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By: Julie Garwood

PROLOGUE


On the night of May 11 at precisely eight forty-five in the evening, Finn MacBain stopped being a colossal pain in the ass and grew up. He also became a hero.

Until that Saturday evening, he and his twin brothers, Beck and Tristan, had caused all sorts of mischief. They were daredevils and loved to play pranks.

Neighbors cringed when they saw them coming. The brothers weren’t bad boys. They were just idiots . . . according to their father, anyway. Smart as whips, but still idiots. Over the years they had built up quite a repertoire of stunts, like the time they strung a zip line from the roof of their house to a huge walnut tree in the wooded area behind the backyard. There was just enough of a downward slope to send them flying. Unfortunately, they didn’t anticipate the impact of reaching the tree at the bottom, and they were lucky they didn’t break any bones. And then there was the time they tried to build a trampoline. Their parents couldn’t even think about that one without shuddering. That was the day they got rid of their chain saw.

The boys especially enjoyed playing jokes on one another. Setting alarm clocks to sound off in the middle of the night, making all sorts of ridiculous things fall when their victim opened his closet door, or wrapping their prey in his bed with Saran Wrap while he slept—their imaginations worked overtime.

The boys didn’t limit their tricks just to the family. They had fun with the neighbors as well. When their neighbors the Hillmans returned from their week-long vacation, they found yellow crime-scene tape circling their house and a chalk outline of a body—compliments of Beck—drawn on their sidewalk. The Hillmans weren’t amused.

The MacBain brothers were also shockingly ungraceful. It was a fact that the three of them couldn’t seem to walk through a room without tripping over their own feet and crashing into a wall or a table. They were growing so fast, it simply wasn’t possible to be agile. They were rambunctious, loud, and loved to laugh. Even though they were constantly told to “take it outside,” they still got into push-and-shove fights inside the house. Heads and shoulders went through drywall too many times to count, and their home was in a perpetual state of repair. Their parents, Devin and Laura MacBain, put the contractor’s phone number on speed dial.

The boys were handsome devils, all approaching six feet, though barely in their teens. Finn, the oldest of the siblings and the ringleader in most of their schemes, was fourteen and still hadn’t shown the least inclination to stop growing. Like his brothers, he attended an all-boys Jesuit high school and was an honor student. He aced every test thrown at him, had a phenomenal memory, and according to his frustrated teachers, wasn’t living up to his potential. He breezed through advanced classes and didn’t challenge himself because he didn’t have to. He was lazy in that respect. He was also easily bored, and there were times when he actually fell asleep in American History class. Finn didn’t have much passion for anything but girls, swimming, football, and having a good time. A school counselor told his parents that their son was too smart for his own good, which didn’t make a lick of sense to them. How could anyone be too smart? Several teachers called Finn arrogant, which Finn’s father decided was code for smart-ass.

Everything about Finn was a contradiction. His IQ was in the genius range, and on paper he was the perfect 4.0 student, but he also had been in more fights than Muhammad Ali. He couldn’t seem to walk from one end of the block to the other without punching one or more of the Benson boys.

Finn had a rascal’s grin and a sparkle in his eyes. He also had a powerful fist and a right hook that was lightning quick. Though he really didn’t have much of a temper—it took a lot to get him riled—he couldn’t abide a bully, and each of the seven Benson boys was exactly that. They preyed on the younger boys and girls in the neighborhood and got a real kick out of making them cry. All the kids knew they could go to Finn for help if they were being tormented. He wasn’t afraid to stand up to the bullies, no matter how many of them there were.

When Devin saw his son’s latest black eye, he remarked to his wife that Finn had many fine qualities, but he was lacking in common sense. How else could he explain why his son would take on seven Bensons at the same time?

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