to go off with Drew. Most of us knew he was a dog, but he and his friends had never done anything like that before. They were all from fairly decent families, and were good-looking. They didn’t need to rape in order to get sex. But Magda wouldn’t lie. I’d seen her afterward, and I knew something horrible had happened. I wished I had been able to stop it.

  My parents weren’t home when I got there. Mom was still at work, and Dad was away on business. I heard them fight once in a while. They didn’t know I knew, but our house wasn’t that big.

  I did my homework and helped Mom with dinner when she came home. Then I walked over to Magda’s to apologize and talk. Her older brother Gabriel answered the door. He smiled when he saw me, and my heart did this little flip in my chest. When had he gotten so hot? Those dark eyes of his and long dark hair killed me—made me feel like I couldn’t think straight.

  “Hi, Had. Mags is in her room. She’s been listening to some sad-bastard music. Maybe you can cheer her up.”

  I smiled, my insides still dancing around like lunatics. “I’ll try.”

  His gaze narrowed. “Everything okay with you two?”

  “We had a bit of a fight earlier. I said something stupid.” I looked him in the eye. “Sometimes I don’t know the right thing to say to her.”

  He nodded, his expression somber. “None of us do.” Then he hugged me, and I let myself enjoy it a little longer than I should.

  When I knocked on Magda’s door, she didn’t say anything. She probably couldn’t hear me over the music. I turned the knob and pushed the door open. She was going to scream when she saw me—she scared so freaking easy.

  She was on her bed. For a moment, I thought she was sleeping—and then I saw the pill bottle, and I realized she wasn’t breathing.

  CHAPTER 2

  Magda and I were supposed to go into senior year together, but on the first day of school, I was alone and Mags was dead.

  I arrived ten minutes before the bell for homeroom. It was a nice day, warm and sunny, and there were kids all over the front lawn of Carter High School. A year ago, Magda and I had been among them, excited to be back, but dreading the daily grind.

  I walked up the concrete path to the main doors and walked inside. The halls teemed with kids—tall, short, fat, skinny, nervous or bored. There was every hair and skin color imaginable represented. I saw a girl with pink hair, a guy with a mohawk and a kid with a septum piercing clustered together, talking animatedly by a classroom. The three of them would probably get hassled at some point during that day. Would anyone stand up for them?

  No one had stood up for Magda. No one but Magda’s brother Gabriel and me. I hadn’t always been the friend I should have been to her. I hadn’t understood what she was going through. I had to live with that—and without my best friend.

  There was a shadow box on the wall by the principal’s office that had photos of kids who had been killed during the school year. They’d started it back in the eighties. There were a lot of pictures in it. Magda’s wasn’t there. They justified her exclusion by calling it a suicide. But Magda’s life had been over months before she took those pills. She’d been murdered, and her killers had been allowed to walk free. Their names were even protected by the press because they were underage. We were all going to be under the same roof that day, the four of them and me. It seemed more ominous after a summer of missing Magda, like her absence had intensified the gravity of what they’d done.

  I looked for them as I roamed the halls, but I didn’t see them. They traveled as a pack, usually followed by sycophants and foolish girls who believed that cute boys couldn’t possibly be monsters. I hoped none of those girls discovered how wrong they were.

  Gabriel had graduated last year, and would be starting classes at a local college in a couple of days. I missed having him with me. After Magda died, the two of us had become each other’s support—it was the only way we could get through the day at school. We kept each other from falling apart, and when the charges against Magda’s rapists were dropped, we raged and cried together.

  “Hadley?”

  I turned at the sound of the familiar voice. Standing beside a row of lockers was Zoe Kotler, who I’d known since first grade. We weren’t close friends, but we’d hung out a bit over the years. I remember she cried at Magda’s funeral, something I hadn’t been able to do.

  “Hey, Zoe.” A guy wearing a huge backpack practically hip checked me into the wall.

  “Watch it,” I snarled.

  He shot me a dirty look. “Fuck you.”

  There were meaner things he could’ve said. By the time you get to senior year the F word has lost much of its gravity and ability to offend. It’s almost a regular part of the lexicon of teenage language, like texting, or soda.

  I watched him walk away. Normally I would’ve had a good comeback, but I couldn’t summon one. What I wanted to do was kick him in the back of his stupid head. I could do it.

  Zoe scowled after him. “Douche,” she said to his retreating back.

  I shrugged. “The school’s full of them.”

  She laughed. “You’ve got that right.” When I met her gaze, I saw concern and wariness in her brown eyes, like I was a wounded animal she wanted to pet but was afraid would take her hand off if she did.

  “I know this might sound weird, but a few of us have started a petition.” She pulled a stapled stack of paper from her binder and handed it to me. I looked at the pages; the petition was to have Magda’s picture added to the shadow box.

  I stared at all the signatures. There had to be at least forty there already.

  “It’s not fair that she’s not there,” Zoe said. “Three other people whose pictures are there died the same way.”

  I looked at her, tempted to ask if those people had been raped, but I knew that wasn’t what she meant. She meant they’d killed themselves. “Do you have a pen?” I asked.

  She smiled and handed me the pen she had clipped to her binder. I signed my name.

  “I miss her, you know?”

  I handed the petition and pen back to her. I wanted to tell her that she knew nothing. That she was a stupid cow who had no idea what it was like to lose your best friend, someone you knew so well they felt like a part of you. Wanted to tell her she should be glad that she had never seen someone she loved suffer like Magda had. I wanted to tell her that I hoped she never walked into a friend’s room and found them on their bed after they’d taken a handful of sleeping pills—enough to kill th
em, but not enough to do it quickly.

  I remembered holding Magda in my arms, screaming for help. My brain latched on to that memory of her, so pale and unresponsive, and rolled it around in my head until my lungs felt as though they were being squeezed by a giant hand, each breath more strangled and difficult than the last.

  Mostly, I hoped Zoe never knew what it was like to feel responsible, to know that the last thing you’d said to your best friend had broken her heart and her spirit. I’d let Magda feel alone, and she’d killed herself.

  “Yeah,” I rasped. “I know. I have to go.” I pivoted on my heel and walked away as fast as I could without running. I dived into the nearest girls’ bathroom and ducked into a stall. I closed the door and locked it before pressing my forehead against the cool metal.

  I breathed in through my nose, out through my mouth until the panic faded. My mother thought I had PTSD. Maybe I did, but calling it that felt like I was trying to excuse my grief. It felt like a lie. Because what I had was not a disorder, but a sadness that ran so deep I could feel it in my bones. Sometimes I felt like Magda had taken my own life with hers that day.

  I tried to push thoughts of her away. My parents and my therapist had been concerned about how returning to school would affect me. I thought they were the crazy ones, but it seemed they understood me better than I did. I should have taken a Xanax before I left the house. At least that would have taken the edge off.

  * * *

  The bell rang. I made my way to the auditorium with the rest of the throng. Magda and I always sat as far back as we could. I couldn’t bring myself to climb the stairs to the back of the room, so I sat four rows back from the front. The seat to my right remained empty as the auditorium filled up. I could almost pretend my friend was there beside me.

  They divided freshmen into their classes first, calling out names and then telling them where their classroom was located. Next was the sophomores, then the juniors and finally the seniors.

  I sat there, numb and disinterested, until four familiar names were called: Jason Bentley, Drew Carson, Brody Henry and Adam Weeks. People actually cheered them. Those raised voices set my teeth on edge. Then, the universe decided to be cruel.

 
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