Omens introduced Olivia Taylor-Jones, daughter of notorious serial killers, and Gabriel Walsh, the self-serving, morally ambiguous lawyer who became her unlikely ally. Together, they chased down a devious killer and partially cleared her parents of their horrifying crimes. But Gabriel's past mistakes have come to light, creating a rift between the pair just when she needs his help the most. Olivia has found a dead woman in her car, dressed to look like her...
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Kelley Armstrong is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Women of the Otherworld paranormal suspense series, Darkest Powers YA urban fantasy trilogy, and the Nadia Stafford crime series.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***
Copyright © 2014 by Kelley Armstrong
The poppies were a bad sign. A death omen. It doesn’t get much worse than that.
We hadn’t planted them. When a gardener suggested it once, my mother had said, “They make opium from poppies,” in whis- pered horror, as if her society friends might jump to the conclusion we were running an opium den in our basement. I’d wanted to laugh and tell her they used a different subspecies for drugs. I hadn’t. Deep in my gut, I had not wanted poppies in our garden.
A silly superstition. Or so it seemed. But when I see omens and portents, they mean something.
It’d been three weeks since I’d left my family home, fleeing ahead of the media frenzy that erupted when I’d learned my real parents were notorious serial killers. While I worked on building a new life, I’d decided to come back to the empty house and grab a few things. I’d tossed my suitcases in the borrowed Buick and headed out back for a swim. I was walking toward the front of the house, raking my fingers through my wet hair, when I noticed a splash of red in the rock garden.
I reached down and rubbed a silky red petal. It felt real enough. I took out my phone, snapped a picture, and checked the result. Yep, I still saw poppies. Which meant they existed outside my head. Always a good sign.
Except for the part about poppies being a bad sign. I shook it off, turned the corner, and—
There was someone sitting in my driver’s seat.
I flashed to the poppies. A killer waiting to ambush me? Three weeks ago this would have been laughable. That was before I discovered the truth about my past.
Still, I couldn’t imagine an assassin waiting, in plain view, in my car. Nor would anyone sneak onto the estate to steal a fifteen-year-old Buick when a half-dozen antique sports cars were garaged around back.
The most likely explanation these days? A reporter getting creative.
I continued forward, circling around the car. I’d left the driver’s window down. A woman sat behind the wheel. The roof cast her face into deep shadow and all I could see were sunglasses and blond hair. Ash-blond, like my own. It even looked like my current cut—a few inches long, tousled-curly.
“Hey,” I said as I walked closer.
The woman didn’t respond. I grabbed the handle, yanked open the door, and—
She fell out. Toppled, as I jumped back with a yelp, thinking even as I did that I was making a fool of myself, that someone was snapping a picture of this very juvenile prank—
She had no eyes.
The woman hung out of the car, wig falling off, sunglasses, too. Beneath the sunglasses were blood-crusted pits.
I staggered back, my own eyes shutting fast.
I was hallucinating. I’d seen this twice before, first on a dead man and then on a woman in the hospital. Both times, it was nothing more than a hallucination, an omen with some meaning I couldn’t comprehend.
When I looked again, she’d be fine. I did, and—
Her eyes were still gone. Gouged out. Dried blood smeared down one cheek.
I’m not hallucinating. This time, I’m not hallucinating.
I bent to touch her neck. The skin was cold.
There’s a dead woman in my car. A dead woman dressed to look like me.
I raced to the house, fumbling with the lock. The door opened. I swung in, hit the security code, then slammed and locked it. I reset the alarms, fished my gun and cell from my bag, and made a call.
I paced the hall waiting for the sound of a car in the drive. As I passed the front room, I caught a movement through the drawn sheers. I nudged one aside and peeked out to see a dark shape by the gardens. A big black dog—exactly like one I’d seen early this morning, fifty miles away in Cainsville.
The hounds will come to Cainsville and when they do, you’ll wish you’d made a very different choice today.
That’s what Edgar Chandler said yesterday, before the police took him away, arrested for his involvement in two murders that had been pinned on my birth parents. Only a few people knew I’d rented an apartment in Cainsville, and he wasn’t one of them. After the media had swarmed, I’d taken refuge in that sleepy little village in the middle of nowhere.
A sleepy little village with disappearing gargoyles, vicious ravens and, as of this morning, gigantic black hounds.
A sleepy little village where no one seemed to find it the least bit strange that I could read omens and see portents.
I rubbed my arms. I didn’t want to see a connection between Chandler and Cainsville. I loved my new town. I loved the safety of it, the community of it, the way it had welcomed me and made me feel like I belonged.
I peeked out again. The dog was still there, and it was exactly as I remembered from this morning—a massive beast, over three feet tall, with shaggy black fur.
There was no way the dog could have followed me fifty miles. Yet what were the chances of seeing another just like it?
I took out my phone. As the camera clicked, the dog looked straight at me. Then it loped off across the lawn and disappeared through the trees.
A few minutes later, I caught the roar of a familiar engine and ran outside as a black Jag screeched to a stop. The door flew open. A man jumped out, ducking to avoid hitting his head.
Gabriel Walsh. Roughly thirty years old—I’ve never asked his age. At least six foot four—I’ve never measured him, either. A linebacker’s build, with wavy black hair, strong features, dark shades, and a custom-tailored suit, despite the fact it was Memorial Day and he wasn’t supposed to be working. He was, of course. Gabriel was always working.
When I first met my mother’s former appeal lawyer, I’d mistaken him for hired muscle. A thug in an expensive suit. Three weeks later, I still thought the analogy wasn’t a bad one.
He did have a reputation for ripping people apart, though usually only on witness stands. Usually.
Gabriel didn’t even look at my car—or the corpse spilling out of it. His gaze shot straight to me, lips tightening as he bore down. Limped down, I should say. He’d been shot in the leg yesterday. And no, I didn’t do it, as tempting as that could be sometimes.
“Where’s your cane?” I called. “I told you—”
“—to stay in the house. I only came out when I saw you drive up.” A grunt. A quick once-over. Then, “Are you all right?” His voice tinged with reluctance, as if he really hated to ask. Ah, Gabriel.
“I’m fine,” I said. “And no, I didn’t call the police.”
His shades swung toward the Buick. He started for it. If I’d been anyone else, he would have ordered me to stay back. Not because he wouldn’t want to upset a client—such considerations aren’t given space in Gabriel’s busy brain. He’d insist because otherwise that client might get in his way or do something stupid, like leave fingerprints. As of yesterday, though, I wasn’t just a client. He’d hired me as an investigative assistant, which damned well better mean I could be trusted near a potential crime scene.
I did hang back a few paces. Steeling myself for the sight. I didn’t want to flinch in front of him.
He reached the driver’s side. Stopped. Frowned. Lifted his shades. Lowered them. Looked at me.
“Did you . . . ?” He trailed off and shook his head. “Of course not.”
I rounded the car to where he stood by the open driver’s door. The body . . .
The body was gone.
“No,” I whispered. “I saw . . .” I swallowed. “I saw someone in the car, and when I opened the door, the body fell out. I wasn’t imagining it. I touched it.”
“I’m sure you did. The question is . . .”
He looked around and I moved closer, leaning into the open doorway.
“There’s no blood,” I said. “But the only injury I could see was her eyes. And she was cold, really cold. She hadn’t died recently.”
He nodded. I didn’t see any doubt in his expression, but my heart still pounded, my brain whirring to prove that I hadn’t imagined it. No, that I hadn’t hallucinated it.
“Poppies,” I said. “There are poppies in the rock garden. I saw them right before I found the body.”
I hurried around the garage with Gabriel limping after me. There were no poppies in the rock garden.
“I took a picture to make sure I wasn’t imagining them,” I said. “There were clearly—”
My photo showed the garden. With rocks. And ivy. And moss. And no poppies.
“They were there,” I said. “I swear—”
“Am I questioning that?”
“Then stop panicking.” “I’m not—”
“You are. You found a body, and you called me, and now it’s gone, and you’re panicking because you can’t prove it was there. I don’t doubt you saw something. We’ll figure out what it was.”
As I led Gabriel to the sitting room, his gaze flitted around, discreetly checking out the antiques, any one of which would pay the annual rent on my new apartment.
“Yes, this is what I walked away from,” I said. “I know how you feel about that.”
“I said nothing.”
“But you’re thinking something.” “Only that it’s a very nice house.”
Gabriel knows what it’s like to be poor, having been raised by a drug-addicted pickpocket mother who’d disappeared when he was fifteen, leaving him to survive on his own. A street kid who put himself through law school. So no, he was not impressed by the debutante who walked away from her Kenilworth mansion to work in a diner in Cainsville.
“Did you collect your things?” he asked.
“I did, including my laptop, so you can have your old one back. Don’t worry, though, I’ll pay rent for the full week.”
I smiled, but he only nodded. I walked to the love seat. My dad’s spot, where we used to sit together. As I sank into it, I began to relax.
Gabriel stopped beside my mother’s chair, a spindly antique. “That is not going to hold you,” I said.
“Does it hold anyone?”
“Barely. Lovely to look at, but hellishly uncomfortable to sit on.” He surveyed the others. They all seemed made for people about six
inches shorter than Gabriel.
I stood. “Take this.”
“Sit. Put your leg up. You’re supposed to keep it elevated.”
He grumbled but lowered himself onto the love seat and turned sideways to prop up his leg, proving it was hurting more than he’d let on.
I perched on my mother’s chair. “So apparently I hallucinated a dead body.”
“We don’t know that for sure.”
“Yeah, I think we do. Otherwise, someone left a corpse in my car while I went for a swim and then disposed of it while I was in the house waiting for you. Highly unlikely. The fact that she wore a wig to look like me only seems to seal the matter. It was an omen. A warning.” I paused. “I prefer poppies.”
A faint frown. “If it was indeed an apparition, would it not make more sense that you would see yourself dead in the car?”
“Maybe I see whatever my mind will accept.”
When he didn’t reply, I glanced over. He had his shades off as he stared at the wall, deep in thought. The first time I’d seen Gabriel without his sunglasses, I’d wished he’d put them back on. His eyes were an unnaturally pale blue. Empty eyes, I’d thought. I’d come to see that “empty” wasn’t quite the right word. More like iced over. Still startling, though, that pale blue ringed with dark. I’d been with him many times when he’d removed his shades in front of strangers, and no one else seemed bothered by his eyes. I wondered what they saw. And, if it was different for me, why?
“So you spotted the poppies and then the body,” he said after a moment. “That seems an overload of omens.”
He wasn’t asking. Just working it out for himself. I swore he was more comfortable with my “ability” than I was. His great-aunt Rose was a psychic in Cainsville, and he’d grown up accepting things like the second sight.
“Would it not seem that the poppies were a portent for the body?” he said. “Meaning the body itself was real?”
“I don’t think so. The eyes . . . Well, I told you about the eyes. What I didn’t mention is that I’ve seen that before. Twice in the past few weeks.” I explained and then said, “Both times it was a hallucination. Which seems to prove that this wasn’t real, either, and that I shouldn’t have called you—”
“No,” he said. “That is always the first thing you should do under such circumstances.” He said it as if his clients found corpses in cars all the time. “You came inside to call, and secured the house, correct?”
“Correct,” I said.
“Did you hear any noise from outside?”
I started to shake my head. Then I remembered the hound and pulled out my cell phone, certain I’d see a photo of our empty front gardens. I didn’t.
I passed him my phone. “What do you see?” He looked at the screen. “A dog.”
I exhaled in relief.
“Is that an omen?” he asked.
“I have no idea. But I saw that exact same dog in Cainsville this morning. I’m sure it was the same one. It’s huge.”
“And very distinctive.” He tapped the phone, frowning. “In Cainsville, you say?” He rose. “We should speak to Rose.”
Before we left, I reset the house alarm.
“You need one of those at your apartment,” Gabriel said. “I have a gun. And a cat.”
He gave me a look.
“I cannot afford a security system, Gabriel. I suppose I could hock some things. I left most of my jewelry upstairs. I could go get it . . .”
“No, you’d be lucky to get a fraction of the value.”
I’m sure Gabriel had enough experience with pawnshops to know, though most of what he would have hocked as a youth wouldn’t have been his to begin with.
“You need a security system,” he said. “One of Don’s men installs excellent units at very reasonable prices.” He meant Don Gallagher, his primary client. Don headed the Satan’s Saints. It was not a heavy metal band.
“Uh-huh. A biker who installs security systems? Does he keep a ‘backup’ copy of the code?”
“Petty larceny is hardly profitable enough for the Saints to bother with—if they involved themselves in criminal activity, which they do not. Any system I buy from them would be both secure and afford- able.”
Having survived that fall off the back of a truck without a scratch. “I still can’t afford—”
“I’ll deduct it from your pay. Now, I seem to recall you saying once that your father had a garage full of cars?”
“Yes . . .”
“You should take one.” “I’m not—”
“Let’s take a look.”
He limped off, leaving me to follow.
Gabriel scanned the two rows of cars. His Jag might reach six figures, but he could have bought two of them for the price of any of these vintage sports models.
I stifled any twinge of guilt. Yes, Dad had inherited the Mills & Jones department store, but it’d been close to bankruptcy when he’d bought out the Mills family. He’d earned every penny to buy these vehicles, the same as Gabriel had for his.
“My dad loved fast cars,” I said as I walked over. “As does his daughter.”
Gabriel’s Jag had fi...
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