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The night wind rattled the naked branches of the dead trees that stood on either side of the white farmhouse’s back door.  Those limbs seemed to reach for the door’s handle as if to draw attention to it, or to urge him inside. 

Come in. Come in. Come in and see what is happening here, Dr. Rowan Winter!

The farmhouse was dark except for sour, yellow lights that rose up from the half-moon shaped window wells.  Dark shadows occasionally blocked out that light for a moment.  People were in the basement.

Come in. Come in.  Come in and see what is happening here, Dr. Rowan Winter!

But Rowan already knew what was happening here. It was what had brought him to this blasted house in the first place six months ago as a consultant for the local sheriff.  The cultists were gathered here for a wedding of a child-bride to their fifty-four year old leader.  And unless something stopped it--unless he stopped it--that child, Tessa, would be raped soon after she took vows that she didn’t even understand.

He didn’t play vigilante lightly. There had to be rules or he might just earn the title of Dark One--or really demon--that his parents had given him and his sister. But every person in power had failed Tessa and there was simply no one else left to step up.

This cult--the Savior of the Divine Lamb--was no different than many he’d profiled for law enforcement over the years. It had a charismatic leader by the name of Jimmy Rob. Jimmy had taken over from his father, Harold Rob, after the old man had died of a stroke in bed with a twelve-year-old girl. His newest bride. Tessa had been “promised” to Harold, too, but his early death transferred that promise to Jimmy.

Harold had been the original Savior, the man that would lead the rest of his smallish flock of 37 people to Heaven when the apocalypse came upon them. An apocalypse caused by society’s growing tolerance of those that Harold thought should burn like gay people or Catholics or whatever flavor of “other” fit in his small, prejudiced mind. 

But since Harold had died before that blessed apocalypse had come, Jimmy was the new Savior. And just like his father and many of the men in the group, marrying and raping children was one of the perks of leadership. 

Where were Tessa’s parents one might ask? They were the ones doing the offering. They were down in that basement with eager smiles on their faces and damp sweat on their palms. Their daughter Tessa--her innocence, her virginity, her body and soul--were going to save theirs. All part of God’s plan.

But Rowan didn’t believe in God or the Devil, for that matter. There was no Heaven or Hell. There was only this world and what one made of it. And he was Tessa’s best--only--chance to make this world less hellish for her.  

Come in. Come in.  Come in and stop what is happening here, Dr. Rowan Winter!

Rowan crouched under a stand of pines about fifty-feet from that farmhouse’s back door. The pine needles crunched under his boots, but the wind was loud enough that no one would have heard him moving even if someone else had been outside that night. But he was alone. It was him, the bone white moon and the wind.

No one would have seen him either if they had chanced to look his way.  He wore black boots, black jeans and a black, form-fitting, high-collared hoodie. The hood was drawn over his dark blond hair and a mask covered his lower face. Only his green eyes could be seen. He had even sheathed his hands in black leather gloves so his pale fingers were invisible, too. 

He flexed those hands and turned his head right then left before bouncing up and down to loosen the muscles of his long, lean legs.  He had been crouched here since before dusk, waiting for the patriarch to show up for his special day. 

He’d given the justice system a chance to end this horror, but it had failed. The cultists had their chance to end this when Tessa’s older cousin had reported her rape to her to the police. But the cultists had closed ranks. Called her a liar. And the jury had believed those supposed fine, upstanding Christians and not the sobbing girl on the stand. So their leader had gone free to rape and torture little girls once more.

Come in. Come in.  Come in and stop what is happening here, Dr. Rowan Winter!

Rowan stood up. The long-healed scars on his chest and stomach--the three-quarters finished labyrinth design--ached for a moment and he felt weak and sick.  Those feelings were all in his mind, of course. The labyrinth his father had carved there had no magical power that could harm him in any way beyond the cuts that had made the design on his skin in the first place. They did not bind the dark powers within him.  They did not stop him from accessing his demonic nature. There were no such things as demons or magic, after all. 


Yet as he always did, he envisioned the partially finished labyrinth in his mind. He worked through the switch-backs, the twists, and the turns until he reached the end and was released from the maze. Only then did the weakness leave him. Left over psychological damage from parents who had killed his sister and attempted to kill him. That was all this was.  A ritual he had created to undo the psychological bindings on him. 

Don’t worry, Tessa. I won’t let your parents sacrifice you to their false beliefs.

He was able to draw in a full breath now without tightness or discomfort. His blood seemed to tingle as if it were champagne. His head felt clear. His eyesight, hearing and sense of smell seemed to become keener. The feeling that none could see him unless or until he wanted them to settled over him. But again, this was nonsense. Magical thinking that a child created to not be a victim again. 

He was a man, not a monster. He wasn’t actually invisible. And no matter how invincible he felt in these moments after escaping the labyrinth in his head, bullets and blades could still pierce his skin and end his life. 


He flowed out from underneath the trees and lightly ran across the scrubby yard to the back door. The two wooden steps up to the door felt spongy with rot underneath his booted feet. The slight moans they gave were muted as he made sure to rest his weight on the outside edges of the boards. 

Come in. Come in.  Come in and stop what is happening here, Dr. Rowan Winter!

He guessed that the door would be locked even though this was the country and people still trusted each other more than in the city.  But this house held secrets and lies and dark dealings so it was locked to keep as many people out as in. 

He also guessed that the screen door in front of it would squeak when he pulled it back.  So he eased the screen door open only as wide as necessary for him to slip in. It rested against his back, cold and metallic smelling. He grasped the door handle to the inner door in a firm grip. He twisted the handle. The lock and handle broke. The door was open. 

Again, this was not magic, he reminded himself. Most locks were flimsy affairs. Most doors were too. And the farmhouse was rotting from the inside out. Besides, everything was often a matter of leverage

He lightly pushed the inner door open an inch and the rich, yet stale smell, of casseroles being warmed in the oven and sugary cherry pie reached his nostrils. The wedding feast. His stomach flipped with nausea.

He eased the door open far enough for him to slide his lean form fully inside and caught the screen door with his other hand before it slammed shut. He gently pulled it closed with a snick. Then he carefully shut the back door as well with a click

The sounds of the doors closing or the cold, fierce air from outside might alert one of the cult members that they’d been invaded. So he stood very still and listened. But there were no calls of alarm and he heard no feet rushing up the basement stairs to confront him. 

There were voices, muffled but also sounding falsely festive, coming from below. Rowan knew every inch of the interior of the farmhouse. He had a knack for remembering places, people, things, everything really. Or maybe even six months ago he’d known he’d be coming back so he'd memorized it then.

He knew, for example, that the main “party” room where the wedding was being held was directly below the kitchen where he stood. And the fuse box was in the far back laundry room opposite it. That was where he would go first. Darkness needed to fall.  But he had to get past this room without anyone knowing he was there.

The only illumination in the kitchen came from a dim nightlight beneath the kitchen’s hood. It showed him the cracked yellow and white linoleum spread out before him like some gigantic boobie trap.  Every step could cause a creak or a snap of the old, drying material that might alert the cultists down below. 

There was a square card table set in the center of the kitchen covered with a clean, white tablecloth with lace stitching along the edges. The cherry pie with a cross-hatched top was sitting there. So he had to get around that too. 

I’m light, he told himself. I’m light as a feather. 

Telling himself these things did not make it so. But he found that, just like with escaping the labyrinth, that his body did more of what he wanted it to when his mind was clear in his intent. 

He carefully set one foot in front of the other, keeping all his weight on the balls of his feet. All he would need was for his heel to bear down on a raised linoleum bubble and crack it open with a sound like a gunshot. He followed a path of yellow squares along the edge of the kitchen until he hit the far wall, then he turned and followed the white squares to the doorway. He avoided the threshold and lightly stepped onto a firm looking floorboard. 

The stairs to the basement were directly to his right. There was no door and he could see the reflected light from the party room on the steps.  The stairs came down right outside the party room’s door, which was evidently open. If anyone looked at the wrong moment, they would see a black clad figure slinking into the laundry room. He couldn’t afford that.

I am invisible. None can see me unless I will it, he told himself.

The voices of the cultists were clearer now. They were singing a song praising their leader for his guidance, for his greatness, for their salvation. It was fascinating to Rowan that many of these cults that identified as some offshoot of Christianity didn’t remember Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” Or Corinthians 11:13-15: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.”  

Did they truly think that Jesus would ask for their 10-year-old daughter’s hand in marriage and ignore her screams when she begged for the man they'd wed her to to stop hurting her? And if they did believe Jesus capable of this, why would they worship him?  Why wouldn’t they fight on the side of the devils instead? 

Rowan kept to the far wall of the staircase, as far from the light as he could be as he glided down them. He glanced into the open door of the party room. Jimmy was standing at the front of the room, hands outstretched, swaying and singing. His eyes were closed. His long salt-and-pepper beard hung down to mid-chest, hiding stains on the white button-down shirt that strained over his gut. Black pants that were creased at the hips and dragged at the heels barely covered scuffed work boots. 

Tessa, looking small and doll-like, in a slightly yellowed white dress and a flower crown stood awkwardly between Jimmy and her parents. She mouthed the words to the song, but her eyes flickered around the room as if searching for a way out. 

Rowan would have understood even if she had been excited at the prospect of marrying her savior. She’d been born into the cult. It was all she’d ever known. And her parents were telling her that this was good, this was right, this was fate. Children loved and believed their parents, especially those unworthy of such trust.

Tessa’s parents were singing and beaming. Her mother held one of Tessa’s hands  while the other was over her very pregnant belly. Another future bride of Jimmy Rob?

Anger flooded him and the dagger he wore tucked into the back of his pants seemed to pulse with the desire to take life. To just go in there and cut. To stain the white walls red. These pathetic people had no right to have children! To twist those children’s lives and make them pay for a faith that was not real! They were a blight on humanity. They caused damage. They needed to be stopped. Rowan shifted the hoodie up and curled one hand around the dagger’s ever cold blade.

But what about Tessa? A voice inside him asked. It sounded suspiciously like Jack’s voice. Strong and deep and kind. You’re doing this to save her, right? Not just to kill. Not to wreak vengeance on those like your parents who chose their faith over you and your sister. Justice, Rowan. Seek justice in all you do.

Rowan’s lips parted. The singing was like a dirge now. Discordant and terrible. He swayed. His scars ached and he started feeling weak again. 

You’re here for Tessa. Remember that, Rowan, Jack’s voice whispered.

Rowan released the dagger’s hilt and stepped back into the shadows again. The music returned to normal. His scar was silent and strength returned.

You have no right to be in my head, Jack. Even if it’s just my imagination. You gave up that right, Rowan muttered to himself.

But he turned and melted into the darkness of the laundry room. The cloying scent of fake flowers and astringent cleaner filled his nose. He wrinkled it in disgust. His detergent had to be unscented. He drifted unerringly to the fuse box. Though it was dark, there was enough ambient light for him to see. His night vision had always been good and he’d been developing it extensively since his parents’ attack on him. So negotiating his way past laundry baskets and old buckets on concrete was easy. 

He swung the fuse box’s cover open. He gripped the Main. The singing had quieted and Jimmy had started to speak.

“My brothers and sisters! Tonight is a joyous night!” Jimmy sounded giddy.

Rowan’s eyes narrowed.  Imagining what the rest of the night will bring after all his followers leave.

“Our God is a great God. Our God is a powerful God. He watches us and sees all we do!” Jimmy intoned. 

There were “ayes” and “yeses”.

God might not see you, Jimmy, but I do, Rowan thought.

“And he sees what is happening here tonight!” Jimmy sounded exulted. “Does he approve of me taking Tessa into the sanctity of marriage? Does he?”


Rowan turned off the lights.

There were shouts of shock and a little fear as there always were when the lights went out unexpectedly. Humans still remembered their atavistic fears of the dark when predators roamed the shadows, searching for them.

He saw the white flares of cell phone flashlights wink on in the party room.  Only the men in Jimmy’s Leader Council had those. No one else could be trusted with such a window to the outside world. They might just realize Jimmy was a con man.  But this was good in Rowan’s mind, because these men were the ones who had to die and they had marked themselves.

Without them, this cult will die.

“A fuse must have blown,” one of the men growled. “I’ll fix it and then we can continue on. One second.”

Rowan slipped out of sight behind a metal shelf and withdrew the dagger from his pants. He heard the thump of boots coming towards his location. The white light of the cell phone flowed over him but did not stop. The man muttered as he sought to open the now closed metal door of the fuse box. 

Rowan stepped up behind him. One hand covered the man’s mouth while the other  used the dagger to slit the man’s throat. There was a shocked grunt as the blood poured from the wound, bathing the front of the man’s chest. When the man started to go limp, Rowan lowered him silently to the ground.

The hot, metallic scent of blood washed over Rowan and, for a moment, he was transported back to the room beneath his parents’ mansion, the Aldweather. His sister’s blood had pooled around his paralyzed body. Sticky and strangely sweet. And his own was flowing as his father carved--

“Earle? Earle, what’s taking so long?” another of the Leaders Council called and clomped down the hallway.

Rowan moved, pressing his back against the wall beside the door. The man was striding in seconds after he had hidden himself. 

“Earle? What the Hell?” The man got out before Rowan struck.

He stabbed the knife into the side of the man’s throat. The  man gurgled, dropping his phone, and lifting his hands to his throat where blood gushed like a waterfall. Rowan didn’t stop to admire his handiwork or to make sure it was done. He knew it was done. 

Rowan moved down the hallway to the party room like the wind had through the trees. There were still three members of the Leaders Council standing as well as Jimmy.  These men were arrayed in the front row of folding chairs nearest their leader, while the lesser men and the women and children were farther back.  They were blessed by God after all.

The three had their cell phone flashlights on, too. They were aimed at Jimmy who stood there, gazing down at Tessa, with speculative eyes. He was speaking to her as one would a child. He knew she was a child. He wanted her anyway. 

I am invisible. I am the darkness. None will see me. I move…

He started from the far right side. This leader was portly with a receding hairline and smelled of wax and paper. Two stabs to the side of the neck and he was done. He gasped wetly and then tumbled to the ground, covering his cell phone’s light with his belly.

“Randy?! What the--”

That exclamation came from the second leader near the middle aisle. The dagger moved all on its own, slicing the throat turned towards him. Somehow he stepped away from the spray of blood and avoided it altogether.  The flashlight missed him too, though how it could have…

I am invisible. I am the darkness. None will see me. I move…

“They’re dying! They’re dying! The Devil is--”


That was the final member of the Leaders Council who shrieked. Rowan slipped behind him. His flashlight’s beam flew everywhere.  The dagger slashed and he went down. The last light was extinguished. Darkness fell.

Then he was on Jimmy. Unlike his flock who were frozen with fear and praying, Jimmy had tried to get away. Like a rat in a trap, Jimmy had no faith that God would save him. Jimmy was the man behind the curtain after all.

Rowan got Jimmy in a headlock. The older man bucked and spat. Rowan tightened his grip and Jimmy sagged, gagging. He pressed his lips to Jimmy’s left ear.

“You’re not a god, Jimmy. You’re not chosen. You’re… nothing,” Rowan whispered and Jimmy mewled in terror as he felt the ever cold blade at his throat.  “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Jimmy bled and Jimmy died. There was no chorus of angels. There were just weeping, terrified people and the dead. Rowan moved to escape. But then someone shone a flashlight on him. His head shot towards the light, even as he drew his hood down. It was Tessa.  

“Are you…” Tessa said and paused, “are you…”

“Get away from it, Tessa!” Her mother cried.

Rowan straightened. They had seen him.  They could attack him. They could report what they’d seen to the police.  He needed to do something to protect himself.

Will you kill them, too? I thought you were here to save Tessa not hurt her, Rowan,  Jack’s voice asked.

Rowan pointed at Tessa’s parents. His voice did not sound like his own as he said, “Parents are gods in their children’s lives.  Remember that.”

And then he moved. He couldn’t quite remember how he got out of the basement, up the stairs and then out of the house. He was in the woods, almost to the back road where Olivia would be waiting for him with a fresh set of clothes, a fire and the car when he came fully back to himself.

His breath frosted the air in front of him. He’d pulled down the gaiter around his neck. He wrenched back the hood. He could see the flames of the campfire, hot enough to burn his clothes.  He stripped off the hoodie just as he stepped into the firelight. 

Olivia, a woman who could have been any age between twenty-five and fifty, was gracefully crouched before the fire. Her red hair in its severe bob barely moved as she stood to greet him.

“You’re later than I thought you’d be,” Olivia said, her voice low and pleasant with a hint of the British accent that she hadn’t lost in nearly thirty years of living in the United States. “Did anything go wrong?”

“No. Yes. Maybe.”

“So elucidating.”  A crooked smile appeared on her lips.

“They might have seen me,” he answered with a grimace.

She stiffened. “Before or after?”

“After. But what does that matter? They saw me,” he insisted.

He tossed the hoodie into the fire. It immediately began to smoke and then lit up. Gaiter, boots, pants and gloves all went into the fire. But not the dagger. The fire wasn’t hot enough to melt it even if he had intended to get rid of it. He wrapped it in the soft cloth he always carried it in. The blade was not bloody--it never got bloody--though it should have been. Rowan ignored that fact.  Olivia handed him a washcloth soaked in a bleach solution. He washed himself thoroughly.

“You know that this is not necessary,” she said. “They won’t catch you.”

“Because I’m a Dark One and the Devil will protect me?” He paused in his cleaning and gave her a disbelieving look.

They didn’t talk about this anymore. She had her beliefs. She didn’t share them. He ignored she had them.

She said nothing, just met his gaze coolly with her hazel eyes.

“They saw me, Olivia. Not my face. But my build. My--”

“It won’t matter,” Olivia said with such certainty that it almost sounded true. “You’re keeping the dagger, aren’t you?”


“That if you truly deep down believed you could be caught you would have gotten rid of it a long time ago,” she pointed out. “But you don’t even clean it.”

“It doesn’t need cleaning.”

“Really?” She lifted her right eyebrow. “How does that work? No microscopic traces of blood, bone, or flesh on the blade or the handle? Hardly logical if it is a normal weapon.”

She had a point. A good point. An excellent point.  He stared at the wrapped dagger. He should throw it into the ocean. There were bridges on their way back to the city. He could toss it out there.  This was the blade that killed his sister after all. He should be free of it. But he found himself handing it to Olivia in its wrapping to be placed in the car’s trunk.

Feeling nettled, he decided to make a point of his own, “If you really thought I was a Dark One--”

“Would I be here helping clean you up after a murder? A righteous murder, but a murder nonethless and not the first, Rowan?” she asked.

Rowan grimaced. “My parents wanted to kill me because they thought I was a mythical being before I did any of this.”

I only kill those that deserve it. Those who need to be stopped.

“I want to help you, because you’re you. Not out of faith.” Olivia smiled thinly. “I know you couldn’t respect me if I believed in anything like that.”

But she did believe in the same things his parents had. Only she wanted to help him, not hurt him.  What did that mean about her?

He tossed the washcloth in the fire before he pulled on the well-tailored gray pants. 

“It’s madness that I ever told you about all this,” he said as he drew on the icy, white shirt. “That I dragged you into it.”

“You couldn’t have hidden it from me.” She turned her head and her hair shifted to the side, showing the shiny skin of a terrible burn scar. “If you cannot trust me, who can you trust?”

He buttoned the shirt, enjoying the sensual slide of fine Egyptian cotton over his chest. There was a faint ring that had him freezing. Olivia drew a phone out of her back pocket.

“Olivia!” he growled. “Those can be traced--”

“No, not this one. Calls are routed,” she said as she glanced at the caller ID. She let out a breath.

“What? Who is it?” he asked sharply.

She looked up at him with a carefully neutral expression on her face and said, “You’ll be glad I have this.” 

She held the phone out to him so he, too, could see the caller ID.

His lips felt numb as he whispered, “Jack.”

  • Ahhh... Old Ones and the darkness. I love the dark overtones of this one. I love stories with strong contrast and this one has it in spades!

    I would say I love everything in the Winter Haven Universe. ?

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  • honestly, I am really surprised by how dark this IMMEDIATELY starts out as, though I really should not have been the art is a bit of a giveaway.
    This is 40k levels of dark, the good guy almost literally being a 40k rogue inquisitor using the powers of chaos (or in this case having them thrust upon him) and then needing this dark thing inside of him to actually do his job when so-called "justice" fails once again.
    I can see plenty of people being extremly uncomfortable with this story when THE FIRST CHAPTER is this messed up.
    But on the other hand it let's everybody know what they're in for and hoensty is the best policy.

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  • All I need to make this story any better is a roaring fire, glass of wine and glass refilled lol

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  • Oh! I'm glad that I'm back here. I can't get enough Raythereign. It's all good.

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  • Ah yes! Can’t get enough of Raythe’s dark stories <3 this will be amazing I just know. So excited when a new story gets going, all the possibilities, something to look forward to, and Raythe does such an awesome job listening to feedback and winding so many crucial details into a story to make it so multifaceted, it’s always *chefs kiss* perfection

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  • I was curious but now I'm interested! I need more and I can't wait to see what happens next!

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  • In reply to: astrile

    Oh, yeah!!! I'm glad you checked it out! A lot more to come.

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  • DUN DUN DUN! İ am so glad the leaders of that cult are dead. Call me cruel but I felt that killing them was crucial to stopping the cult. The justice system is wack as they obviously can't comprehend - or won't comprehend - what's happening. So cheers to the deaths of those bastards!

    Something I found interesting was Rowan's veiw of his identity. It's clear that he has been struggling to accept this alien part of himself; to accept that he is different from everyone else. I feel like he wants to prove his parents wrong in the sense that he is not inherently evil and wrong. But then his senses or abilities (whatever it is) kick in and he has moments where he can be ruthless and cruel. It's funny to see him constantly rejecting and ignoring his abilities in order to have his world make sense. But then see the flip switch and his ruthless personal surges out.

    Another interesting thing is how Jack (Jack's spirit?) pops in every now and then and reels back Rowan's ruthlessness. Kind of guides and tames Rowan back to the task at hand. I can't wait to see them reunited again. It's only the first chapter but I'm already hooked!

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  • In reply to: Mel-Vanni

    İ am so glad the leaders of that cult are dead. Call me cruel but I felt that killing them was crucial to stopping the cult.
    I worried that it wouldn't be sympathetic enough b/c of the brutality/ease of the killings, but that's his other side that comes out as you. described it.

    It's clear that he has been struggling to accept this alien part of himself; to accept that he is different from everyone else.
    Yes, very much so.

    I feel like he wants to prove his parents wrong in the sense that he is not inherently evil and wrong. But then his senses or abilities (whatever it is) kick in and he has moments where he can be ruthless and cruel.
    You described it perfectly.

    It's funny to see him constantly rejecting and ignoring his abilities in order to have his world make sense. But then see the flip switch and his ruthless personal surges out.
    He lives in deep denial which is ironic b/c he disdains that in others. He sees people as deluding themselves with religion, but he ignores what's right in front of him.

    Another interesting thing is how Jack (Jack's spirit?) pops in every now and then and reels back Rowan's ruthlessness. Kind of guides and tames Rowan back to the task at hand.
    Yes, and its going to be explosive when they are back together.

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  • DANG!!!! Dark, yes I agree, but not sure which side is darker, phew! Love the psychological turmoil inside Rowan, he definitely has some skills and not wanting to be on his bad side. Holy Moly Miss Molley Raythe! When I write one of my stories I feel my characters lead me to where I go with the story, good, bad, or otherwise and I feel like I am there with them as it unfolds; I get that is what happens to you in your stories which I think makes a great story. Me, I just write for my own pleasure, as Iam terrible in promoting, so after one published book I just I would continue for my own catharsis. This is just the first chapter of this and already so much has transpired, but also feels it just dropped out of the sky with loads of what, why, where, ... And yet we did get glimpses of all that, police where alerted, Tessa's 12 year old cousin, a previous victim reported, the law faied to convict the cult leader and made the cousin a victim all over again and ignore a 10 year olds need for help. The bad part of this beginning it has happened in our society, which just makes one want to cheer for Rowan in bringing a swift sort of justice, thus I can see why Olivia would help him, who might or might not be a former victim herself. Cannot wait for the next chapters and see how this unfolds.

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