THREE WEEKS LATER
From the mainland, Jagged Island looked tiny, but as the boat speeds toward the rocky cliffs, I see that it’s much larger than I thought.
It must be, to fit a whole amusement park, hotel, and restaurants on it.
Large hills and hoops of wooden roller coasters jut out of the ground and stretch high into the sky.
Sharp black rock that looks as if someone has carved vertical shards from the surface frames the island. The amusement park sits high off the water. Waves crash against the cliff face and white foam races back into the sea.
Trees are sparse on the island but the few there are full of bushy green leaves. From here, the park is dark, wooden, and void of color.
Even with the blue ocean and clear, sunny skies, the island appears more gloomy than glamorous. I kind of like it. The Magic Kingdom isn’t my thing.
Our boat jumps over choppy water as we hurtle toward the jetty. I grip the side of the boat as my butt leaves the padded seat I’m trying to sit on.
“This looks creepy as hell,” Ava says. Ava as in BeautyFulAva. The TikTok girl who my cousin is obsessed with and who my parents want me to be more like. Absolutely not going to happen. Before I left, Ellie made me promise to ask for her autograph, but so far, Ava’s been a total brat.
Her contoured face twists in distaste as she stares at the island. Her glossy blond ponytail whips behind her in the wind. She’s as sharp as in her videos, savagely rating brands that don’t live up to her expectations. Her reputation for brutal honesty gets her a lot of attention.
Here, it might just get her hated.
We’re not her followers.
When we arrived at the harbor, she dragged three large bright pink suitcases on board the boat and acted offended when Gibson, our rather hot driver, questioned if she needed it all. I’m trying to not judge her too harshly, but she’s referred to Gibson as “the help” twice and we’ve only been on the boat for fifteen minutes.
He looks ready to throw her overboard.
“Nah, this looks awesome,” Liam replies. Liam is a gamer, though from his appearance and muscular physique he seems like more of a jock. He has a dominant personality and perfectly styled brown hair. I focused on him straightaway. It’s hard not to.
His YouTube channel is massive and he’s TikTok-famous—his TikTok has exploded. He’s a big fan of any game with violence and hits back at negative comments in the way a jock would—with complete and utter annihilation of his opponents.
He’s gorgeous and probably wouldn’t give me the time of day if we went to the same high school.
“No,” Ava says more forcefully. “It’s creepy.
Who’s going to look at an ad for this place and want to come here . . . besides goths, freaks, and serial killers?”
I wonder how much trouble I’d get in if I shoved her into the water. I doubt Gibson would care.
James wraps his arm around her shoulder. “I’ll look after you.”
It won’t be the rough sea that makes me hurl.
Ava smiles up at him with her flawless bat-winged eyes. James is a movie buff. He reviews them, makes them, dissects the continuity, and rarely rates anything higher than three stars—his only five-star review last year was for Squid Game.
He’s tall and on the skinnier side, but you can tell he works out between all that movie-watching. He has striking features. His jaw is squared, his eyes are a very dark blue, and his hair is blond and curly. He’s the only guy wearing aftershave. It’s strong, woody.
And he makes Ava giggle a lot.
I don’t know what she was expecting. The invitation was black with intricate red and gold gargoyles etched into it. All gothic and perfect and authentic.
The aesthetic is so on brand for me.
A couple days ago, I covered the tragic, historic story of five-year-old Maggie, who was murdered at the Rocky Point Amusement Park in Rhode Island. It created a buzz among my followers. Half of them are saying a private island is the perfect place for murder and the other half thinks I’m crazy to stay somewhere I can’t leave immediately if I want to.
It’s only perfect if only you and your victims know you’re there.
I’m sure I’ll find an edge to the resort; the gothic vibe will help.
We’re almost there now. I have to tip my head up to see the island. A few birds circle above like they’re searching for prey.
This weekend we get to check out the park, spend time on the rides, and hang out at the hotel spa and pool. Then Malcolm is hoping we shout great things and send all our followers to the island.
The invitation described the resort as unconventional and extraordinary. One of a kind.
The boat leaps over another wave.
My stomach flips.
Gibson is the only one who doesn’t look slightly green as we rock over choppy water. He steers the boat and smiles into the sun as we cut through the sea. His eyes are hidden behind dark aviators.
I think he’s around our age, maybe a year or two older. His earlier use of “sup” when he helped us onto the boat threw me a bit, but he’s fresh-faced and dressed in jeans and a white T-shirt. His light hair is cut quite short with a shaved line down the side.
He looks happy. Like he could race around on the ocean all day and never get bored.
Beside me, a girl named Harper grips the edge of the boat. She’s a book blogger. She reads at least one book a day and posts so much on TikTok I can’t keep up with her. But her reviews are awesome, and we had a short conversation a few months ago when she raved about a true-crime novel that I later devoured.
Her skin is dark, and her Afro is tied on top of her head. She smiles at me with her bloodred lips and pulls a well-read thriller paperback out of her bag with her free hand. The pages are so curled at the edges that it’s not a surprise that she doesn’t mind the odd splash of water on the cover.
I’m not convinced reading’s going to help her nausea.
“It’s funny,” Harper says. “I’ve swam almost every day of my life. We spent two years living in the UK, where I swam the English Channel. England to France—not all at once, like some more hard-core swimmers. But you spend all that time in the water and a boat still makes you feel sick.”
“Impressive,” I say. “How old were you?”
“Fifteen. We moved back to the States soon after. My dad did the swim too.”
“Wow. I love swimming, but I wasn’t good enough to make my school’s team,” I tell her.
“My parents don’t accept anything less than impressive. Or, rather, perfection.” She rolls her eyes and clings harder to her book.
“Why does it look depressing?” Ava says, her voice grating. She’s gripping her long ponytail and twisting it around her hand. “I’m supposed to be living it up in luxury, not slumming it on a grim, run-down island.”
“It’s not grim,” Gibson says.
Will, who’s mostly remained silent, finally speaks up. It’s not surprising that it’s a reply to the very hot Gibson. “Nothing weirds me out.”
Ava mutters something inaudible, but from the look on her face it probably wasn’t kind.
Will’s a rival beauty blogger with a slightly larger audience than Ava’s. That must be killing her. He has shiny brown hair, a fake tan, dark eyes, and smooth skin I would literally
I snap a picture of the ominous setting for a TikTok I’ll post after Malcolm takes us on the island tour. Which the itinerary boasted would happen right before we check into our rooms.
The top of the hotel comes into view. Constructed from stone with sharp points, two turrets, and carved gargoyle, the hotel is stunning. The six of us get it all to ourselves for a long weekend. We hit the jackpot.
Each of us has more than 500,000 followers. Liam is at 499,900, so he’ll be joining us soon—probably by the end of the weekend.
The second I found out who else was coming, I did my research. I’m probably most like Harper and Liam. Though we’re from wealthy families, our follower counts are higher than our bank balances.
“So, is this rich dude a psycho or something?” Will asks casually.
Copyright © 2023 by Natasha Preston. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.