“A school shooting might seem a strange inciting incident for one of the most life-affirming romances of the year, but it’s a testament to Roni Loren’s writing that it not only works, it soars.” —Entertainment Weekly for The Ones Who Got Away
The One for you
Book 4 - The Ones Who Got Away series
Coming Winter 2019
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Also available in audiobook: Recorded Books | Audible
Copyrighted Material Roni Loren 2019 - All Rights Reserved
*not copyedited so may change
Kincaid Breslin was the girl who was supposed to die first in the horror movie. In high school, it had been a running joke among her friends during their annual Halloween marathon of scary movies that she’d be the first character topless, screaming, and running for her life.
She was the dance team captain. The girl with the superstar boyfriend. The non-virgin. All those things spelled dead in those classic eighties horror movies. Her character probably wouldn’t have been on screen long enough to even get a name. In the credits, she’d be listed as Blond Cheerleader #1 or Hysterical Girl #2. But her friends had been wrong. When Kincaid’s life had turned into an actual horror movie, she’d somehow managed to get out alive. Most of those friends hadn’t. Real life didn’t follow movie rules.
So you would think after actually surviving what she had, she’d be extra vigilant about putting herself in any situation that resembled a scary movie ever again. But as she stared up at the rambling farmhouse that could star in the next teen slasher film, she fell head over heels in love.
“Holy shit,” her friend Liv said next to her, camera clutched in her hands. “Are we supposed to go inside that thing?”
Kincaid frowned. “Well, yeah. I need photos of the inside. There are none online yet, and Bethany wanted pictures ASAP. And what Bethany wants, she gets. Otherwise, I’ll get sixteen thousand demanding texts and voicemails by the end of the day. I need this sale. Please make this place look gorgeous.”
Liv gave her a wary look, as if she were now regretting offering her photography skills for Kincaid’s demanding real estate client. “Has it been opened and aired out recently? Maybe had some sage burned and a spirit guide cleanse the thing?”
Kincaid snorted, surprised at her normally unflappable friend’s reaction. “Honey, I didn’t take you for the superstitious sort. That’s usually my job. It’s just an old farmhouse.”
Liv gave her a pointed look, dark eyes holding her gaze, as she very deliberately made the sign of the cross and recited something in Spanish. “Chica, that thing for sure houses the angry spirits of serial killers or maybe vampires. I bet there are bones in the attic. Or portals to hell in the basement. I am not playing Willow to your Buffy the Vampire Slayer.”
Kincaid laughed. “You wouldn’t be Willow. Too mouthy. You’d be Xander. And there are no basements here.” She put her hands on her hips and looked at the house again. “I think it’s…quaint.”
Liv gave her a girl, please look. “Quaint? You’re using your real estate agent words. Cozy means small. Fixer upper means money pit. Quaint means…portals of hell demons ready to eat your soul for the mere price of—what’s this thing cost anyway?”
Kincaid checked her notes from her earlier chat with her fellow agent, Ferris. “Owner’s asking five-hundred.”
“Wow,” Liv said, lifting her camera and taking a shot of the wide sagging porch. “Someone’s proud of their creepy-ass haunted house.”
“That price includes a decent chunk of land. Plus, the home was owned by one of the founding families of Long Acre. It’s historic,” Kincaid countered, not sure why she was trying to defend the house. Maybe because if she didn’t make a big sale soon, the agency was going to start questioning if they needed three full-time agents.
“Ha. Another real estate agent word. Historic not old.” Liv stepped a little to the left and aimed her camera at the second story and all its peeling white paint glory. “I have faith in you, though. You could sell hair products to a bald guy. I’m sure you’ll find someone who finds it…quaint.”
“I think Bethany will love it.” Bethany Winterbourne was moving from Austin and wanted the perfect fixer-upper house to create her “super adorable, glam dream palace away from the city” after her divorce. Bethany Winterbourne had also watched too many home design shows and thought small town Texas would be chock full of big houses that would be cheap and fall in her lap.
Kincaid had been on the hunt for Bethany for six months now with countless smaller houses in Wilder discarded out of hand. Now finally, she’d come across this prospect in Long Acre, which had the square footage Bethany wanted. Plus, it hadn’t come onto the market officially, so no one had seen the house yet. Maybe she could get a good price without competition.
Ferris had given her a heads up because he knew Kincaid was more than ready to get Bethany out of her hair. Plus, after a particularly dry year where Kincaid had barely made a sale, Ferris knew she needed a win. This could be the answer.
However, now that Kincaid was looking at the old house, she got a spoiled milk taste in her mouth at the thought of it being filled with Bethany’s style, which given the decor of Bethany’s current condo, would be white lacquer furniture and pink sequined pillows that had things like Shine Bright on them.
Kincaid could appreciate unique tastes. She was currently wearing underwear with purple llamas on them, so who was she to judge? You do you, girl. But this house had old, beautiful bones—hopefully not the attic kind like Liv was talking about—and was begging to be restored to its former glory. She could almost feel it shudder at the thought of a sequin passing its threshold.
Kincaid let her gaze travel over the facade, her mind smoothing over the peeling paint and the warped windows, imagining what the grand house must’ve looked like when it was first built right outside of town. Nothing for miles around, the Texas wine country not yet rolling with grapevines and tourists, and the land rich with possibility. It was the kind of house she’d dreamt of living in when she’d walk home from school through the nicer neighborhoods on her way back to the broken down rental house she’d shared with her mom. Houses with warmth and laughter and good smells coming from the kitchen. Houses that didn’t have a dry-rotted hole in the floor of the bathroom, dingy tan walls, and nothing but boxed macaroni and cheese and Vienna sausage in the cabinets—food her mom knew a kid could cook for herself since her mother was rarely home at night.
Liv sidled up next to Kincaid, pushing a lock of hair that had escaped her loose bun away from her face. “Don’t worry. I’m just giving you a hard time. I’ll be able to make the place look really cool in my photos. It’s all about the angles and lighting. Plus, worn and damaged can look beautiful to the right person. I mean, Finn sees what I look like in the morning and still wants to sleep with me.”
Kincaid rolled her eyes at her friend, who even in jeans and a T-shirt looked like a goddess with her long lashes, light brown skin, and thick black hair. “Oh, hush your mouth. You are neither worn nor damaged, and you know it.”
Plus, even if Liv looked like a troll, Kincaid knew that Finn wouldn’t look at Liv any differently. That guy was so in love that he practically glowed like a radioactive superhero when he was around his woman. Kincaid had only been looked at like that by one person long ago, but she remembered the all-encompassing high of that, of knowing you were loved so completely. Familiar sadness welled, but she pushed it down before it could make it to her expression. She pasted on a smile instead—a tactic she’d used so many times over the years that it felt like second nature now, to smile when hurting.
“Please. We’re all a little damaged,” Liv said, bumping her shoulder into Kincaid’s. “It’s what makes us interesting, though, right? Like this house.” She grabbed Kincaid’s hand. “Come on, let’s see what this old girl looks like on the inside.” She peeked back over her shoulder as she dragged Kincaid along. “But fair warning, if I see any spirits seeking a host or hell demons wanting to eat some souls, you’re on your own, sister.”
Kincaid’s smile eased into a genuine one at that. “So nice to hear you have my back. Sweet as sugar, that Olivia Arias.”
Liv laughed. “Hey, you’re wearing heels you can’t run in. Plus you know they always go after the busty blonde first. You’re doomed. I’m just being practical. I’ll run for help. Promise.”
Liv led her up the charmingly crooked front steps, and Kincaid got the key from the lock box. She opened the front door, squeaky hinges announcing their arrival. She half-expected the witch from Hansel and Gretel to pop out and toss her and Liv in a cauldron, but when they stepped inside the foyer, only dust motes and the stale smell of a closed-up house greeted them.
Still, despite the air of neglect overlaying everything, Kincaid could see the potential. Hardwood floors that could be refinished. High ceilings. Beautiful door casings and original moldings. A grand old house with soul baked in. Perfectly imperfect. She groaned inwardly, that’d be something else Bethany would put on a pillow. Probably in this very house if she got the chance.
Liv was looking around curiously and snapped a few pictures of the entryway, the soft click of her camera the only sound. She sent Kincaid a glance over her shoulder. “No sparkly vampires.”
Kincaid ran her hand over the worn banister at the base of the stairs. “Bummer.”
“But hey, no one in a hockey mask attacked us either, so that’s good.” Liv gave her an exaggerated thumbs up.
“Small victories.” Kincaid put her hand on her hip, her eyes scanning the space as she tried to be objective. “Original details. Needs a lot of refurbishing. Inspection is going to be a nightmare.” She pulled a printout from her purse. “The plumbing was replaced a few years ago. Wiring updated. Mostly needs cosmetic work.”
“Cosmetic work?” Liv lifted a skeptical brow. “Girl, this is more than a hair fluff and a little blush and lipstick. This needs full scale plastic surgery.”
A gust of wind rattled the windows, and the front door slammed shut, sending a sonic boom through the foyer. They both yelped.
“Son of a bitch,” Liv said on a pant, her hand to her chest. “Totally unnecessary, House! Don’t try to scare us away.”
“Uh oh, you’ve angered the poltergeists,” Kincaid teased. “You shouldn’t say mean things about the house.” She placed a finger over her lips and glanced up the stairs with a pointed look. Then, she called out, “You look so pretty, darlin’. Like a new flower on a spring morning. Just the sweetest most beautiful house on the block. All the other houses are so jealous.”
Liv nodded and announced, “The belle of the ball for sure!”
They both peeked upward as if they were expecting the lady of the house to descend the stairs and then laughed when they realized they’d actually waited for a response. Kincaid cocked her head to the right, and Liv followed her into the main living area. The floorboards creaked in protest beneath their feet. The living room was high-ceilinged and sun-dappled from the dusty light shining in through the tall windows, making it look like an Instagram filter had been applied.
“This place is big,” Liv observed, her head tilted back to take in the ceilings.
“Especially for a house this age,” Kincaid agreed. “Must’ve been a really large family.”
“And a wealthy one. I like this room.” Liv traced her finger along one of the window panes, leaving a streak in the thick dust. “Gets good light. Even with the dirty windows.”
“Yeah. This would be a fantastic family room. The house has six bedrooms, so people with lots of kids or aging parents living with them could have all the space they wanted.”
Not that Bethany would appreciate that since she was single with no children like Kincaid. Instead of focusing on family friendly, Kincaid would instead need to play up this room as an entertaining space. Extra bedrooms could be pitched as potential dressing rooms, hobby rooms, guest rooms.
Liv snapped a photo of the fireplace, which was surrounded by stone and had a simple but beautiful natural oak mantle above it. “Could you imagine growing up in a place like this? I mean, when it was in its prime? I think my family’s entire place could fit in one third of this bottom floor.”
“It’s like something out of an old movie or TV show.” Kincaid could imagine a bunch of kids thumping along the floorboards, tracking in mud from the outside field, maybe a dog in their wake. The images made her smile. They were of the fantasy family she used to imagine lived in those houses she’d pass on her walks home from school. The loving couple. The happy kids. Dinners shared together at the table. Books read aloud to children at night. She’d used to think one day. One day she’d be one of those people framed in the warm glow of those windows, have her own kids tracking mud across her floor, a loving husband waiting for her to get home.
But she’d lost the guy who’d starred in those fantasies a long time ago, and at thirty-two, with a countless number of failed relationships in her wake, she’d accepted that you only got one shot at a soulmate. No one had ever compared since. She’d had to move on from that dream. She’d come to peace with that, but now a different kind of temptation pulled at her.
A vision of cushy furniture and people sitting around drinking coffee filled her mind’s eye. Happy conversation echoing down the hallway. A woman reading a book near the fireplace. A couple planning their day in the Texas wine country. She could almost smell the cinnamon rolls she’d bake for those guests.
The dangerous image was rife with temptation, like that too smooth guy at the bar who’d smile and say, come on, just one more drink. What could it hurt? This was not what she was here to do. She needed to stop with the pretty fantasies. She wasn’t that daydreaming little girl anymore. The one who could weave a fairytale out of scraps of anything.
But as usual, her mouth opened before her brain got the shut up message. “It could make an adorable bed and breakfast.”
Liv lowered her camera and eyed Kincaid. “You think?”
“You can’t see it?” Kincaid couldn’t imagine not seeing it. The place looked made for it.
Liv glanced around again with a pensive expression, taking her time. “The photographer in me pictures a great set for Halloween portraits or maybe a location for one of those murder mystery weekends, but maybe you’re right. If it had a major overhaul, it could work. It definitely has the space for that kind of thing.” She looked back to Kincaid. “But it would take a crap ton of money to get it there, and would that really be a wise business move for someone? Long Acre isn’t exactly a destination city. Except for those true-crime rubberneckers, who, really, a room with a portal to hell would be just fine.”
Kincaid blanched at the thought. Nothing irritated her more than the people who drove by her old high school and took photos like it was the set from some thriller movie instead of the place where actual people died. Her people. It was one of the reasons the real estate market was so tough here. Who wants to send their kids to a school known for a mass shooting? “I don’t know. I think it could be marketed as a tucked-away, quiet retreat that is only a fifteen-minute drive to Lake Wilder and a quick hour away from the bustle of Austin. There are wineries within easy driving distance. We’re far off the road, so it has a sense of getting away from it all.”
“Or being in a place where no one could hear you scream,” Liv pointed out.
Her friend lifted her hand with a grin. “Kidding. Mostly. But you’re right. It could have potential. Maybe? Do you have someone looking for a B&B site?”
“Not exactly,” Kincaid said more to herself than to Liv. She looked down at the asking price to remind herself why she couldn’t gallup down this road. Half a million dollars. For something that needed a ton of work. She needed the rational side of her brain, which really was only on a part-time schedule to begin with, to step up and do its job. “Just thinking out loud.”
Kincaid wandered past Liv toward the back of the house, gasping when she entered the next room. Liv hurried in behind her, camera swinging around her neck. “What? Werewolf? Evil clown?” She groaned when she stepped inside. “Oh. The pink. Wow. That’s…pink.”
But that wasn’t what Kincaid was speechless about. The kitchen space was a dream. Larger than she’d expected for a house this age and so charming she could barely stand it. The whole thing would have to be gutted, of course—the pink cabinets and formica countertops looked like Pesto Bismol and bad wallpaper had gotten drunk together and made an ugly baby—but the bones of the room were beautiful. She could picture double ovens and a big island where she could prep for cooking.
“This room was clearly redone in the eighties,” Liv said, her opinion of the decor clear in her tone. “By someone with bad taste even by eighties standards.”
Kincaid walked over and peeked out the window above the kitchen sink toward an overgrown herb garden in the back. Rosemary, thyme, and some kind of mint that looked like it’d taken over half the garden by force. “I—”
A door creaked loudly from somewhere, and both she and Liv startled, instinctively moving toward each other. Liv gripped Kincaid’s arm and raised her camera with the other, poised to use it as a weapon. Kincaid’s mind galloped ahead to all the pictures Liv had painted—ghosts, serial killers, demons. And of course, the ever present, always right near the surface image of boys with guns.
However, the voice that drifted down the hallway wasn’t male and wasn’t demonic in the supernatural way, just in the completely and utterly annoying way. “Gorgeous period detailing. Truly historic. I mean, this gem isn’t going to stay on the market long. I barely was able to sneak in a preview today. But I have my secret ways. It’s just so quaint, don’t you think?”
Kincaid’s stomach turned, wondering what she’d done to piss off the universe today. “Oh, Lord give me the strength and a shot of tequila.”
“What’s wrong?” Liv whispered. “Who’s that?”
Kincaid hoped she was wrong, but she’d know that nasal syrupy voice anywhere. “Valerie VanArden, top seller over at Wilder Realty. I have no idea how’s she here. It’s Ferris’s listing, and it’s not even online yet.”
“I take it we don’t like Valerie Van Arden?”
Kincaid eyed the entrance, Valerie’s too-high voice echoing off the ceilings like an off-key song. “We do not. She thinks the sun comes up just to hear her crow. Also, she hates me because I once dated a guy she had her eye on, claims I stole him. As if that’s a thing. Like a person can be stolen.”
“Fun.” Liv said with a grim look as she and Kincaid headed out of the kitchen and back into the living room.
Valerie stepped into the room, all dressed in violet—her self-designated signature color—and a well-dressed couple followed behind her. Val’s blue eyes went wide, and she put a hand to her chest as she spotted Kincaid and Liv standing there. “Well, I’ll be,” she said dramatically. “Kincaid Breslin. I didn’t know the house was being shown already. You gave me quite the scare.”
Kincaid put on a beaming smile and whipped out her own version of southern-style hostility. “Well, honey, our car is parked right outside. I’m sure you saw it.”
“Oh, is that yours?” she mused. “It looked so dusty, I thought it was abandoned.”
Kincaid’s teeth clenched as she held her smile. “You know how it is. I stay so busy, I just haven’t had time to bring it in for a wash. Clients come first.”
“Of course,” Valerie’s red lips twitched. “Well, we won’t get in your way. I’m just going to show the Nicholsons around.” She glanced at the couple. “Isn’t this place so special?”
“I don’t know. It’s pretty rundown,” Kincaid said with a dismissive shrug.
Valerie’s mouth pursed. “Oh, it’s just the surface that needs a little polishing. Jason here is an architect. He could make this place into a showpiece, couldn’t you, Jason?”
The man was scanning the space with analytical eyes. He nodded. “I could. The size is perfect.” He glanced at his wife, who was snapping a photo with her phone. “Sweetheart, we could strip out everything and start fresh, maintain the look outside. Go modern minimalist on the inside. White walls. Black and gray furniture. It would be so open and airy.”
Modern minimalist? Something died inside Kincaid. “You can’t be serious.”
The man’s attention swung Kincaid’s way, and he sent her an affronted look. “Excuse me?”
Liv made a choked sound next to her, but Kincaid couldn’t hold her tongue. “I’m just saying, if you want modern, get a loft in Austin or go grab one of the lots in Wilder and build from scratch. Why would you want to turn this into something it’s not?”
“Because we could turn it into something better,” he countered, his chin lifting a fraction like a little kid putting his little foot down.
“But this has character,” Kincaid replied, arms crossing.
“Oh, Kincaid, you’re too much,” Valerie said with faux lightness, the tension showing in the lines around her eyes. “She’s just messing with you, Jason. Better watch her, y’all. She’s a wily one. She’ll steal something from right under your nose. Just like that.” Valerie snapped her fingers, the sharp sound echoing in the cavernous room. “She probably has a client who wants it, and she’s just trying to scare you off. But we don’t scare easily.” She gave Jason a wink. “Let’s continue the tour, shall we?” Valerie pretended like Kincaid and Liv weren’t there as she passed them on her way to the kitchen, the Nicholsons and a cloud of Valerie’s lavender perfume following. “Six bedrooms. A mudroom. Beautiful deck out back with a pond.”
Kincaid stayed frozen to the spot. Something was beating at the walls of her brain, her heart pounding against her temples. She listened as the couple exclaimed over how great the kitchen would be if converted to an industrial look.
Industrial. Deep breaths.
“Kincaid,” Liv said, putting a hand on her arm. “Are you alright? Your cheeks are all flushed.”
Kincaid pressed her lips together, her eyes still focused in the direction of the kitchen. She had trouble pinpointing the emotions coursing through. Anger was one. But the other one felt like...loss. Like this was her house those people were tromping through. Her dreams they were traipsing upon.
“Are you worried you’re going to lose the sale?” Liv continued. “Should you call your client? Maybe she can move fast if she loves it. I can send the pics to her as soon as I get to a laptop if she can’t make it out here quickly enough.”
“This house is not for them,” Kincaid declared.
“I agree.” Liv said, nodding. “I love modern, but this is not the house for that. Even if they had a good vision for it, I wouldn’t want that horrible woman to make the commission. Call your client.”
Kincaid shook her head. “It’s not for my client either. She won’t understand it.”
Liv’s brow wrinkled. “Understand what?”
Kincaid spread her arms out. “That it’s already beautiful and just needs some help getting back to its glory, not to become something else entirely. Why is the world so obsessed with making things into what they’re not?”
Liv frowned. “Well, does it really matter what someone does to it as long as you’re the one getting the sale? That’s the main point, right? Sell the house. Make the money.”
That should be the main point. Kincaid needed this sale if she wanted to keep her gig at the agency.
“Oh, sweetheart. I think this is the one,” the woman client said somewhere in the distance. “We should snatch this one up before anyone else can.”
Valerie made a gleeful sound. “I think that is an excellent idea. You have brilliant taste. Let’s talk offer.”
Liv made a face. “Oh shit. They’re going to buy. Call your client, Kincaid.”
Kincaid pulled her phone from her pocket and dialed Ferris.
He answered on the first ring, the sounds of a keyboard clacking in the background. “Talk to me, gorgeous. Tell me you’re going to make us both money.”
Kincaid wet her lips. “I have an offer on the farmhouse.”
“That’s fantastic. You’re an angel,” he said, the typing stopping. “Bethany’s putting in an offer?”
“No,” Kincaid said, swallowing hard. “I am. Full price if they take the offer without waiting for others.”
“You?” he asked, concern suddenly filling his voice. “Oh, sweetie, I don’t think that’s a good idea. You know how dangerous it can be to get heart eyes for a new property. Believe me, I’ve been there. That’s a lot of money you’d need to come up with. Maybe you should take some time—”
The suggestion that she didn’t have enough, that she couldn’t afford it pushed an old sore button and launched her right over the railing of the already sinking ship.
“Put in the offer,” she said, voice brooking no argument. “This isn’t about heart eyes.”
Ferris paused for a long moment but then sighed. “Yes ma’am. I’ll do that right now.”
“Thank you, Ferris.”
She ended the call and turned to Liv who had a horror movie expression on her face. “Girl, what are you doing?”
Kincaid swallowed, the phone call catching up with her and a full panic rolling through her. “I think I just bought myself a bed and breakfast.”
One she hadn’t planned on.
One she couldn’t afford.
One she simply could not walk away from.