Following the epic conclusion of her internationally bestselling Women of the Otherworld series, Kelley Armstrong launches a brand-new series set in Cainsville, a small town as spookily fascinating as Stephen King's Castle Rock or Dean Koontz's Moonlight Bay.
Olivia Taylor Jones, 24, seems to have the perfect life. The only daughter of a wealthy Chicago family, she has an Ivy League education, pursues volunteerism and philanthropy, and is engaged to a handsome young tech-firm CEO with political ambitions. But Olivia's world is shattered when she finds out that she's adopted. Her real parents? Todd and Pamela Larsen, notorious serial killers, each still serving a life sentence.
The news brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity to her adopted family and fiancé, and Olivia thinks the best thing she can do for herself and for them is run away from it all. She ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois, an old and cloistered community that takes a particular interest in both Olivia and her decision to uncover the truth about her birth parents. Olivia decides to focus on the Larsens' last crime, the one Pamela Larsen swears will prove their innocence. But as she and Gabriel Walsh, Pamela's former lawyer, start investigating, Olivia finds herself drawing on abilities that have remained hidden since her childhood, gifts that make her both a valuable addition to Cainsville and deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies. There are dark secrets behind her new home, and powers lurking in the shadows that have their own plans for her.
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KELLEY ARMSTRONG is the bestselling author of the Women of the Otherworld series, the Nadia Stafford crime series, and two bestselling YA trilogies, Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising. She lives in rural Ontario.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Eden crawled into the living room, the rough carpet burning her chubby knees and hands. As boots slapped the hall floor, she went still, holding her breath. Had he heard her?
The footsteps stopped. She leaned back around the doorway and peeked down the dark hall. There was no sign of him. Not yet. But he’d come for her. He always did.
She crept a little farther, resisting the urge to leap to her feet and run. He’d hear her if she ran.
Once she was past the big chair, she stopped and looked around. The long table in front of the sofa had a cupboard. She opened the door, wincing at the click. The space was big enough to squeeze into, but it was full of books and magazines.
She glanced back at the big chair. It was too far from the wall. If she hid behind it, he’d see her as soon as he came around the corner. But the sofa? Yes! She flattened onto her stomach. Then she wriggled backward until her legs were all the way under and—
Her bum hit the frame and stopped her. She tried again, squirming madly, but she couldn’t get under. Maybe if she went in headfirst. She tugged herself forward and—
She was stuck. She wiggled as hard as she could, the carpet burning her knees, but she couldn’t get loose, and she was sure any moment now he’d—
She popped out. She took a second to catch her breath. Then she turned around to go in headfirst and—
Her head wouldn’t fit under, either.
What about behind the sofa? If she could move it out a little, she could get in there. She grabbed the leg with both hands and pulled. It wobbled but didn’t move.
The footsteps started again, slow and steady. Coming her way? She swallowed and tried to listen, but her heart was pounding so hard she could barely hear.
She skittered from between the table and sofa and glanced at the hall leading to the bedrooms. Lots of hiding places back there. Better hiding places. If she could—
She dove for the sofa and pushed it forward just enough so she could squish in behind. She tried to look back to make sure her feet were hidden, but she couldn’t tell. She wiggled in a little farther, and then she pressed her hands to her mouth. If she made any noise—any at all—he’d find her. She lay on the carpet, trying not to sniff the old cat pee as she made herself as small as possible.
Footsteps thudded into the room. And stopped. When Eden squeezed her eyes shut, she could hear the slight rasp of his breathing. She pictured him there, brushing his shaggy blond hair from his eyes as he scanned the empty room.
“Eden?” he called.
His boots swished on the carpet as he took a few more steps. He sucked in a breath. “She’s gone. Oh my God, Pammie, our baby’s gone!”
Eden pressed her fist into her mouth to stifle a laugh. Mommy’s soft sigh wafted from the kitchen as she told Daddy— again—not to use language like that in front of their daughter.
“But she’s disappeared!” he said. “Call the police! Call the fire department! Call the clown brigade!”
“Speaking of clowns . . .” her mother teased.
Eden’s body shook with silent giggles.
“Our baby is gone! All that’s left is this shoe.” He dropped to his knees by the sofa. “Wait, there’s a foot in it.”
Eden twisted around, pulling her leg in.
“Oh, no! Now she’s completely disapp—”
Eden backed out of her hiding place and launched herself into Daddy’s arms. He scooped her up and twirled her around. She closed her eyes as the air whipped past, smelling of Daddy’s spicy aftershave. Much better than the cat pee from the old owners, but when she was spinning, the smell made her tummy spin, too. She didn’t tell him to stop, though. She’d never tell him to stop.
Daddy tossed her onto the sofa. The bright red pillows scattered as she landed. He picked up one and tucked it under her. Then he bent on one knee.
“I’m sorry, sweetheart, but I have to leave. I’ve got a big day ahead of me, helping a special girl celebrate her half birthday.”
“Me!” Eden bounced on the cushions, singing, “Me! Me! Me!”
“Really? Are you sure?”
More shouting. More bouncing.
Today she turned two and a half. Last night, she’d barely slept, just curled up under the covers and stared at the mural Mommy had painted on the ceiling, a carousel of horses and swans and lions. Usually, if she couldn’t sleep, she pictured herself on the black horse with the white mane, and she’d go around and around until she drifted off. That hadn’t worked for a long time last night.
Then, when Mommy came to wake her up, Eden heard an owl hooting outside her window, and her tummy had started to hurt. She didn’t like the owl—not in the daytime. It sounded scary, and it made her worry that Mommy and Daddy would forget it was her half birthday. But that had been silly. They’d never forget.
“Is it time?” she said, still bouncing. “Is it time?”
“It is. We have a big surprise planned. Do you know what it is?”
“No, she does not,” Mommy said as she walked in. “That’s the concept of a surprise, Todd.”
Daddy leaned down to Eden’s ear and whispered, “Pony ride!”
Eden shrieked. Her mother rolled her eyes and pretended to be mad, but she couldn’t stop smiling.
“Let’s get your hair brushed,” Mommy said as Eden jumped into her arms. “We’ll want to take lots of pictures when you get your big surprise.”
“Pony ride!” Daddy said.
“I think we should put him on a pony,” Mommy whispered in Eden’s ear.
When Mommy finished brushing her hair, Daddy grabbed Eden again and swung her up onto his shoulders. “I think I’d make a good pony.”
He snorted and pawed the ground. Mommy laughed and slapped him on the bum.
Then the door crashed in.
It happened so fast that nobody moved. Not Mommy. Not Daddy. Eden heard the crunch of breaking wood, and she saw the door fly right off its hinges, and she thought it was a storm like in the movie with the girl and her dog. Only it wasn’t a storm. It was monsters.
Huge monsters, all in black, with helmets on their heads and masks over their faces. They swarmed through the broken door. They shouted and yelled and waved black things in their hands.
Eden screamed then, and Daddy stumbled back and Eden started to slip off his shoulders. Mommy caught her before she fell.
One of the monsters shouted. Eden couldn’t understand him. Mommy and Daddy did, though. They stopped moving. Then Daddy backed up, arms going wide, shielding Mommy and Eden. Two monsters grabbed him by the shoulders and threw him to the floor.
Eden screamed again. Screamed as loud as she could, her mouth open so wide that her eyes squished shut and she couldn’t see. When Mommy’s arms wrapped around her, she could feel Mommy’s heart pounding. Heard her panting. Smelled something bad and sour that was not like Mommy’s smell at all.
“It’s okay,” Mommy whispered. “Don’t look, baby. Just don’t look.”
Then Mommy shrieked and everything spun. Eden’s eyes flew open. One of the monsters had Mommy. Another yanked Eden away. Mommy grabbed for Eden, her nails raking Eden’s arm as she tried to get her back. Eden fought just as hard to get to her, kicking and screaming and clawing.
One of the monsters said Mommy and Daddy’s names, then started saying other names, a whole bunch of them. Mommy stopped fighting then. So did Daddy, who was pinned to the floor under two monsters.
“Wh-what?” Mommy said, her voice so squeaky it hurt Eden’s ears. “Those poor couples in the papers?” She glanced at Daddy. “What’s going on?”
“I-I don’t know.” He looked at Eden. “It’s okay, sweetheart. I know this is scary, but it’s just a mistake. A bad, bad mistake.”
A woman appeared then. A normal woman, dressed in a jacket and a skirt, like the kind Grandma Jean wore to work. Only it didn’t matter if she was smiling and talking in a nice voice. Not when she took Eden away from Mommy and Daddy.
Eden struggled and kicked and howled.
“Enough of that, now,” the woman said. “You’re going to hurt yourself—”
Eden bit her. Chomped down on the lady’s arm as hard as she could, tasting something bad and hot filling her mouth. The woman shrieked and let go, and Eden tumbled to the floor, then ran toward Mommy and Daddy as the monsters hauled them away.
Mommy twisted around and reached out. Eden threw herself at her, but a monster grabbed her dress and held her back as another dragged Mommy out the door.
I waited in the shelter drop-in center for my next appointment. The murmur of children’s voices wafted in from the play area. Low murmurs, hesitant, fractured. Guilty giggles, cut short, as if the children weren’t sure they had anything to giggle about. The faint smell of bleach from the toys, washed nightly, was almost overpowered by the sickly sweet smell of lilies. Vases on every table. A hundred dollars’ worth of flowers. Money better spent on shampoo and baby wipes. But the donor meant well. They always did.
People say that volunteer work is rewarding in ways no paid job can match. I wouldn’t know about the paid part. Barely a year out of college, I’ve never held a paying position. I know what I get out of volunteering, though, and it isn’t the usual sanctimonious thrill of helping the less fortunate. It’s the mirror they provide, reflecting me in ways that aren’t always comfortable.
My 2:15 appointment was Cathy, who apologized for being late even as I assured her she wasn’t. She’d slid into the room with her head down, prodding her two-year-old ahead of her.
“Hey, Joey,” I said. “Are those new boots? Spider-Man, huh?
A furtive glance my way. A quick nod. I like kids. Can’t say they feel the same about me. I think they can sense I was an only child, only grandchild, too, growing up in a world of adults.
Cathy headed for a rickety wooden chair, but I patted the spot beside me on the sofa. She perched on the edge of the worn red vinyl. Not the prettiest piece of furniture, but it was bright and cheery and washable. Did the clients look at all the vinyl and wood and plastic, and imagine us after hours, bleaching down everything in sight, cleaning off the contagion of their desperate lives?
“Did you leave Amy in the playroom?” I asked.
Cathy stiffened. “Yes. The lady said it was okay—”
“I was just asking. They’re doing crafts at two thirty and I know she loves crafts.”
She relaxed and nodded. She had two children under the age of four. Another on the way. And she was three months younger than me. Not that she looked it. If I saw her on the street, I’d have added ten years. She certainly had that extra decade of life experience. Kicked out of the house at sixteen. Married by eighteen and divorced by twenty-one. A dozen jobs on her résumé, often more than one at a time.
Nothing could be further removed from my own experience. I live with my mother in a house bigger than the entire shelter. I have a master’s degree from Yale. I work as a volunteer, and I don’t even need to do that. Do I appreciate it? No. On good days, it chafes, like a dress with a scratchy tag. On bad ones, I feel like a bobcat caught in a trap, ready to gnaw my foot off to escape. Then I look at someone like Cathy, and a wave of guilt and shame stifles the restlessness.
“Thank you for seeing me, Miss Jones,” she said.
“Olivia, please. And I’m here whenever you need me. You know that.”
Cathy nodded and wound a lock of hair around her finger. Hair dyed blond almost a year ago, dark roots now to her ears; she’d refused to color it again because the dye job had been his idea. The guy who’d left her with those blond ends, a missing tooth, and another baby in her belly.
“So, Melanie has been helping you look for a job,” I said. “How’s that going?”
Her gaze stayed fixed on my chin. It always did, unless she got worked up enough, like when she’d declared unbidden that she wasn’t fixing her hair. Brief shows of defiance. Achingly brief. Frustratingly brief.
There was more in that lowered gaze than deference, though. I could sense it. Feel it, thrumming through the air between us.
“Did—?” I began.
Joey raced past wearing a tattered backpack in the shape of an owl. It reminded me of the one that hooted outside my window that morning. A bad omen. If you believed in omens.
“Joey!” Cathy said. “Stop running and sit down.” Then, to me, “Sorry, Miss Jones.”
“No, he’s fine. I was just admiring his backpack.” I tore my gaze away. “Did the bakery ever give you that reference?”
She shook her head. I cursed under my breath. Cathy’s last job had been at a bakery. Owned by the cousin of the man who’d left her pregnant. Her old boss now couldn’t seem to recall how good an employee she’d been and thus sadly could not give a reference.
I had the name of the bakery in my wallet. More than once, I’d been tempted to help the woman remember Cathy. I had a few ideas for how to accomplish that. It’s a satisfying image to contemplate, and it would be so much more feasible if I wasn’t Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of Lena Taylor, renowned Chicago philanthropist, and Arthur Jones, owner of the iconic Mills & Jones department store. But I am, and as such, I have other avenues of attack, equally effective, if somewhat lacking in drama.
“Let’s leave that for now. I’m sure she’ll change her mind.” Very sure. “We’ll grab a coffee and have a look through job postings.”
After Cathy left, I flipped through the stack of job printouts. I told myself I was making sure I hadn’t missed a suitable one for Cathy, but I was really looking for myself. Pointless, of course. In so many ways.
My mother had always expected me to follow her example. Marry well and devote myself to volunteerism and philanthropy. Leave paid work for those who need it. Dad had been more amenable to the idea that a young woman in my position could have a career beyond organizing fund-raisers. My mother came from money—she was the daughter of minor nobility, raised in English society. Dad had been brought up in the business world, where you were expected to work until you couldn’t. Or until you had a fatal heart attack at the age of sixty-one, leaving behind a daughter who, ten months later, couldn’t look at your picture without missing you so desperately it hurt.
I always thought I’d work for Dad someday. Take over the family business eventually. It didn’t matter if the store bored me to tears. I’d be working with him and that would make him so happy. Except now he was gone, and I couldn’t bear to step through the store’s front doors.
For now, I intended to go back to school in the fall and get my doctorate in Victorian lit. No idea what I’d use that for in the real world, but it would give me time to figure out what I wanted.
I hadn’t told my mother my plans. No use stressing her out when her dream was about to come true—her only child married, and married well. As for my fiancé, James . . . I hadn’t told him, either. First I was checking out my options for local schools. Once that was set—and before the wedding—I’d tell him. He’d be fine with it. He didn’t expect me to sit home and keep house for him. Not unless I wanted to. I most certainly did not want to.
When I finished tidying up, I stepped outside the front doors, and the city hit me. The screech of tires and growl of engines. The stink of exhaust and the tang of roast pork. The flash of colors—bright shirts, neon signs, blinding blue sky.
Our family doctor used to blame my hypersensitivity on my upbringing, raised in a quiet hou...
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