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Chapter One

If I’ve learned anything in life, it’s this—good looks will only get you so far, and only for a limited time. I’m beautiful, or so I’ve been told, but when I open my mouth the beauty fades, and poison drips from my tongue. A friend once nicknamed me Belladonna, beautiful yet deadly. I’ve been called a lot of other names too, but I’ll save you the assault and tell you none are pleasing to the ear. I’m sure there was a time in my life I was a sweet and innocent child, but I don’t remember such a time. As far back as I can remember, I have always had to fend for myself. And when you grow up the way I did, you can’t help but be heartless and hardened.


I saw things no eighteen-year-old should see, and I did a lot worse in the name of survival. Maybe that’s why I hated Knox so much, his innocence? I can’t be sure. Well, that’s not entirely true, but we’ll get to that later in the story. In the first eighteen years of my life, I made only one friend I truly trusted, but she left me alone and broken in ways that will never mend. Thinking of her now, I suppose I’ve learned two things in life. Beauty fades, and don’t do drugs.


I guess I could simply tell you my life was crummy, leave it there and tell you I’m sorry I was a royally screwed up kid who didn’t know up from down most days of the week, but what fun would it be to give you the abbreviated version when I can tell you the whole thing? Every excruciating detail wrapped with a not-so-pretty bow, laid out for you to examine and judge for yourself. I don’t particularly care what people think of me anyway, so I’m happy to give you the play-by-play, complete with all the gory details. You can figure me out the same way Knox did, one hit of misery at a time.


It began a few weeks after my eighteenth birthday—miserable weeks spent living in one run-down hotel or another after getting kicked out of the group home. Aging out, that’s what they called it. As if, in some way, I had outgrown being an orphan and should just move on with my life. It was a definitive line chiseled in stone and just as cold. Under eighteen, you get to spend your days in a crummy group home with other less than fortunate kids or with a foster family who likely only took you in for the government paycheck. After eighteen, the only person whose problem you are is you, and maybe the police if you weren’t good flying under the radar.


I spent the better part of the day figuring out where I would sleep, praying I wouldn’t end up in the rundown warehouse where I used to hide those times I ran away from the group home. I couldn’t tell you what any of the teachers were rambling on about that day, or any day really. I only went to school to get two free meals and to stay out of trouble. Well, as much trouble as I could. I rarely paid attention in class, too distracted with planning my survival, but I managed to get good grades regardless.


Thinking of high school gives me a headache. I’ve gotta tell you, I think school is a big waste of time and energy. I didn’t learn a thing I will ever use in real life. Real life, you know, that thing outside of the drama of teenage life where real people do real things. Seriously, who really thinks cheerleading, drama club, or mathletes will get you somewhere in life when you leave school? The only thing high school is good for is setting you up for failure. They build you up, make you feel entitled and special, and fill your head with unrealistic expectations of life. Then you graduate only to discover you’re not so special, and life doesn’t really care what you want or expect—at least, that’s what I used to think.


Maybe I would have enjoyed high school if people had liked me, but then I’d have to give a crap about their feelings, so perhaps not. I’m not sure there’s any way to enjoy watching hordes of teenage girls throw themselves at boys solely because they’re hot and can throw a football. It’s just as uncomfortable as watching those same boys chase girls because their legs were loose as, well, maybe I’ll mind my manners a little. Most of the time, I felt like I was the only one who had any idea what real life was like. I didn’t worry about the same things other girls my age had the privilege of worrying about. Who will I go to prom with? Did you hear, Sally’s boyfriend is cheating on her with Leslie? I wonder what kind of car Daddy will get me for graduation? Oh gosh, are my shoes still in style? I didn’t have time for such nonsense. My worries were real. Where will I sleep? When will I eat again? Will I have enough money to put a roof over my head?


Those were the questions on my mind when Knox walked by, laughing loudly with his friends, seemingly without a care in the world. Of all the ignoramuses in school, he was the worst of them. I swear, nothing ever phased him. It was like he had a forcefield around him and bad stuff just bounced right off. To be honest, I think it bounced off him and hit me square in the face. I guess he never really did anything wrong, certainly nothing that warranted the horrible things I did to him, but at the time I couldn’t bring myself to care. I just didn’t like him. I mean, yeah, he had a nice face. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit I ogled it a time or two, but looking at him didn’t mean I had to like him. In fact, finding him attractive only irritated me further.


Knox waltzed by without so much as acknowledging my existence, and something in me snapped. It was the last straw. I knew I’d be sleeping in another sleazy motel and eating expired food from a vending machine for dinner, so my mood was already super pleasant. I decided then and there I would show him what real life was like. I’d show him the atrocities of the world, what it felt like to suffer, how easy it was to lose everything in one fell swoop. I would ruin the beautiful picture he called life. I would ruin him.


The unfortunate reality of my situation was lost on me. I had no idea the number of ways my plan could backfire, but I don’t think it would have mattered even if I had. I had several classes with Knox, and every time I saw him my mind wandered to my plan. I was so consumed with the idea of bringing him down to my level of misery, there was no room in my mind for any other thoughts. Certainly not thoughts of how it could all go wrong.


I sat in the back of every class, staring at the back of his head. The fact that he did not feel my stare boring holes into his brain maddened me beyond belief, especially since it gave me a migraine. He sat with his friends, laughing and joking before the late bell rang, then took notes like a good little student the entire hour. All the while, I plotted and schemed. Every laugh that escaped his lips sounded like the screech of nails on a chalkboard. Every word like two pieces of Styrofoam rubbing together.


I made it through most of the day before the sight of him made me too angry to focus, and I couldn’t take it anymore. When he walked into the fourth class we had together, said hello to the three people seated in front of me, skipped over me, and said hello to the brand-new, never-been-seen-before girl who had recently relocated from Kentucky, I screamed internally. Why do you ignore me? The new girl giggled, and it was all I could do to keep myself from turning around, ripping out her vocal cords and shaking her until she could see Knox for what he really was—a fake.


American Literature, I hated the class as it was since there wasn’t a thing I learned that was of any use in my survival, but it was also the one class we had together that Knox sat at the rear of the classroom. I shifted in my chair constantly, crossing and uncrossing my legs, tapping my pencil with frustration. Does he even see me? It drove me absolutely bonkers that I didn’t know what he was looking at, and that it could very well be me, the loser sociopath everyone avoided. I am certain the new girl thought I was insane, and she was probably right, but I was more concerned that I would explode from agitation before the bell rang than her opinion of my inability to sit still.


When fate finally took mercy on my tortured soul, and the bell rang, Knox said goodbye to everyone in sight. Everyone except me. That agitation, the crawling feeling I suffered through the whole class was ready to erupt from my mouth in a stream of expletives that would make a sailor blush, so rather than get detention, I decided it was best to leave school a little early and avoid the last class we shared.


I learned all the best ways to leave campus without being detected early in my freshman year, but it mattered very little since no one noticed my presence most days let alone my absence. I snuck out two hours early, and headed to the cheapest hotel I knew of that wasn’t too far into the bad side of town. The attendant paid more attention to the soap opera blaring on the television than she did me, par for the course. She handed me a key and a towel that was stained an unsavory shade of yellow, then sat back down on her rickety chair and resumed her verbal assault on the characters who evidently were stupid, cheating jerks.


I stopped at the vending area on my way to the room and stocked up on snacks that were still in date, lucky me. The moment I turned the key in the lock I was disgusted, but I had no other options. The carpet was stained and riddled with cigarette holes, and the comforter on the bed wasn’t much better. I turned on the water, grateful that it ran clear, and not the vomit-brown shade that poured from the faucets at the hotel across the street.


I sat in the gaudy turquoise chair that was strategically placed to hold up one side of the table, a fact I discovered when everything on the table slid off and crashed to the floor when I pulled the chair out. I sighed, accepting my quarters for the night and dug into my gourmet meal of potato chips and peanuts. My mind buzzed with the idea of Knox Harris. The vision of him laughing invaded my thoughts, and I couldn’t wait to bring him down a notch or two. We’ll see who gets the last laugh, pretty boy.


My plan was simple, at least, that’s how it started out. I made a list. My Hit List, if you will—a list of the many ways I could hit Knox where it hurt, everything he cherished in his perfect life. I knew exactly where I would start, and a wicked smile tugged at my lips. Lauren Wade.


Knox’s girlfriend would be the first victim, and I absolutely could not wait to see the look on his face when he realized his perfect little princess was nothing more than a two-bit hussy. I folded my list and tucked it safely into my bag, pleased to have a project to keep my mind off my own crappy life. What a project it was, the demolition of a boy’s innocence. The Demolition Project. It had a nice ring to it, don’t you think?


I reluctantly shifted my focus to my homework, but it didn’t take me near as long to finish it as I would have liked. While others hated homework, I liked it because it was a distraction from everything else. All I had was school, work, and survival. Lather, rinse, repeat. I welcomed homework that broke the boredom of sitting alone in a hotel room that rarely had a functioning television, let alone cable.


When my work was completed and rechecked three times, I shoved everything back into my backpack, then climbed on top of the bed and tried to settle my mind. I checked the clock, an hour before nightfall. I had planned to gather my evidence against Lauren the next day, but why put off until tomorrow the devastation you can cause today? I grabbed the room key along with my bike key and headed toward Lauren’s house to see what her plans were for the evening.


Lauren Wade was a loose one, plain and simple, but her naïve boyfriend was as clueless as they came. But if I'm fair, I’m not sure anyone in the entire school had a clue who Lauren really was since her late-night activities were usually had on the other side of town, where most of the population of Orchard Park High School wouldn’t be caught dead. Most nights I didn’t have a choice in the matter. The motels were cheaper on that side of town, and I had to conserve funds wherever possible. I wish I’d had a camera the first night I saw her leaving one of the hotel rooms in nothing more than a scrap of fabric that barely covered her lady bits.


I’m not sure why Knox dated her to begin with. She was the polar opposite of him, nasty to the core. A mean-spirited girl who derived pleasure from torturing her underlings—in other words, the entire school. Opposites attract, I guess. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. When I was finished their relationship would be obliterated, and he could figure out what to do about his cluelessness on his own. I can hear you judging me from here, but if you think about it, I did him a favor. Lauren was going to break his heart eventually, may as well take advantage of the situation and get a little satisfaction in the process. And oh, was it satisfying.


I parked my bike a block from her house and staked it out for an hour and a half before she finally emerged, dressed as the perfect little saint she pretended to be. She got into her car and immediately began changing. She let her hair down and applied a thick layer of hooker-red lipstick. Okay, so maybe it wasn’t hooker-red. Actually, I think it was the same shade I used, but that’s not the point. The point is, she transformed from princess to—something else—in less than sixty seconds.


I followed the black Mercedes to the other side of town and parked in a darkened corner of the hotel lot. Hiding in the shadows was difficult. It usually is when you ride a loud motorcycle, but I managed to go unnoticed. She was clueless herself, or perhaps the better word would be self-absorbed. When she got out of her car, I was a little stunned. Lauren was beautiful for sure, there was never any doubt about that—long blonde hair, bright emerald-green eyes with a fiery spark, sun-kissed skin, killer body. I totally saw why guys went for her, but that’s the thing—I saw it all, right there on display for anyone who cared to glance in her direction. The sheer fabric of her outfit was easy to see through even from across the parking lot, and her black thong underwear peeked out from beneath the hemline of her shirt (because I’m here to tell you, that was no dress).


I snapped a few photos as she strutted her stuff all the way to the second floor of the hotel, knocked on the door to room 239, and sauntered right into our high school principal’s rented-by-the-hour motel room. I couldn’t snap the photos fast enough. My finger cramped, but I was determined to get a decent shot to take her down. I can’t believe Lauren Wade is sleeping with Principal Taylor.


The sight made my stomach turn. Lauren was only seventeen and catching her sleeping around with a man three times her age disgusted me. As much as I wanted to ruin Knox, I had the sudden urge to ruin Principal Taylor a whole lot more. My priority shifted momentarily, and I did what any completely insane person would do. I climbed the stairs and began snapping pictures through the partially opened blinds. I know what you’re thinking, don’t deny it. I’m not a pervert, and no, I did not stick around long enough to see what he did to her. The evidence I had was damning enough, not to mention it was downright illegal.


Suddenly, the thought of spending a night in a shady motel made me feel more filthy than usual, especially after witnessing Principal Taylor preparing to violate an innocent… Okay, there was nothing innocent about Lauren, but still, it was gross. I couldn’t stand the thought of driving back across town and sleeping on a bed that looked like mine did, so I took the hit for forty bucks and drove to a different hotel. I opted to spend a little extra cash for one closer to town, one of those extended stay places you pay for a week at a time. At least I would have a home for a week. The place had a business office with free internet (and a full breakfast buffet—yummy), so bonus for me.


After checking in and getting settled, I downloaded the photos to a flash drive for safe-keeping, then emailed them to our vice principal, Ms. Raymond. She was the only person in school I remotely liked. On more than one occasion she let me slide early from detention, and once she brought pizza for all the “delinquent” kids paying their after-school dues. She had a soft spot for the troubled kids, something I appreciated even if I didn’t understand. I assumed she had her own story. That, or it made her feel charitable.


Principal Taylor was sure to get his soon enough, but Knox was my target, and I set to work exacting my revenge for… well, for being perfect. The plan was simple. The next morning, I would text him the photographs of his sweet little angel doing the devil’s dirty work. The only problem? I had no idea what his phone number was. It was time for a little human contact, not that contact of any kind with Knox would be enjoyable, but sometimes you’ve just gotta suck it up and take one for the team. The bed in the new hotel was comfortable, and I fell asleep quickly dreaming of the torture I would bestow on the unsuspecting boy in less than ten hours.

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Prologue

Knox was a good guy. You know the type—the boy all mothers adore and all fathers approve for their daughter based on his over-the-top...

Chapter Two

When I woke the next morning, I was surprised to find myself looking forward to school. I was further surprised by the hot water that...

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