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  • Writer's pictureBrianna Sugalski

READ THE FIRST TWO CHAPTERS: Koush Hollow, by Leigh Goff

“Beauty is a curse on the world for it keeps us from seeing who the real monsters are.”

In just a few days, we'll get to follow Jenna Ashby, a recently fatherless teen who has no choice but to relocate to Koush Hollow—a bayou town outside New Orleans, steeped in mysticism and deadly secrets...

Read the first two chapters today and be sure to pre-order your copy for release day, THIS TUESDAY!

Koush Hollow, by Leigh Goff CHAPTER ONE

After a savage farewell party in Atlanta two nights ago with drunk Hayley, Jessie, Jayson, and Max all dressed in cosplay and a six-hour drive yesterday to my mother’s house in Koush Hollow, I woke up in my new, old bedroom in tears. I’d seen my dad in the dream. I’d seen his ghostly gray eyes trying to convey a message to me I couldn’t understand. I peeled myself out of bed and stared at the window, white with fog that had condensed on the outside from the drenching Louisiana humidity.

You need to chill, Jenna, I reminded myself. It was August. I’d been allowed to stay in Atlanta to finish studying for the SAT chem exam and now the exam was over. So was my life in Atlanta.

I wiped my eyes and sighed. I was back in Koush Hollow where life moved as slowly as nuclear decay.

I shoved the grief-filled thought from my mind and turned around. I stared at the crumpled, purple bedspread that I had to have when I was five. It was still in good condition and the star pattern matched the curtains around the window. Ivory walls surrounded me and a plush ivory rug covered most of the hardwood floor. The antique white dresser was something Rayna had picked out, but I’d set my science “trophies on top to counter the fancy. And on the matching night table sat the kitschy mambo doll that Dad had given me years ago. I picked it up and lingered over it for a moment before setting it down and heading into the attached lavender bathroom. I showered and dressed before heading downstairs for breakfast.

The two-story, plantation-style house possessed a grand foyer, a sweeping staircase, and an elaborate front door just like something from Gone With the Wind, except with air conditioning. Outside, an old-fashioned portico supported by tall, alabaster columns stretched across the front. The museum-like, white interior was adorned with expensive paintings and intricate woodwork, although I had noticed spots of dry rot in the moldings where the paint had chipped away. There were six Beaux-Arts fireplaces on the main floor and an addi“tional two upstairs, not that they were ever lit because winter temperatures in Louisiana never dipped below sixty degrees.

In the quaint white kitchen that had everything a cook needed, the days-old smell of bacon and onions clung to the air. The wood floors were clean with only a few water damaged spots and the white marble countertop that once shimmered like glass had dulled over time.

Next to the coffeemaker, I spotted a pastry box from Beck-N-Call Café. I peeked inside at the fried dough pillows topped with mounds of delicate powdered sugar. I really was back. I heated up a mug of strong, black tea and sipped.

“Good morning, Jennifer. I had beignets delivered this morning for you.”

I spun around and coughed. A spurt of brown liquid trickled out and over my lower “lip, and I wiped it off with the back of my hand.

Rayna stood there in her work outfit, a black pencil skirt and buttoned-up, gray silk blouse. Her appearance was smooth and perfect, just the way she liked it. She always dressed professionally, even on the weekends, which worked for her since she had no idea how to chill. She stared at me patiently with pale eyes. “Napkin, please.” She had her voluminous, brown hair cut in a stylish bob and her strong shoulders were set squarely upon her frame.

I reached for the tea towel hanging by the sink and wiped.

“We don’t wipe, we dab and use a cloth napkin, not the kitchen towels.”

She was a stickler for good manners.

I leaned against the countertop. “Hey, Rayna, thanks for letting me stay with Chloe the last few months, so I could finish the prep course in Atlanta.”It was easier to finish the prep course in Atlanta.” I couldn’t believe she’d allowed that one. Chloe, my dad’s girlfriend, wasn’t at the top of any of Rayna’s good lists.

There was an icy pause. “You know I don’t like that.”

Oops. I’d gotten used to referring to her by her first name when I was living in Atlanta. She wasn’t the warm and fuzzy kind of mother so it seemed more natural to call her by her first name, even though she hated it. “Sorry, Mama.”

“Well, Atlanta’s behind you now.”

I knew it was, but I couldn’t say it out loud. “I plan to stay in touch with my friends, and I’m still dating Max. It’s just gonna be long distance.” Regrettably.

“Maybe it’s time to focus on making new friends at your new school.”

At least school would be a distraction from what she had planned for me. She’d hinted at it the last few months on the phone. “I’m not giving up my Atlanta friends because I have to live in Koush Hollow.”

“You’d be surprised what Koush Hollow has to offer a Diamonds & Pearls legacy.”

I scrunched up my face and thought about the two vodka minis from my farewell party that I’d tucked into my top dresser drawer when I unpacked. I knew I’d need them. On top of grieving, Rayna had plans for me and there’d be no getting around them. Alcohol would be my only escape. It would be temporary, but I’d take temporary over nothing. I pulled out my phone and shot off a quick text to Hayley and Jessie to thank them for the minis.

“Speaking of our club.”

"You mean your club and how could I forget?” The Diamonds & Pearls was an old, southern social club that had been headed by the women in my family for generations—a tradition, no, a tortured requirement that I wanted nothing to do with.

“The ladies are thriving. Ms. Marjorie Thibodeaux’s two daughters are both Pearls now along with Ms. Melanie Chen’s two daughters. Oh, you should have seen the gowns they wore to last year’s Royale Regatta Ball.”

Her voice was tinged with expectation. However, all I could think was, Yeah, their gowns are so much more chat worthy than me being captain of the Eco Green Team.

“What were Ms. Melanie’s girls’ names? Maisy, Daisy, something like that?” It had been a while since she’d mentioned them.

“You mean Maisy and Madeline.”

“Ah, that’s right. She named them after kiddie book characters.”

“No, she didn’t.” She paused. “Please spare me your sarcasm.”

I quietly chuckled. “I didn’t mean to be sarcastic.” I kind of did. “I seriously couldn’t remember. I have been mostly gone for eleven years and if—”

“If your father hadn’t passed away, you’d still be in that congested city you love, right? Outside of holidays and half the summers, what about me being here all these years without you?”

I thumped my forehead with the palm of my hand as I started to fall into the guilt trap, before I realized. “Wait a minute. You don’t get to make me feel bad when I already feel dreadful.”

A soft sigh escaped her lips. “It’s been six months.”

I clenched my hands into fists so hard my knuckles paled to white. “How long did you grieve for your mother when she died?”

“I understand...” Exasperation underscored her tone. She lacked empathy, but she loved me, and I knew that deep down she understood.

I inhaled a deep breath. “It doesn’t matter. I’m…” I hesitated, “I’m sure I’ll get used to being back again.” I wanted to be optimistic, but I doubted my return to Koush Hollow was a good thing.

“Good. Let’s start this conversation over.”

I nodded and her frown lifted. “Did you see the new clothes in your closet? Aunt Mary picked up some things I ordered for you.”

I was thankful Aunt Mary still lived with Rayna. She was a nurturing woman who always took care of me when I was sick and offered a listening ear and encouragement when I needed it. She also acted as the marshmallow and melted chocolate between the two graham crackers that were Rayna and me. “Where is she? I didn’t see her when I got in last night.”

“She had dinner with a friend yesterday and stayed over. She’ll be here later today.”

Aunt Mary was a family friend who had basically raised my mother because my grandmother, although devoted to my mother, had also been devoted to work—another family tradition. Aunt Mary officially moved in a few years after Mamaw and Aunt Mary’s husband Paul passed away.

“You mentioned that she’s helping you with paperwork at the power plant?”

“We’ve got quite a few important projects going on at work and she needed extra money.”

Aunt Mary wasn’t a big spender or into material things so I couldn’t imagine working any harder than she was at her age. “Is she planning a bucket list trip or something?”

“You’d have to ask her,” she said elusively.

“Huh. Maybe I will. So what kind of clothes did you pick out?” I hadn’t even checked in the closet when I’d arrived last night, but I already suspected what was in there. Changing my style was the first step in her plan to assimilate me. She’d make me Diamonds & Pearls pretty in no time, and I planned to have nothing to do with it.

“One more thing. This year’s Royale Regatta Ball is only a few weeks away, and I know you’re as excited as I am.”

The annual regatta took place on the lake, followed by a fancy ball for Koush Hollow’s socially prominent. I remembered thinking how glam it all seemed when I was a kid, but it didn’t fit with who I was. “Puh-lease. I don’t do balls, regatta or otherwise.”

The muscles in her face went taut forming an expression she reserved for when she had run out of patience with me. “In Koush Hollow you do.” Her cool tone took me aback for a moment. “I’m afraid your attendance is set in stony coral, and I’ve already enlisted two Pearls to get you ready”

She’d started out as a marine biologist before finding a career at the power plant so she’d used enough technical terms over the years for me to know that stony coral was one of nature’s hardest substances. As a science nerd, I knew it was harder than granite on the Mohs scale.

We’d see about the stony coral part. “Hey, Mama.”