The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Otherworld series delivers her most suspenseful novel yet, where the discovery of Cainsville’s dark past and the true nature of its inhabitants leads to murder, redemption, love, and unspeakable loss.
Olivia Taylor Jones’s life has exploded. She’s discovered she is not only adopted, but her real parents are convicted serial killers. Fleeing the media frenzy, she took refuge in the oddly secluded town of Cainsville. She has since solved the town’s mysteries and finds herself not only the target of its secretive elders but also her stalker ex-fiancé.
Visions continue to haunt her: particularly a little blond girl in a green sundress who insists she has an important message for Olivia, one that may help her balance the light and darkness within herself. Death stalks both Olivia and the two men most important to her, as she desperately searches to understand whether ancient scripts are dictating the triangle that connects them. Will darkness prevail, or does Olivia have the power to prevent a tragic fate?
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KELLY ARMSTRONG is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Otherworld series, the Cainsville series, and the Nadia Stafford series, as well as the young adult trilogies Darkest Powers and Darkness Rising. She lives in rural Ontario, Canada.
From the Hardcover edition.
I woke to my ex-fiancé calling. Which was awkward, considering we’d broken up only two months ago and I was in another guy’s apartment. Even more awkward when that guy wasn’t the one I was currently dating. In my defense, I was on the couch.
My first thought was not Answer the damned phone, Olivia. It was of a letter from my father, read right before I went to sleep, which had not been conducive to good dreams and had left me in no mood to talk to James Morgan. I reached for my phone and hit Ignore. A moment later, a shadow loomed over me.
Gabriel picked up my phone. “James. He left a message. I should take it.”
“Um, my cell? My ex?”
“Your stalker, too.”
I looked up. Gabriel is at least six-four and knows how to use his size to his advantage. Hence the looming.
When I nodded, he listened to the message as I tried very hard to push aside thoughts of James and the roller-coaster ride that began when I found out my real parents were convicted serial killers. The ride had ultimately landed me here, sleeping in the apartment of one of Chicago’s most notorious defense attorneys. My lawyer. My boss. And, though I’d never dare say it in front of him, my friend.
Gabriel Walsh doesn’t have friends. He has resources: people who can be exploited and used. I’d like to think I’m an exception, but I don’t push my luck.
“James heard about last night,” Gabriel said after listening to the message.
“The car crash?”
“Yes, but I believe he’s more concerned about the crazed killer who caused the crash and held you at gunpoint.”
“A minor point, but it seems to bother him.”
I rose and started for the kitchen. “I’ll make it. You were in that accident, too, and hurt a lot worse than me. You should be resting.”
He moved into my path and waved me back. That wasn’t him playing congenial host; it was him telling me to stay the hell out of his kitchen. I suspected last night was the first time he’d brought anyone up here. His apartment. His private domain.
“If you’d rather I didn’t stay—” I began.
“I invited you.”
“After sustaining a head injury. Which means you aren’t responsible for anything you said last night . . . except for the part where you forgave me for wrecking your car.”
“You were run off the road.”
“I still feel bad. It was a nice car.” I paused. “I’m also sorry about almost getting you killed.”
“She says, as an afterthought.”
“It was a really nice car.”
He shook his head and went into the kitchen. I followed as far as the doorway.
“You’ll need to let James know you’re all right,” Gabriel said. “I would suggest a text message. Tell him—”
“I can write my own texts.”
“Yes, but this must be handled with care. While I’d prefer you didn’t engage him at all, if you don’t tell him you’re fine, he has an excuse to keep hounding you. Yet if you give any indication you’re opening the door to conversation, he has reason to keep hounding you.”
I had to agree. Gabriel dictated a message. I did tweak his wording—Gabriel’s language choices can be very precise, and James couldn’t suspect the text had come from him. He seemed to think Gabriel had a Svengali sway over me. Which showed that my former fiancé didn’t know me nearly as well as I’d thought he did.
Message sent, we settled in with our coffee, chairs pulled to the living room window, where we could look out over Gabriel’s breathtaking view of the city.
“I had a call this morning,” he said. “Edgar Chandler wishes to speak to you.”
“Yes. Elderly gentleman. Currently incarcerated. Formerly involved in CIA experiments. Seems to have unlocked the secret of mind control. Which he used in an attempt to kill us.”
“I know who Chandler is.”
“It seemed as if a refresher might be required, given the sheer number of people who have tried to kill us lately.”
“True. So he’ll finally speak to us?”
“Chandler has no interest in me. The invitation is for you. May I presume you’ll accept?”
“May I presume you’ll come with me?”
His brows shot up. “Of course. Whether he wants me there or not.”
Gabriel arranged to see Chandler that afternoon. A half hour later we were in the elevator, taking the fifty-five-story ride down to the underground parking garage.
“So what else are we doing today?” I asked as we exited the elevator. “The only thing on my schedule is working at the diner. Which I’m not.” I wasn’t sure if I ever could again. I’d told Larry I was unwell—between the accident and the fever that preceded it—and needed some time off, and he’d given me two weeks.
“I require a vehicle,” Gabriel said. “Since that is your area of expertise, I’m taking you along to select one. After that, we’ll pick up a rental car. Then we’ll drop your car back here and—”
“Skip the play-by-play and hit the highlights, please.”
“Today will be devoted primarily to cleaning up the mess from yesterday. We need . . .”
An almost imperceptible tightening of his shoulders told me something had caught his attention. Gabriel has an uncanny sense for trouble, which may be because his gene pool, like mine, contains a sprinkling of fairy dust.
“What’s up?” I whispered.
He scanned the row of parked cars. “Do you have your gun?”
He put his fingers against my back and propelled me forward.
“Any warnings?” he murmured.
“Portents of impending doom?” I said. “Not a one, but honestly? I’m discombobulated enough this morning that I could trip over five dead birds and not notice.”
“We’re both out of sorts. Which reminds me that I need to stop by the doctor and pick up a prescription for pain—”
When he wheeled, I didn’t jump. Nor was I surprised to see a man two paces behind us. Gabriel admitting he needed pain meds had conveyed a warning as clearly as if he’d shouted it.
The man didn’t look like the sort who’d be stalking us in an empty parking garage: early forties, decent suit, gray-salted beard. A reporter? I’d had to deal with plenty lately.
“May I help you?” Gabriel rumbled, his deep voice dropping another octave.
The man held out a thick envelope. “You’ve been served. This is—”
Gabriel grabbed the guy by the wrist, wrenching his arm up. The guy yelped, but didn’t drop the envelope . . . or the semi-automatic pistol he’d tried to conceal in his other hand.
“Give Mr. Walsh your gun,” I said.
The man stared in confusion at the gun in my own hand.
“Give it to him now.”
He opened his fingers and dropped his pistol. Gabriel grabbed for it with his free hand. Then he stopped sharply. “Oliv—!”
The gun clattered to the pavement. And cold steel pressed into the back of my neck.
“You don’t want to do that,” Gabriel said, his pale blue eyes fixed on my captor.
A man’s chuckle sounded behind me. “I don’t believe you’re in any position to make that demand, Mr. Walsh.”
“Then you are mistaken. Hurt her, and you will regret it.”
“Regret it? That’s all? I expected ‘I’ll hunt you down and kill you’ at the very least.”
“Death is quick. Regret is not.”
The gun pressed harder into my neck, as if the man was leaning forward. “Clever, Mr. Walsh. I’m sure Ms. Jones is very impressed. Her knight in tarnished armor. Impressionable young women must find that very hard to resist.”
“They may,” Gabriel said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have any here at the moment, so you’ll have to trust the threat is for your benefit alone.”
“Chivalry and flattery. Are your knees weak yet, Ms. Jones? Oh, and do put away the gun. Please.”
I hesitated, then lowered it into my bag.
“Now remove your hand from your purse, Ms. Jones.”
The man continued, “I’d like to believe modern young women wouldn’t fall for Mr. Walsh’s act, but the very fact you are with him proves otherwise. We’ll have to chat about that later. For now, you’ll come with me, Ms. Jones, while Mr. Walsh releases my confederate and then stays where he is until we are out of sight. If he follows, you will pay the price. Understood, Mr. Walsh?”
My assailant dug the gun barrel in hard enough to make me wince. Gabriel punted the other man’s gun under the cars and then released him with a shove. My assailant took hold of my arm. When he lowered the gun, I stabbed him in the side, having palmed the switchblade from my purse. He fell back, and I grabbed for his gun arm. I missed. Gabriel didn’t.
Gabriel wrenched the man’s arm up. His partner crawled after his lost weapon, but when I told him to stop, he saw the gun back in my hand and decided to listen.
Gabriel threw my attacker to the ground. It was another guy in a suit. Bald. Thirties. He immediately started rising, one hand clutched to the knife wound. Gabriel calmly punched him in the side of the head. The guy dropped, unconscious, to the pavement.
“There’s blood on your shirt,” I said.
Gabriel glanced down and sighed.
“You can put it on my bill,” I said.
He shook his head and walked over to the first man, who had started inching toward his gun again. I’d noticed, but at the rate he was moving, he’d be lucky to make it there by lunch. Gabriel grabbed the guy from under the car, flipped him on his back, and put one Ferragamo loafer on his chest.
“I’ve decided to speak to you instead of your partner,” Gabriel said. “Tell me now if I’ve made the wrong choice.”
The man wriggled, as if testing how tightly he was pinned. When Gabriel leaned forward, he gasped and lay still.
“I’ll presume that means I did not,” Gabriel said. “Prove me wrong, and I’ll break every rib in your chest. Is that understood?”
The guy looked offended. Coming after us with guns was fine, but God forbid we should fight back.
“Olivia, could you please keep an eye on the elevator and the entrance lane? It’s after rush hour so we’re unlikely to be interrupted, but it would be inconvenient.”
I moved past the unconscious man and the growing pool of blood at his side. I wondered if I should do something about that, but he seemed to be breathing comfortably.
I took up position about fifteen feet from Gabriel, where I could see anyone driving into the garage or coming off the elevator.
“Who hired you?” he asked our captive.
No answer. Then a gasp, as Gabriel presumably applied pressure—literally.
“We were hired to speak to Ms. Jones,” the man said after Gabriel let up a little. “By someone who is extremely concerned about her welfare. She’s in a very precarious place right now and—”
“James,” Gabriel said, the name a growl.
The man continued, “As my associate said, it’s obvious you’ve positioned yourself as her protector. She’s vulnerable and alone. You provided a shoulder to lean on and, in doing so, you’ve influenced her perception of reality to the point where she can no longer see the truth. It’s our job to counter that influence.”
“James Morgan hired cult deprogrammers?” It’s hard to surprise Gabriel, but his voice rose with incredulity.
“We don’t like to use that word. But when undue influence is exerted over the vulnerable, intervention may be required to help the victim see the situation clearly.”
“So I’m exerting undue influence. For what purpose?”
“Money, obviously. That’s what you always want, isn’t it, Walsh?”
“If you are implying that I’m charging Olivia for my time, her account is closed. She did hire me to help investigate the deaths of two of her parents’ alleged victims. But we completed that inquiry successfully. In fact, I’m paying Olivia now, as a research assistant and investigator.”
“My associate said you were clever, Mr. Walsh, and he’s correct. Yes, you’re paying her . . . to deflect suspicion and to maintain an excuse for ongoing contact, while you continue to pursue the real prize.”
“Which would be?”
“A five-million-dollar trust fund. Which comes due when she turns twenty-five. A few months from now.”
After at least five seconds of silence, the man said, “You aren’t even going to deny it?”
“To whom? You’re hired help. I don’t need to convince you of anything. The very thought that anyone—however skilled a manipulator—could persuade Olivia to part with her fortune is ridiculous.”
“I offered to pay for the shirt,” I called. “But not the car. The car wasn’t my fault, and it’s insured.”
“See?” Gabriel said. “I would also point out that, given how handily she disarmed your colleague, you might be mistaken about her vulnerability. I will forgive you for that, based on your very short acquaintance with her. James Morgan has no such excuse. Beyond the fact that he’s an idiot.”
The man was silent.
“I have noticed,” Gabriel said, “that despite your unwillingness to name him as your client, you haven’t denied that he is.”
“According to the contract, I cannot identify the man who hired us. There is no provision against acknowledging it, though. He’s very concerned about his fiancée—”
“I’m not his fiancée,” I called.
“The engagement ended two months ago,” Gabriel said.
“Which does not keep him from being concerned.”
“Get proof,” I called.
“Of his concern?” the man said.
“Of his involvement,” Gabriel said. “Prove to me that James Morgan is indeed your client and I will release you.”
The man warned Gabriel that he was reaching for his phone. He passed it over. Gabriel read the screen and then waved me over to have a look.
It was an e-mail exchange with James. A little cloak-and-dagger in the wording, but the intent was clear. These men were to take me, by force, and persuade me that Gabriel Walsh was a very, very bad man. I forwarded it to both of us.
Gabriel took his foot off the man’s chest. We retrieved the gun from under the car. Or, I should say, I retrieved it. Gabriel wouldn’t fit, which I deemed a poor excuse. We left the so-called deprogrammer tending to his partner’s wounds.
Gabriel didn’t say a word on the walk back to the elevator, on the ride up, or even once we got through his door. I shot the bolt. At the click, he turned, as if startled, and then nodded.
He changed his shirt, walked to the window and stood there, fingers drumming against his leg. Then he came my way so fast I stepped aside. He unlocked the door and walked out.
He was in the elevator by the time I caught up. The doors were about a hand’s breadth from shutting before he stopped them and leaned out.
“You need to come with me,” he said.
“I’m trying to.”
We returned to the parking garage. Our attackers were gone. Gabriel walked to his space and stood staring at my VW.
“Um, yeah,” I said. “Your car was totaled, remember? That’s why you need me. Unless you plan to take a cab.”
He grunted. Letting someone else drive was a relinquishing of control he couldn’t abide with anyone except me and his aunt Rose.
“May I have your keys?” he asked.
“I’m going with you.”
“Of course you are. I’m not leavin...
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