The Devil's Daughter

By: Katee Robert

CHAPTER ONE


The girl ran.

She ran with everything she had in her, her thin arms pumping and her bare feet slapping the dirt. The long grass sliced at her skin, each piece a tiny razor blade. It hurt. Everything hurt. But if she was caught again, it would be so much worse.

Get to the road. Get to the road. Just get to the road.

Already her strength was flagging, her body failing her despite the desperation driving her on. She couldn’t stop. She couldn’t rest. She couldn’t do anything but run.

The ground changed beneath her feet, and it took her three full strides before she realized it. She turned a full circle, trying to get her bearings. It was so hard to think past the blood pounding in her head and the dozen sharp pains that screamed to make themselves known now that she’d stopped moving. Maybe I could just . . .

No.

She had to get to Clear Springs.

The irony there wasn’t lost on her, even in her current state. All she’d ever wanted was to get out of that little hellhole of a town, and here she was, putting everything she had into doing the exact opposite. She frowned, trying to see farther down the road. It shouldn’t be so difficult to figure out which way to go. She’d spent years on these little two-lane roads that crisscrossed their way through this part of Montana.

If it were day . . .

If she weren’t so tired . . .

If, if, if.

Just move. She took a deep breath and put one foot in front of the other, picking a direction at random. The words became a mantra, a promise. Just get back to town. Just get back to town, and this will all be over.

She wasn’t sure how long she’d walked before headlights cut through the darkness, blinding her. The girl went to her knees without having any intention of doing so. She lifted a shaking hand to shield her eyes. “Please.”

The driver’s side door opened, and footsteps padded over the asphalt. She squinted against the light, her heart skipping a beat at the familiar profile. “No . . .” I got away. I was so sure I got away. Behind the figure, she could make out the faint, familiar lights of Clear Springs. So close. It might as well have been the moon. She had the same likelihood of reaching it.

She tried to get to her feet, but her body failed her once again, her legs giving out. She barely caught herself before she face-planted. “Please. I’ll do whatever you want. Just please don’t hurt me anymore.”

A hand touched her head, all the more horrifying because of its gentleness. “You know I can’t make that promise.”

The girl had thought herself beyond tears, but that moment proved her wrong. She stared at her scraped and bloodied knuckles, a horrible knowledge settling in her chest. There would be no college, no life beyond the little town that had felt like a prison for most of her life, no future family where she could learn from the mistakes her parents had made.

Nothing.

There was nothing but the hand on her head and the pain lying in wait for her.



“You have to do something.”

Zach Owens had heard variations of that same demand ever since he moved back to Clear Springs and took a job as a deputy nine years ago. Now, as sheriff, he heard them a whole hell of a lot more often.

This one was different.

He sat forward and pinned both Robert and Julie Smith with a look. “You know I’ve been doing everything I can.” For three days he’d been working his ass off to figure out where the hell their daughter had wandered off to. They didn’t get missing persons a whole lot around here—if someone went missing, it was because they didn’t want to be found. He still wasn’t convinced Neveah Smith wasn’t in that category.

“This isn’t like the other times.” Tears welled in Julie’s eyes. “It’s that Martha Collins. She’s got her hooks into my girl, and she’s lured her out to that damned cesspool of sin.”

“Julie, language.”

Zach sighed. It was just like Robert Smith to call his wife out on her language when their daughter might or might not be missing. The Smiths were good people. They made a point to get to church every Sunday and do all sorts of community outreach, even if they were a little zealous about some of that shit. Julie Smith had made it her personal mission to see the cult up on that hill brought down in flames.

But it wasn’t Zach’s job to tell her that Martha Collins was too smart to start snatching teenagers off the street.

“The folks up at Elysia aren’t responsible for everything that goes sideways in Clear Springs.” In all the time he’d been back in town, he couldn’t remember a single thing they’d done that would shine the light of the law on themselves. Groups like that didn’t make it far if they weren’t able to keep their noses clean.