If You Dare

By: Jessica Lemmon

No, this year he’d rather have Lily at his side. Her ease in social situations would put him at ease. Especially this year. How the hell was he supposed to graciously accept a Designer of the Year award when he’d be surrounded by several hundred more qualified designers? Marcus could hold a pencil and talk anyone into anything, but…Designer of the Year?

Part of him suspected this awards dinner was the ultimate practical joke to get him back for the jokes he’d played on his coworkers over the years. If it wasn’t a practical joke, well…that was worse. Because then he’d be expected to give a meaningful speech about his early influences, his process, his—


The speech.

Just picturing the podium at the center of the room, imagining the white-hot lights beating down on him from overhead, caused his brow to bead with sweat. He pulled at the collar of his favorite T-shirt and imagined the noose-like bowtie knotted at the front of his neck. How was he going to stand in front of five hundred of his colleagues and not die on the spot when just thinking about the acceptance speech made him break out in hives?

A hooting owl snapped him back to the present. He could worry about the speech later. Right now, he had one mission. He knelt and dug through the costumes until his hand landed on the perfect one.

Marcus pulled the covering over his face and listened to his breath echo behind the mask.

His mission was simple. His target clear.

Scare Lily McIntire out of the house, and win the date he’d wanted since the moment he laid eyes on her.

Chapter 4

Lily folded the cover over her iPad and strained to listen to the silence hanging in the room. She swore she’d just heard something.

A voice.

Not necessarily, she thought with a shiver. She’d spent the last half hour watching an episode of Friends. Maybe she’d confused the voice on her computer with the voice still echoing inside her skull.

She moved on the air mattress until she faced the staircase behind her. The room was swathed in darkness save for the circle of light her little lantern cast around the bed. In front of her, the grainy shapes of the stairs lifted into the ominous upper floor, but the ceiling kept her from being able to see the landing. She’d spied it earlier, though, and knew there was nothing beyond the top step besides a yawning, cavernous hole. Just imagining the murky darkness made her want to curl up in that warm puddle of light and scrunch her eyes closed.

Maybe you imagined the voice.

It’d come from behind her. Right behind her. A chill clipped its way down her spine, ticking every vertebra along the way. The hair on her arms stood on end. She tried, and failed, to convince herself she hadn’t heard a voice. A voice that had spoken one word, a word now echoing in her memory like the tune of an overplayed song.


Feet on the floor, she rose from the air mattress slowly, intentionally, her eyes tracking from the staircase to the closed front door. The urge to obey the unseen entity’s command, and bolt outside as fast as her Sketchers would carry her, was strong. But the practical half of Lily’s brain—the half logical enough to know a howl of wind could have masked itself as a two-letter word—kept her rooted to the floor.

Blood pounded her eardrums as she pulled her shoulders back and attempted to listen past her jackhammering heart and jagged breaths. She watched the stairs until her eyes blurred and her forehead broke into a sweat. Come on. I know I heard it.

An untimely chime from her phone made her yip. She slapped a palm over her mouth to staunch the pathetic sound and pulled the cell from her back pocket. A text. From Marcus.

Of course.

10 pm. is all well? send me proof.

Bihourly photos were part of the bet. She’d promised to send evidence she was inside the house. A time-stamped photo from her smartphone would prove she hadn’t snapped them all in a span of five minutes then hoofed it off the property.

She tapped her camera app, lined herself up with the mostly boarded-up window behind her, held up her middle finger, and snapped the picture.

A few seconds after it sent, a return text read: ha! She could almost swear she’d heard Marcus’s deep chuckle coming from somewhere outside the house, but then she was imagining hearing a lot of things tonight, wasn’t she?

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