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Camden: Four Sons by Webster, K (1)

Prologue

Ten years old

Tick. Tick. Tick.

I watch the big hand on my watch move along with the beats of my heart.

My big brother scared him away last year.

But not for good.

He came back.

Today marks three times this summer.

Don’t look at him. Don’t think about him.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

“Such a good boy,” he rumbles, making me shiver all over.

I will not cry. Dad doesn’t like it when we cry if we fall or get hurt. “Be a man,” Dad always says. “Pearsons are tough.” I don’t feel so tough.

My eyes remain glued to my watch—the same watch my grandad, Roy, gave me on my birthday this year.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

I wish I were with Grandad in New York. I wish I were playing in the pool with my brothers. I wish I were helping Dad marinade the steaks.

Anywhere but here.

“Shhh, don’t tell your father. It’s our secret.”

My eyes remain tear free and I don’t look at him. I never do. All I offer is a clipped nod of my head, hoping he’ll go away soon.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

He rights his clothes, then slips from my room. The moment he’s gone, I let out a heavy breath of relief. Tears well in my eyes, but I quickly blink them back.

Tick. Tick. Tick.

I scrub off the mess he left on my stomach with my discarded shirt. I toss the shirt at my hamper when the door creaks back open. Terror overwhelms me, and this time, I can’t hold in my tears. The moment I see my father’s friend Mateo, I let out a choked sob before I can stop myself.

“Your dad was looking for—” He stalks toward me. I don’t flinch from Mateo. Mateo is like an uncle to me. A good uncle. “What’s wrong?”

“I-I-I…” I trail off, imploring him to reach inside my head. To pluck out what I’m too embarrassed to say.

“Bad dream?” he asks. “Eric said you were up here napping.”

Tears streak down my cheeks, and I hastily swipe them away. My room reeks with his scent. How can Mateo not smell the evil still clinging to every surface?

“Yep,” I tell him, my voice hardening. “Bad dream.”

My tears dry, and I meet Mateo’s confused stare with an emotionless one of my own.

“Anything I can do to help?” he asks softly, ruffling the hair on top of my head. Mateo is everything in a father my dad isn’t. I’ve seen how he adores his wife and daughter. Unlike my father. Just once, I wish my dad would ruffle my hair and tell me he loves me. Just once, I wish he’d charge into my room at the exact moment the monster from my dreams come to life is here. Just once, I’d love to see him rip him to shreds.

Just once.

“Camden,” Mateo tries again, his dark brows furrowed in concern. “I can help. Whatever it is, just tell me.”

Not this. I can’t tell him this.

What if he doesn’t believe me? I know Dad wouldn’t. The only person who would believe me is Nixon, and now that it’s happened three times, I’m not sure I want Nixon to know.

“Can you help me put a lock on my door? I have money saved that Grandad sent me.”

His features darken. “Is someone hurting you?”

I lift my chin and smile. My smiles have always gotten me out of trouble. Teachers, my friends’ parents, adults in general. Well, aside from one adult, and he doesn’t deserve my smiles. “Nope. I just want a lock. I’ll be a teenager soon, and teenagers need privacy.” I always hear my older brothers Hayden and Brock beating off in their rooms. Teenagers definitely need privacy.

Mateo’s face breaks into a grin—the same grin he regards his daughter Elma with. “Boy, you’re barely ten. Don’t rush growing up.”

Too late for that, Uncle Teo.

“I need one that’ll keep the monsters out,” I tell him, my bottom lip trembling despite my not wanting it to.

He doesn’t understand the monsters are real. That they don’t come from under beds or in closets, they come straight through my bedroom door. Sneaky and quick. While no one is watching.

“Come on,” he says after a long pause. “The party is getting wild out back. I’ll run you to the hardware store and we’ll grab the stuff we need. They’ll never miss us.”

I smile again.

After today, the monster won’t get back into my room. I won’t have to tell Mateo or my dad or one of my older brothers. I won’t have to tell anyone.

It’s our secret.

This time, I don’t shudder at those words.

It’s our secret—one I’ll take to my grave.