Olivia Taylor-Jones is shattered to learn that she’s adopted. Her biological parents? Notorious serial killers. On a quest to learn more about her past, Olivia lands in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois. As she draws on long-hidden abilities, Olivia begins to realize that there are dark secrets in Cainsville—and powers lurking in the shadows.
About the Author
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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? Very cool.”
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 house in the suburbs. But years of city exposure didn’t seem to help. I’d walk onto a busy street and every sight, sound, and smell assaulted me, my brain whirring as if trying to make sense of it all. I’d learned to adjust—it was part of my life. Usually it passed in a moment, as it did now. I took a deep breath and headed to the gym.
• • •
The photographer stepped back into the shadowy doorway as the young woman approached. Once she was abreast of him, he lifted his camera and held down the shutter button, silently snapping photos.
Amazing how much she looked like her mother.
“You’re lucky I love you,” I whispered as I leaned over. “Or I would be so out of here.”
He smiled, a blazing grin that had every woman at the table swooning. CEO of Chicago’s fastest growing tech firm, and son of a former senator, James Morgan isn’t gorgeous, but that grin had landed him a spot on the city’s most eligible bachelors list for three years running. Sadly, he wouldn’t be eligible next year. Well, sadly for everyone else.
“Another hour,” he whispered. “Then Penny has instructions to phone me with an urgent message.”
Good. As charity dinners went, this one ranked about average, which meant somewhere between uncomfortable and excruciating. The cause was excellent—New Orleans reconstruction. The food was just as good—Creole by someone who obviously knew how to cook it, which meant it was heavy on the spices and not nearly as appreciated by the older crowd. Most of it got left on the plates, which had me looking around the sea of tables, mentally calculating how far that wasted food would go in some Chicago neighborhoods. But they’d paid handsomely for it, eaten or not, and that was the point.
James’s father had been asked to give a speech tonight. James was doing it in his stead. That happened a lot lately, as his father aged, to the point where the organizers would be surprised—and probably disappointed—if James Senior showed up instead.
So James was a guest of honor, which meant everyone at this table wanted to make his acquaintance, and he couldn’t spend the meal chatting with his fiancée. While he conversed with everyone in turn, I entertained the others. Every few minutes, his hand would brush my leg, sometimes a flirtatious tickle but usually just a pat or squeeze, a reminder that he appreciated me being there.
Finally dessert was served: Doberge cake, a New Orleans specialty, a half-dozen layers of chocolate cake with lemon and chocolate pudding between them. The meal was coming to an end, and conversation was hitting the stage of desperation.
“So how did you two meet?” asked the woman on my left.
“Their families know each other.” A man across the table answered before we could. “Mills & Jones department stores. James Mills Morgan and Olivia Taylor-Jones.” He sat back, looking smug, as if he’d just uncovered a secret—and somewhat shady—connection.
“Our grandfathers founded the company,” James said. “Mine sold our shares to Liv’s dad before I was born, but our families still get together a few times a year. Liv was always there. Usually getting into trouble.”
A round of obliging laughter.
The woman on my left patted my arm. “I bet you had a secret crush on him.”
“Er, no,” James said. “She was seventeen before she remembered my name.”
“Only because you look like your cousin,” I said.
“Who’s a half foot shorter than me and fifty pounds heavier.” James turned to the others. “Let’s just say Liv’s complete lack of interest kept my ego in check.”
“You were older,” I said. Then hurried to add, “Out of my league.”
“Nice save, darling. Truth is, by the time she was old enough to notice me, I’d gone from a gawky teenager to a boring businessman. Liv prefers fighter pilots.”
I sputtered a laugh. “He was a computer tech in the air force.”
“Close enough. The point is, she was not easily wooed. I’ve launched hostile takeovers that were easier.”
• • •
James spoke after dinner, making an impassioned plea for donations. I would say it was a lovely speech, but that would be arrogant, considering I wrote it. I could point out that a master’s degree in Victorian literature hardly qualifies me to write speeches about contemporary disasters, but I never did. If James was going to be my husband, I was going to be more than a bauble on his arm.
I hadn’t planned to marry so young. I’m not sure if I planned to marry at all. My parents had a great relationship but, well, it lacked what is to me an essential component of a partnership. Namely the partnership. Dad ran the business, Mum did her charity work. Never the twain shall meet. James has let me into the business side of his life from the start, and I appreciate that. So if he asks me to write him a speech, I do.
I will say, then, only that the speech was successful. Checkbooks opened. As they did, James made his way through the crowd, with me at his side. Then, so deftly that even I hardly noticed, we ended up in the back hall.
“I think the party is that way,” I said.
“Which is why we’re going this way. You looked like you needed a break.” He swung me into an alcove. “And I wanted to thank you for the speech. Perfect, as always.”
He pressed me back against the wall, lips coming to mine in the kind of deep, hungry kiss that had, a year ago, made me decide James Morgan was a lot more interesting than he looked.
When I finally needed oxygen, I pulled back and whispered in his ear, “If you want to thank me properly, I noticed the east wing was cordoned off.”
He chuckled. “Dare I ask how you noticed that when we came in the west doors?”
The chuckle deepened, and he lowered his hands to my rear, pulling me against him as he kissed my neck.
“But it should probably wait,” I said. “You are a guest of honor, and it would be most improper—”
“I like improper.”
He let me down and we zipped along the hall toward the east wing.
• • •
I leaned against the wall, skirt hiked up my hips, legs still wrapped around him.
“I definitely need to write you more speeches,” I said.
A rough laugh. “I definitely need to find more occasions for you to write me speeches.”
We rested there. It was peaceful—the white walls, the distant voices blending into a monotone murmur, the stomach-churning mix of perfume and cologne reduced to the spicy scent of his aftershave. I buried my face against his neck, inhaled, and relaxed.
He kissed my hair. “Speaking of speeches . . .”
I lifted my head. He adjusted his stance, lowering me to the ground.
“I need to ask you something.” He cleared his throat. “This isn’t quite how I planned it. I was going to take you to a fancy dinner and pop the question . . .”
“Uh-huh. While I’m flattered that the sex was so good it caused temporary amnesia, we’re already engaged.”
He smiled. “Yes, I know. This is a proposal of another sort. Equally terrifying in its own way. Neil Leacock came to see me today. My dad’s former campaign manager. He—they—the team and its supporters—would like me to consider running.”
A moment passed before I could find my voice. “For junior senator?”
“Yes, but not right away. They want to wait until I’m thirty-five. For now, they’d just like me to start heading in that direction. Grooming me.” He took my face in his hands. “I don’t want to hit you with this after the wedding, Liv. I know you might not want a life of endless speeches and endless dinners.”
A senator’s wife? I swore I could hear the trap snap shut on my leg. I leaned against James, hiding my reaction.
Just relax. Don’t say anything. You need time to think this through. Play along for now.
It took a moment, but I found a smile that would fool James. I’d minored in drama in my undergrad years. My instructors always said I was a natural. No big surprise there. Sometimes I felt as if I’d spent my life faking it.
I smiled up at him. “In other words, no more sex in the back hall?”
“Er, no . . . Actually, I was hoping that if I promised more sex in the back halls it might make the rest more tolerable.”
I put my arms around his neck. “If you’re willing to make such difficult concessions, then I can probably make some, too.”
“Because it is difficult.”
“I know, and I appreciate it.”
He laughed and kissed me.
We’d just made it back to the party when my cell phone beeped. My mother hates to text, but if the alternative is having me do something as crass as talk on my phone at a charity event, she’ll make an exception.
I need to speak to you, Olivia. Will you be coming home after the dinner? Mum never lowers herself to text speak.
“What’s up?” James asked.
“Mum needs to talk to me about something.”
“Meaning you’re not staying at my place.”
“Sorry. You know how she gets.”
When my dad died, I’d been home from college and planning to move into my own apartment. But then my mother needed me at home. I’d expected that. I hadn’t expected the nonstop frantic calls to resolve every curve ball life threw at her. Last week, she’d called me home from James’s place at 2 .. because she’d “heard something.” It turned out to be a raccoon on the back deck. I would have been a lot more sympathetic if the housekeeper hadn’t been right downstairs, as she was every night I stayed with James.
We’d already arranged for the housekeeper to move in permanently after I got married. We’d also decided to hire a full-time chauffeur to double as a security guard. I still wasn’t sure it would be enough.
“Go on,” James said. “I’ll call a car to the back. I hear something’s going on around front.”
He shook his head. “Just a couple of paparazzi. There must be a media personality here.”
He lifted his cell phone then stopped. “Are you okay with going out the back? It’s not the door you came in.”
I shot him a glare.
He grinned. “Sorry. I’m just checking, because I know it’s bad luck—”
“Once,” I said, lifting my finger. “It was one time, and you’re never going to let me forget it, despite the fact we just celebrated our engagement with a bottle of Cristal, and I could barely find the door.”
“And the time in Cozumel, when you insisted on turning our pillows around so we wouldn’t have nightmares?”
“Alcohol isn’t the cause. It just reveals your adorably superstitious self.”
I don’t know where my superstitions come from. A nanny, I suppose. It really does take alcohol—in copious quantities—for me to mention one. James thinks it’s adorable. The only thing I can do is to change the subject fast, which I did.
• • •
Twenty minutes later, I slipped into the car’s leather backseat, feeling faintly ill. James wanted to run for senator. I should have seen that coming. Soon after we’d started dating, I’d asked whether he had any plans to follow his dad into politics. He’d laughed it off but never really answered, and I hadn’t pursued it. I hadn’t dared. I’d been falling for James Morgan, and I didn’t want to hear anything that might interfere with that.
I could fake a lot of things. A politician’s wife, though? I might be able to pull it off for a month or two. Years? Maybe even a lifetime? Never. I’d grown up in these circles. I knew what came with the position. What would be expected of me. I could not do that. It was like masquerading as a paramedic and then suddenly being promoted to chief of surgery.
As the town car headed into the suburbs, I called James.
“I’m going back to school,” I said when he answered.
A long pause. “You’re going . . . ?”
“Back to school. For my doctorate. In the fall if I can.”
That’s all he said. Okay. My heart rate slowed.
“Where did this come from?” he asked.
“I’ve been thinking about it for a while. I was going to tell you after I looked into it some more, but now with your news . . .” I took a deep breath. “I wanted to be upfront about my plans, too. I’d really like to go back to school. Get my PhD in English.”
I leaned back against the seat, eyes closing in relief.
“There’s no reason you can’t, Liv. Like I said, it’ll be a few years before the campaign starts. I won’t need you full time until then.”
My eyes opened. “But I’m going back to school for a job. I want a career.”
“With an English doctorate?”
“Yes, with an English doctorate,” I snapped.
“Sorry,” he said. “Of course you could do something. Maybe you could write.”
“Mysteries. I know you love mysteries. You could be the next Arnold Conan Doyle.”
I resisted the urge to correct him. Arthur Conan Doyle had been the subject of my master’s thesis. James hadn’t read a novel since college, but when he’d discovered my area of study, he’d read two volumes of the Sherlock Holmes stories, just for me.
“Fiction writing isn’t really my thing,” I said.
“Don’t be modest, Liv. You’re a great writer.”
I’d meant that I had no interest in it as a career. I wanted to get out and do things, not tell stories about other people doing them. But at least he understood I needed a job. It was a start.
After we hung up, I relaxed into the seat again. I’d been overreacting. Even if he did run for senator, there was nothing to say he’d win. He wouldn’t even run for five years anyway. Lots of time for me to persuade him this wasn’t the path for us.
I was lost in my thoughts when the driver said, “Is this it, miss?”
I looked out the side window at the familiar gates. Manicured flowering shrubs softened the “keep out” message of the fence. My mother’s touch. Dad always said if you’re uncomfortable with the message a massive fence sends, then you damned well shouldn’t put one up.
“Yes, this is it.”
Our house was actually modest for the neighborhood. The driver was impressed, though, which meant I had to give him a generous tip in addition to the standard gratuity on James’s bill or he’d whine about the “cheap Mills & Jones brat.”
As the driver did his paperwork, I walked to the front door. The rich scent of lilacs floated past, and I took a moment to enjoy it, the smell prompting memories of evening garden parties and late-night swims.
I glanced up at the sky. A perfect May evening, warm and clear. Still time for a swim if I could resolve Mum’s problem fast enough. I might even get her into the pool if I promised to wear my suit.
I was still digging out my keys when our family lawyer flung open the door and practically dragged me inside, not an easy feat for a man who looks like Ichabod Crane, so pale and gaunt he breaks into a sweat climbing stairs.
“Howard?” I said as I escaped his grip. I sighed. “Let me guess. The board of directors wants Mum’s feedback on something, and she’s in a tizzy. How many times have we told them not to bother her?”
“It’s not that. This is . . . a personal matter, Olivia.”
My mother appeared in the study doorway.
“Olivia,” she said in her soft British accent. “I hope my message didn’t bring you home early.”
“No,” I lied. “James needed to leave, and I wouldn’t stay without him.”
Normally she’d have gently praised me for making the socially correct choice, which wasn’t always my default. But she only nodded absently. She looked exhausted. I walked over to give her a hug, but she headed for the front door, double-checking the lock.
“What’s wrong?” I said.
“Come into the sitting room.”
As I was following her down the hall, the doorbell rang. I glanced down the hall to see a tall, capped figure silhouetted by the porch light.
“The driver’s back,” I murmured. “What did I leave in the car this time?”
My mother sighed. “You really need to be more careful.”
“I know, I know.”
As I reached for the handle, Howard hurried over.
“Olivia, allow me—”
I swung open the door to see, not the driver, but a middle-aged man in a fedora. Behind him was a woman with a camera.
“Eden,” the man said. “I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
I lifted my hands to shield my face as the camera flashed.
“There’s no Eden here,” I said. “You’ve got the wrong house.”
“No, I don’t.” He lifted a recorder. “Tell me, Miss Larsen, how does it feel to be the long-lost daughter of America’s most notorious—”
Howard slammed the door and shot the bolt.
“What just . . . ?” I began. “Did they say what I thought they said?”
Howard tugged the sidelight curtains shut. Before I could ask my mother if we had a neighbor named Eden, she said, “I need to talk to you, Olivia.”
“Okay,” I said as I let her lead me into the sitting room. “We’ll ignore the crazy folks at the door. What’s up?”
Howard stayed in the doorway. I sat on the love seat and patted the spot beside me, but she was already heading for “her” chair—a very pretty antique so hard it felt like sitting on a rock. She hated the love seat, which didn’t match anything in the room. But it was comfortable. Some of my earliest memories were of being curled up on it with Dad as he read to me.
“What’s up?” I repeated.
“There’s something I need to tell you. Something we probably should have told you years ago.”
“Okay . . .”
She paused a moment, then blurted, “You’re adopted.”
“I’m . . . ?”
She nodded. Didn’t say the word again. Just nodded.
I stared at her. That wasn’t possible. I looked just like my parents. Everyone said so. I had my mother’s ash-blond hair and green eyes, and my dad’s height, wide mouth and strong jaw.
“Did you say I’m . . . adopted?”
I waited for her to stare at me in confusion. Maybe even laugh. Clearly that was not what she’d said.
Instead, she paused for at least five seconds and then nodded.
I thought of the reporter at the door. “So he didn’t get the wrong place. Someone found out I’m adopted. They went to the press. You wanted to warn me before someone showed up on our doorstep.”
She nodded again.
“And now they’re saying I’m the daughter of America’s most notorious . . . what? Actor? Rock star? Politician? Oh God, please tell me it isn’t a politician.”
She said nothing. As we sat there in silence, her words finally sank in. Forget whose child I was. I was someone else’s. Not hers. Not my dad’s.
“I’m sorry,” she said at last. “You shouldn’t have had to find out about it this way.”
“No, I shouldn’t.”
I looked over at her and the shock cleared, pain seeping in. Hard, angry pain. “You had no intention of telling me I was adopted until you were forced to.”
Howard stepped forward. “Olivia, your parents were unable to have children of their own. They decided to give a wonderful, loving home to a child in need.”
“I’m not questioning their motives,” I said. “It’s the part about not telling me for twenty-four years that I’m having trouble with.”
“Twenty-one, actually. You—” Howard stopped. His sallow cheeks flushed. Then he cleared his throat, and stepped back. “I’m sorry. This really isn’t my place.”
“No shit,” I muttered.
My mother didn’t tell me to watch my language. Didn’t even flinch.
“So I’m not twenty-four?” I said.
“You are,” Mum said. “It’s just that you weren’t an infant when we first got custody of you. You were a little over two and a half. I wanted a toddler. Everyone wants a baby and there are so many older children who need a home.”
And it was much easier to find an older child who looked like you. Shame plucked at the edges of my anger, telling me I was being unfair.
We sat in silence. I didn’t want silence. I wanted to rage and shout and throw everything within reach.
I wanted Dad. If he was here, I could rage and shout and throw things. He’d expect no less. But with Mum’s worried eyes fixed on me, there was no way I could give in to a temper tantrum. Sitting there quietly hurt, though. Physically hurt.
“Okay,” I said finally. “So I’m not your daughter—”
“Of course you are. Don’t be melodramatic, Olivia. I only wanted to keep it a secret because I feared how others would treat you. When you live in a world of privilege, everyone wants to believe you don’t deserve it. I had a younger cousin who was adopted and people always behaved as though she didn’t really belong. I made your father swear that wouldn’t happen to you.”
“All right.” I took a deep, ragged breath that seared my lungs. “So now the word is out, and the press is making a big deal out of it. Must be a slow news day. We’re going to have to counter with a statement. I take it you know who my parents are?”
Silence. I looked at Mum. Then at Howard. Neither would meet my gaze.
“So you do know,” I said. “You just don’t want me knowing, because I might contact them. Well, clearly the press knows so you’re going to have to—”
“That’s not it,” Mum said. “Neither your father nor I had any idea who your biological parents were when we adopted you. I only found out tonight. According to Howard”—she shot a look his way—“your father learned the truth two years ago. He decided to keep it from both of us.”
“He paid a great deal to keep it from you,” Howard added.
Mum nodded, and they looked at me expectantly, as if I should be grateful for this, when all I could think was My dad paid blackmail money to hide something from me. My father. Who’d never coddled me. Never shielded me from the darker side of life. I’d loved him for that. Pay blackmailers? No, that wasn’t possible. Not from a man who would thunder and lecture me when I argued for leniency dealing with young shoplifters at the store.
“I . . . don’t understand,” I said finally.
Howard answered. “Your father was the victim of a blackmailer who now seems to have realized he could get more money selling his story to the online tabloids.”
More money than he could get from my wealthy family? How big of a story was it?
I swallowed. “Who are my birth parents?”
Howard watched my mother for a moment, silently pleading with her to answer. When she didn’t, he cleared his throat. “Pamela and Todd Larsen. The names will likely mean nothing to you—”
“I know who they are.” The words came as a whisper, forced out past lungs that seemed to have collapsed, like I’d been hit in the chest with a five iron.
“Did you say . . . ?” Howard began.
“I know who they are. Everyone knows who they are.”
Deep breaths. In and out. Don’t think. Just breathe.
I shifted my gaze to my mother. She looked away.
She looked away.
Oh God. My own mother couldn’t bear to look at me.
“So it’s . . . ?” I shook my head and turned to Howard. “No, that’s who they’re alleging are my parents. It’s a rumor. It has to be proven. I need to submit DNA and compare it to the records of these . . . people.”
Howard shook his head. “Do you think your father didn’t demand proof when this was first brought to him? The blackmailer provided test results and it wasn’t enough. Your father took hair from your brush and had an independent lab test your DNA against the Larsens’ DNA from their samples taken as evidence in their trial. There is no doubt. They are your biological parents.”
“It means nothing, Olivia,” my mother sniffed. “You are our daughter. Not theirs.”
Not Pamela and Todd Larsen’s. Not the child of . . . Oh God. My stomach heaved.
“I . . . I need a minute,” I said and ran from the room.
The names will likely mean nothing to you.
Right. No one living in the Midwest hadn’t heard of Pamela and Todd Larsen.
Husband and wife. Serial killers.
I was the daughter of two sociopaths.
I stared at my laptop. I knew who the Larsens were, but not a lot about them. I should look it up.
They were killers. Convicted serial killers. Did I want to torture myself with the details of their crimes? Or was I hoping it wasn’t as bad as I’d heard? Oh, they only killed six people, not eight like I thought. Well, that’s not so bad.
I turned away from the laptop.
A knock at the door. “Olivia?”
When I didn’t answer, my mother went away, and I lay there, wondering if she’d actually wanted me to open the door. Or if she’d just come up because it was what a mother was supposed to do.
I thought of how she’d acted downstairs. She’d seemed anxious, and I wanted to say she’d been worried about me, but then I remembered how she evaded me when I’d gone to hug her. I remembered tapping the love seat for her to sit with me . . . and watching her move to the chair.
Damning evidence. Except that we’d never been close. It was my dad who’d curled up on the love seat with me. My dad who’d given me bear hugs and piggyback rides and swirled me off my feet, long after I was too big to be swirled. My mother was kind and she was caring. She was just . . . distant, with everyone. Raised to show her love in other ways.
I went into my bathroom and flipped the sink faucet on to cold, to give myself a jolt, get back on track. As I wet the cloth, I looked up and caught my reflection. I stopped. For the first time in my life, I didn’t see that comforting blend of Arthur Jones and Lena Taylor. I saw—
I yanked my gaze away, ripped off my dress, stepped into the shower, and cranked the water up as hot as I could stand it.
• • •
When I got out, I avoided the mirror. I left my dress pooled on the bathroom floor and grabbed my jeans and jersey from earlier. I walked into my room to get fresh underwear and socks. Stopped when I reached my dresser.
There was no mirror here. Just reflections of another kind: photos, crowded across the dresser top in mismatched frames. The clutter drove my mother crazy. She was forever straightening them, trying to bring order to the chaos.
My photos. A record of my life. Of what mattered in it. Nana, gone four years now, the only grandparent I’d known, my dad’s father long dead. My maternal grandparents’ interest in me had never extended beyond the obligatory annual Christmas and birthday gifts. Impersonal gifts for a child they didn’t know.
A child they’d never known, I realized now. Growing up, I’d been told my parents and I had lived in England until I was three, when my grandfather died and Dad had to return to take over the business. Not true. The Larsens were American. So my parents had adopted me when they moved back here. A convenient way to pretend that I’d been their child all along. Only I hadn’t been. My mother’s family knew that and they wanted nothing to do with me.
I turned back to the photos. There were more pictures of my parents than anyone else, yet no more than the number they had of me scattered throughout the house. The three of us, our perfect little family.
There were photos of friends, too. Childhood friends. College friends. No best friend—I never felt the need for such a thing, preferring quantity over quality. Did that mean something? An inability to form truly close bonds of friendship?
My gaze slid to the photos on the far right. The most recent, the others inched aside to give way to the new phase of my life.
I hurried to the desk and grabbed my cell phone. I went to hit the speed dial, then stopped.
How would he react?
I shook my head. Was I actually questioning that? This wouldn’t be easy, but we’d get through it. First, though, I had to tell him before anyone else did.
I hit the key. The call went straight to voice mail.
I checked the clock. Just past midnight. He’d probably gone to bed. I left a message saying I needed to speak to him. Then I hung up and walked to the window.
A half-moon shone through the star-studded inky black of the clear night sky. I opened the window. The breeze fluttered in, rich with the smell of a wood fire from the neighbor’s yard, the faint glow of an extinguished bonfire still visible over the hedge.
A beautiful night for a bonfire. A beautiful night for a swim, too, as the moon shimmered across the ripples in our pool. Maybe I could still do that. Maybe I should. Slice through the cool water, feel it wash over me, carry everything else away.
I pressed my fingers to the glass. Light flashed from the back of the yard. I blinked and shaded my eyes to peer out. Another flash. Then another. The staccato blinks of a camera shutter. I yanked the curtains so hard the rod popped free. I left it hanging, stalked to my bed, and dropped onto it.
• • •
“Olivia?” My mother was at my door again. “There are people outside. More media people.”
I sat up and instinctively glanced toward the mirror, to make sure I looked calm and collected. When I caught my reflection, my stomach clenched so hard I winced.
“Olivia? I know this is a shock, but you need to deal with this.”
I needed to deal with it? Not even we.
I took a deep breath and heard my dad’s voice after his heart attack. When he knew he was dying.
She’s not like us, Livy. She just isn’t. Fair or not, you’re going to need to be strong enough for two. Can you do that?
“Is Howard still here?” I called.
“Tell him I’ll be down in a minute. We’ll—”
The crash of breaking glass cut me off.
I threw open my door. A thump from downstairs. I pushed my mother behind me, shielding her.
“Howard?” I yelled.
“They’ve broken in,” my mother whimpered. “Oh my God, they’ve broken in.”
“They’re journalists, Mum, not a lynch mob. No matter how badly they want the story, they won’t break in to get it. Just hold tight.”
I started for the stairs.
She grabbed my arm. “Don’t leave me here.”
“Okay, then stay right behind me—” Damn it, that wouldn’t work, either. While I was sure we hadn’t been invaded by crazed paparazzi, I wasn’t taking my mother downstairs until I knew what was going on.
“Howard?” I called from the top of the steps.
He appeared at the bottom. “They broke a pane in the French doors to the patio.” His face was calm, but his voice quavered. “I think it was an accident. They were jostling to get a picture and a pane broke.”
“Okay, so have you called—?”
A shout from below. So loud and clear that I froze.
“Are they inside?”
“No, no. They’re just shouting for you through the broken pane. They want you to make a statement. In my professional opinion, I don’t think you should speak to them.”
“Good, because I’m not going to. Have you called the police?”
“I don’t want to raise a fuss,” my mother murmured behind me.
“There are people in our backyard, Mum. I’m raising as big a fuss as I can. Call the police now, Howard. We’re going to stay up here until someone comes.”
Howard made the call. I heard him speaking into the phone, then his voice got loud. “When you have someone free? Maybe I’m not making myself clear. Mrs. Lena Taylor—who is a generous donor to your force’s annual fund-raiser—is under siege, with hooligans breaking her windows.”
Hooligans? That made it sound like some kid jumped the fence and tossed a rock.
“Wait here,” I said to my mother. “I’ll handle this.”
My mother chirped in protest but stayed on the top step as I descended. When I got to the bottom, I saw three faces plastered to the broken patio door, like kids trying to catch a glimpse of an R-rated movie.
A burst of flashes blinded me.
Shit. Okay, not my brightest move. I retreated out of sight.
“Ms. Jones? Could I ask you a few questions?”
“Olivia? Just a quick statement?”
“Miss Larsen? Hello! Miss Larsen?”
“Okay,” I muttered. “You want a statement—”
A hand grabbed my arm. I looked back to see Howard.
“Do not engage them, Olivia. That’s what they want.”
“That’s why I’m giving it to them, so they’ll take their damned statement and get the hell off our property. I don’t like them scaring Mum.”
I unwrapped his fingers from my arm and, ignoring the flashes, walked close enough to the broken door so they all could hear me.
I held up one hand to quiet them down. “Fine, you want a statement? I just found out tonight that my biological parents are, allegedly, Pamela and Todd Larsen. I will be investigating this claim. In the meantime, I will ask that everyone respect our privacy and—”
A yelp cut me short. Someone was jostling through the crowd toward the patio doors amid shouts of “Hey!” and “Watch it!”
Then, just as suddenly, the crowd went still. The two older journalists in the front lowered their cameras and pens. One leaned over to whisper to a young woman who looked confused. Her eyes widened and she stepped back to give the newcomer room.
It was an old man. Maybe not that old—seventy or so—but tall and stooped, his rheumy eyes blazing at me.
He stuck a gnarled hand through the broken pane, reaching for the lock.
“Whoa!” I stepped forward. “This is private property, sir. You can’t come in here.”
“I can and I will,” he said. “You may have all these people fooled, but I know who you are.”
I turned to Howard, then heard a cry of, “Sir, you shouldn’t do that” from the crowd.
The old man had flipped the lock. A few journalists continued halfhearted protests, but all of them leaned forward, eyes glittering, cameras raised.
He pushed open the door and marched in.
“Get the police here now!” I said to Howard. Then I turned back to the old man. “You have five seconds to get out.”
The man continued toward me. “I don’t know how you got here, in this fancy house, but—”
“It’s my home, and you’ll get out of it now.”
He stopped right in front of me. I blanched, seeing something in his eyes I’d never seen before. Hate. Pure, unadulterated hate.
“You think you got away with it,” he spat. “Think you got yourself a fancy new life. I remember what you did. Every day of my life, I remember.”
Howard said, “He’s clearly disturbed, Olivia. Go back upstairs.”
“Disturbed?” the old man roared. “You’re the crazy one, for harboring this she-bitch—”
He hit me with both hands, knocking me to the floor. I landed on the broken glass and felt it bite into my bare arms. As I scrambled up, he grabbed a shard, gripping it so hard blood welled up through his fingers. He swung it at me. I caught his arm. It wasn’t hard to stop him—he was an old man. When he snarled, I dug my fingers in until he let out a hiss of pain and dropped the glass.
I glowered at him. “If you think I’m my parents’ daughter, then you don’t want to do that. You really don’t.”
Silence. Stunned silence. For a second, I thought, I’ve done it. They’ll leave now. Then I saw the shock in the old man’s eyes, and knew in that instant that I’d made a very big mistake. That’s when the cameras started to flash again. I let the old man go.
“Olivia . . .” My mother’s voice from the foot of the stairs.
I wrenched my gaze from the intruders and blinked hard, and when I did, it was like breaking a spell. Suddenly, I was lost in a roar of voices.
“Mr. Gunderson!” someone shouted. “Niles Gunderson!”
“Sir, can we ask about your daughter? About Jan. Does this bring it all back?”
I froze. Gunderson. Jan Gunderson. The Larsens’ last victim.
I turned back to the old man. “I—”
He slapped my face so hard I reeled back.
“I know you, Pamela Larsen,” he snarled as he came after me. “I don’t care what you’re calling yourself these days or what color you dye your hair. I know you.”
My mother screamed. Howard shoved me behind him as he shouted for my mother to get back upstairs.
A stampede of feet clattered across the patio. People were shoving past the journalists—a greasy-haired man with a ragged notebook, a college kid with a video camera. Not real journalists. Just people hoping to sell a picture or a firsthand account. The kind who didn’t know that chasing me into my house was against the law. Or the kind who didn’t care.
“Eden! Look over here!”
The kid with the video camera rushed past me toward my mother. Mum started up the stairs. The kid reached over the railing and caught her sleeve.
The rip of tearing fabric. A gasp. A thump as she tripped, falling down the steps and landing in a heap at the base.
I shoved past two reporters and scooped her up.
“The car!” I yelled to Howard. “Get your car!”
I half dragged, half carried my mother to the garage. Cameras flashed. Voices shouted. Hands grabbed for us. I kept plowing through, oblivious.
When I got into the garage, Howard was already in his Mercedes, engine running. I pushed Mum forward.
“Get in the car!” I yelled.
She didn’t hesitate. Didn’t even look back.
Howard hit the button to open the garage door. I shouted to wait until I was in, but the door was rising and I could make out the legs of people outside waiting for it to open. Someone shoved a video camera underneath.
My mother’s face was stark with terror. There was a bloody print on her shoulder, from my cut hand. I saw her face and I saw that blood, and I realized I couldn’t get into Howard’s car. If I did, the reporters would never let it out of the garage.
I had to protect my mother. I’d promised Dad.
I waved at Howard. “Go! Get her out of here.”
He didn’t need any more prompting. I was probably lucky he didn’t throw open the door and shove my mother out in his haste to escape.
He put the car into reverse. My mother just sat in the backseat. I told myself she was in shock, but it looked like simple relief. She’d gotten away. As for me . . . ? Well, I could look after myself.
The Mercedes reversed down the driveway, sending the onlookers scattering like bowling pins. No one tried to stop Howard. Their prey was still in the garage, alone and defenseless.
I ran. No choice really. Well, there was. I could grab the pruning shears and attack anyone who came near me. I considered it. Even wondered whether I could get away with a self-defense plea. I might have done it, too, if I hadn’t just discovered who I was and realized that slicing someone up really wouldn’t be the way to prove I wasn’t truly the Larsens’ daughter.
I darted inside my dad’s workshop and threw the dead bolt. I took a quick look around at the tools. The heavy tools. The sharp tools. The lethal tools.
A longing look. Then a queasy look, before I raced out the back door. A glance around. No one in sight yet. I followed the line of trees across the property and took off.THE PRODUCT OF MONSTERS
The college student huddled behind the tree, listening to the cacophony of voices inside the house. Dear God, had they actually broken in? She rubbed her arms against the night’s chill. Her fingers brushed the strap around her neck, and she looked down at the camera, hanging there like an albatross.
It had seemed so simple when he phoned. She hadn’t heard from him since school broke for exams. He’d said he’d call, but he hadn’t. Then he did.
“Hey,” he’d said. “You live in Chicago, right?”
She told herself it wasn’t really a question. Of course he remembered where she lived.
She’d said yes, and he’d said, “Good. ’Cause there’s this story about to break. I got a heads-up from a buddy of mine. It’s leaked on the Internet, but not far, meaning it’s still fresh, and it’s taking place right there in Chicago. Do you know where Kenilworth is?”
She did. Not that she’d ever been there. People in her neighborhood didn’t know those in Kenilworth unless they worked for them.
“Perfect,” he’d said. “I need you to snap a couple pictures of a girl who lives there. You can do that, right?”
Of course she could. She was a photographer. That’s how they’d met—working for the school paper. While she hadn’t liked the idea of sneaking onto private property—especially in Kenilworth—she’d do it for him.
Turned out, trespassing wasn’t really an issue, considering she hadn’t been the first one there. The others were mainly bloggers and small press, maybe not as concerned about the law as they should be. She thought they might try to run her off, but they just let her hang out with them at the back door.
That’s when she’d found out who the girl was.
“Todd and Pam Larsen’s kid,” one of the older journalists said, his breath reeking of garlic. “Can you believe that? Everyone figured they’d shipped her off for adoption in Australia, and she ends up here. She grew up as the daughter of that department store family.”
She’d nodded as he talked, hoping eventually he’d explain who Todd and Pam Larsen were. The names were familiar, and she was sure if he gave her a clue, she’d figure out why, but he’d just kept bathing her in garlic breath until she faked getting a call and backed off the patio.
She’d looked up the Larsens on her phone. When she found out who they were, she knew why she didn’t remember them. Because if she’d heard about them before, she’d wiped it from her memory. Would have bleached it out if she could. Now they were stuck there. Imprinted on her brain. The Larsens and what they’d done.
Oh God, what they’d done.
She’d abandoned her post then. Gone to huddle under a tree in the yard and try to keep dinner in her stomach.
The girl inside. The rich girl. The one everyone was waiting for. She was the child of these killers. The product of monsters.
She supposed she should feel sorry for the girl. Olivia Taylor-Jones was apparently only a couple of years older than her. But she couldn’t feel sorry for her. Couldn’t feel anything but disgust and horror.
If she just found out she was the child of such monsters, she’d take a header off the Sears Tower. You couldn’t go on after that. You just couldn’t.
She’d been sitting there, thinking of that, when they broke into the house. Now she listened to the commotion inside. Shouts. Crashes. A car starting.
Olivia was getting away. This would be her last chance for a photo. She didn’t want the photo. Didn’t want to look at the Larsens’ daughter. But he expected it.
She moved up alongside the house. The car backed out and zoomed down the drive so fast she barely got her camera raised before it was gone.
She leaned against the garage wall and exhaled. She’d tried. She’d tell him that she tried but—
The side door clicked open.
She froze, then pushed back against the wall, crushing vines.
A young woman stepped out. She shut the door and looked around.
It was her. It had to be her. Blond hair. Piercing eyes. Her face hard as she surveyed the yard. She’d been calling Olivia Taylor-Jones “the girl,” but there was nothing girlish about her. Nothing soft. Nothing warm.
The product of monsters. A fiend masquerading as a pretty young woman.
Last chance to snap a photo. A perfect shot. Just take it.
But if the flash went, Olivia—or rather, Eden—would see it. She wasn’t far enough away to escape . . .
She pressed herself harder against the wall and waited, barely daring to breathe until Eden broke into a jog and disappeared into the night.
Afterward she stood there, shivering and shuddering against the wall, until her legs could hold her and she staggered forward. Her shoe caught on a broken piece of vine and she stumbled, twisting to see the door Eden had come through. To see what she’d left behind.
A bloody handprint.
If I’d been thinking, I’d have grabbed the keys to one of my dad’s vintage cars in the detached garage. I was just lucky I’d had the foresight to snatch up my purse from the front door, with my wallet and cell phone.
There was a convenience store a half mile away. I showed the guy at the counter my cut hand and asked to use the staff restroom to wash up. He’d seen me often enough to know I was a local, and not one of those who sent their driver in and never said hello. So he didn’t ask why I was walking around after midnight, bleeding, just let me use the sink and even brought a bandage from his first-aid kit. I wrapped up my hand, then bought a bottle of Dr Pepper I really didn’t need.
When I stepped out of the store, something swooped at my head. It was night, but it hadn’t looked like a bat. It seemed indeed to be a bird. A crow or something.
If a bird flies straight at you, prepare for a bad day.
Yeah, tell me something I didn’t know. I shook my head and called a cab. When it arrived, I gave the driver James’s address.
• • •
James lives with his mother. His parents had divorced when he was in college, and like my mother, his insisted she needed him at home. In her case, it was bullshit. Maura Morgan didn’t need anything. Except maybe a muzzle.
She just liked having James close by. That was changing soon. We’d already bought a house, and she wasn’t coming along. She hadn’t said much about that, but I almost expected her to stumble down the stairs on our wedding day and break her hip, just to thwart this takeover of her only child’s affections.
Any hope that James had been spared the media blitz vanished when the cab rounded the corner and I saw cars along the roadside. In this neighborhood, you don’t park on the road unless you’re lost, and even then, a roaming security guard will send you on your way soon enough. Tonight that guard was nowhere to be seen. Probably realized he was outnumbered and decided it was time to take a very long break.
There were people in the cars, just sitting there, in case James appeared. I could say that was very respectful of them, but the only thing keeping them inside their vehicles was the fact that the Morgans did have a big gate, and their beefy driver now stood inside it, playing security guard.
When my cab slowed, he waved us on. I rolled down my window. Recognizing me, he hesitated. I motioned that I’d call the house and he nodded, clearly relieved that he wouldn’t be asked to wake the gorgon himself.
I had the driver pull up close enough for me to use the speaker. Sure enough, Maura answered.
“Hey, Maura, it’s me,” I said. “I’m sorry to come by at this hour. I know you must have had a horrible night, and I feel awful about that. If I could have warned you, I would have, but I only found out myself tonight.” I paused. “Is James there, please?”
“No, he is not. He hasn’t come home yet.”
“Oh? Well, hopefully he’s gone out for drinks someplace too loud for him to hear his cell phone if the press calls. If I can just come inside and wait—”
“You are not coming—”
“Then I’m staying out here. Better yet, I’ll perch on your gate and give a press conference.”
The latch clicked open.
• • •
Maura met me at the door. She wore an elegant bathrobe, cinched tight—and full makeup—which told me she hadn’t been in bed at all. She gave me the same look I’d gotten the day James half jokingly told her I was the girl he planned to marry.
Maura raked frosted pink nails through her hair, swept her bathrobe up like a ball gown, and waved me inside. I went into the living room, hoping she’d leave me to wait in peace.
She followed me. “So, Olivia, what do you have to say for yourself?”
“I’m sorry you’ve been dragged into this mess. My lawyer will sort it out—”
“I’m talking about this . . . news.”
What was I was supposed to do? Apologize for my poor choice of DNA? I settled onto the sofa and kicked off my sneakers.
“I didn’t know I was adopted.” I paused for a moment and decided it was time to construct a lie, for my family’s sake. “As for who my parents allegedly are, Mum and Dad didn’t know. As philanthropic as my mother is, knowingly adopting the child of serial killers is taking the milk of human kindness a little far. This is news to her, and a huge blow—”
“I’m sure it is. Poor Lena.”
Of course. Poor Lena. “My mother is shocked by the news, but she’s doing fine, thank you.”
“Well, of course, your mother is fine. She’s locked in a maximum security prison.”
I stood. “I’ll wait in James’s study.”
She stepped into my path. “Haven’t you put my son through enough?”
“Put James through enough? As far as I can tell, he doesn’t even know.”
“His reputation, I mean.” She studied me, then eased back. “I know he told you his plans, Olivia. About running for senator.” Her voice softened. I knew that tone. It was like a cat purring right before it takes a chunk out of your arm. “This is his dream, and if you love him, you’ll step away gracefully. Let him mourn you and move on.” She paused for effect. “You know it’s the right thing to do.”
Before I could answer, footsteps sounded on the stairs. I looked through the doorway to see James coming down.
“I thought I heard voices.” James kissed my cheek. Then he looked at his mother. “Why didn’t you call me?”
“I didn’t realize you were home,” Maura said.
“Well, I am. Go up to bed. I have this.”
Maura hesitated, but James repeated it, firmly, and she left. When she was gone he pulled me into a hug, and I let myself collapse into his arms and stay there, just stay there, fighting not to break down in tears.
“Something—” I said against his shoulder.
“I know. I’ve been trying to call you for the past half hour. I was just coming down to drive over to your place.”
I pulled back so I could see his face. “So you . . . got my message?”
“Yes. And several others. I know everything, Liv.”
His expression didn’t change. No hint of disgust or distaste. I wanted to take that. Just take it. Don’t question. Don’t probe. Accept.
Only I couldn’t.
“About my . . . biological parents,” I said carefully, my gaze fixed on his. “You heard—”
“The Larsens. Yes. That’s what they’re saying.”
“It’s not just a rumor. There’s DNA.”
He nodded. “All right.”
I looked at him. He looked at me. Patient. Concerned. Just what I needed. What I’d expected. And yet, seeing it, I realized I haddoubted, deep down. I still doubted.
“You know who they are, right? My parents?”
A faint smile. “Yes, I’ve met them many times, Liv.”
“You know what I—”
“Arthur Jones and Lena Taylor are your parents. They’re the ones who raised you. If you mean the Larsens, yes, I know who they are. Convicted murderers. As for what they are to you? Genetic donors. They’re responsible for the color of your hair, the shape of your mouth, the length of your fingers. Nothing more.”
I kissed him. A quiet thank-you. Only he didn’t let it stay quiet. He grabbed me around the waist and pulled me onto his lap in one of his usual oxygen-stealing kisses that left me gasping. Then he put his hands on either side of my face and held it up to his.
“I love you, Liv. You haven’t changed. So that hasn’t changed. Got it?”
I nodded and eased back, legs still stretched across him as I reclined against the corner of the sofa.
“It’s still on, then?” I said. “We’re getting married?”
He laughed. “Did you think you could get out of it that easily? You’re stuck with me. This is just a bump in the road. It’ll go away soon enough.”
“It better be very soon,” I said. “Only a month until the wedding.”
He dipped his chin in something that could be taken as a nod.
“We are getting married next month, right?” I said.
“Well . . .” He stretched his arm around me, gathering me in. “We can talk about that later. For now—”
I shrugged out from under his arm and swung my legs off him. “We are getting married next month, right?”
“We’re getting married. Absolutely. The timing may need to change, but that’s a conversation for tomorrow. Right now, we need to get you out of Chicago.”
“Out of Chicago?”
“Of course.” He straightened. “This is going to be an absolute media nightmare. Do you remember those reporters hanging out at the dinner tonight? And did you see the ones at the end of the driveway? You need to go someplace safe. Get away from these vultures.”
“For my sake? Or yours?”
Excerpted from "Omens"
Copyright © 2014 Kelley Armstrong.
Excerpted by permission of Penguin Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
What People are Saying About This
Praise for Kelley Armstrong's OMENS
“One of the best new series debuts this year! With its compelling characters and completely original set up, OMENS delivers a powerful combination of suspenseful thrills and supernatural chills. I can't wait to read more!”
-Lisa Gardner, New York Times bestselling author of Touch & Go
“Like the creepy, spooky town of Cainsville, Kelley Armstrong's OMENS lured me in. I was too busy, way too busy for this book, which, through a series of surprises and sleights of hand, had me conspiring for ways to get back to the gripping story, the colorfully bizarre cast of characters, and the clever, strong, smart heroine at its center. Don't pick this book up if you have anything else to do. It will grab you by the collar and won't let you up for air until it's good and ready. And once you’re done, you won't soon forget it.”
-Lisa Unger, New York Times bestselling author of In the Blood
“Cainsville might be a nice place to visit, but I'm too creeped out to live there. Luckily, Armstrong isn't, and her dispatches from this village filled with sinister secrets are going to be keeping her readers up well into the night.”
-Linwood Barclay, #1 international bestselling author
“Urban fantasy powerhouse Armstrong (the Otherworld series) begins the Cainsville series with a gripping thriller-paced novel featuring a young woman who learns that her wealthy parents adopted her after her biological parents were convicted of being serial killers. Mind control, gunplay, and double crosses will keep readers on edge to the last page.”
“Through first class writing and characters—including the town of Cainsville itself—that leap off the pages, Armstrong has penned a tale that I, for one, can’t wait to see continue.”
“Armstrong, author of the popular Otherworld series, excels at world-building, and this ‘reverse Cinderella story’ perfectly launches a new series chronicling the irresistibly odd and creepy Cainsville universe. Fantasy fans will be eager to make repeated visits.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Great start to a new series: OMENS is the first storyline in Kelley Armstrong’s new contemporary mystery (slightly paranormal) CAINSVILLE series focusing on Olivia Taylor and her fight to prove, one way or another, that her birth parents Pam and Todd Larsen may or may not be the notorious serial killers who murdered eight people over two decades earlier. Olivia Taylor-Jones has just discovered that she was adopted as a child and her life is making headline news around the world. Needing to leave town, her parents and her fiancé behind, Olivia, also known as Eden Larsen, finds herself penniless in a small, cloistered town known as Cainsville and things have gone from bad to down right strange. Hoping to uncover the details about the twenty year old murders, Olivia enlists the help of her parent’s former lawyer -Gabriel Walsh-only to discover he is out for one thing and money is the bottom line. Kelley Armstrong takes the reader on a mysterious journey that will see our heroine Olivia aka Eden on the run and settling in a strange town. ‘Reading’ omens and symbols that give warning of danger and death at every turn, Olivia begins to wonder who or what is determined to keep her from discovering the truth behind her parent’s conviction and the real people behind the murders. With a town full of ‘gifted’ seers and prophetic elders, Cainsville can only be considered a town with a paranormal undertone of Celtic ancestry. The writing style grabs the reader’s attention and keeps you on the edge. There is the mystery of the crime of murder; a town of strangers who know more about Eden Larsen than does Olivia Jones; and a lawyer whose motives are questionable and the bottom line always reverts back to money. There is intrigue, suspense, mystery and betrayal and when the truth about Olivia’s birth parents is revealed she will discover who are her real friends and just how lonely life can be without the support of parents and family. Kelley Armstrong is a proven winner with her Women of the Otherworld series and she has introduced another strong female character in Eden Larsen/Olivia Jones that drives the storyline and the series into another paranormal dimension.
I'm sure this series is going to be one of my new favorites. Love how strong main female character is in this book. Every character is interesting. That City of Cainsville May be the best character. I can't wait for the next book.
It was a great read, held my interest from page one all the way to the end. It is extremely well written, keeps the reader guessing, has lots of twists and turns. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a good read.
I loved this book, but thought it was a little underdeveloped at times. Can't wait for the next one.
If you like mysteries with a supernatural twist you can't go wrong with this new series from Kelley Armstrong! I couldn't put it down and was wishing for more at the end. Eagerly awaiting the next episode in this series. FYI - all of Kelley's books are worth reading if supernatural fiction is your genre.
Ms. Armstrong writes that she was nervous about writing a new series. I can't imagine why. In my opinion, this may be her best story yet! The characters are unusual and fascinating, the fantasy setting is original, and the mystery is fresh and exciting. I found this to be a great read, and strongly recommend it!
I loved the book. A great mystery. Can't wait for the next installment. Unlike other authors who never leave the cash cow of a popular series long after they have nothing new to add. Ms. Armstrong builds a new and enchanting world.
I think I'm getting hooked on yet anther Armstrong series. I will say that the editing isn't quite as good as the other series, but hopefully she'll fix that. I find that distracting. Even so, I really, really liked it.
Kelley Armstrong's newest series did indeed keep me reading to the end, but I don't plan to move onto the second installment in the series. I can see where this is all going already albeit, I won't know how they get there. Olivia has been brought up as a classy, well-to-do daughter, and she is still down to earth and gracious. She receives some shocking news, and the news totally turns her life around and into a different direction. Kelley Armstrong is a gifted author, but this series just doesn't interest me enough to keep reading it.
Olivia Taylor-Jones is the daughter of wealthy parents. She's educated, well liked and she's about to marry a handsome business man. Her whole life changes when she finds out she's adopted. Olivia's real parents, the Larsens, are serial killers serving a life sentence in prison for the murders they've been accused of. Olivia leaves everything she knows behind, including her fiancé, to find out more about her past. She's being haunted by the press, so she needs to find shelter somewhere. When someone gives her an address in Cainsville, a small town in Illinois, Olivia doesn't have much choice but to check it out. Olivia's mother hired a lawyer for her appeal, Gabriel Walsh. She fired him after he let her down, but Gabriel thinks Olivia is the perfect chance to make more money and contacts her. He has information about the murder cases and their focus should be on the last one. There's a chance they can prove the Larsens didn't commit those murders. Even though she doesn't trust Gabriel, Olivia agrees to research the case, they're stronger together than alone. While gathering information Olivia discovers that she sees omens, she has a gift she doesn't know anything about. In Cainsville these things aren't uncommon, but as Olivia doesn't have any knowledge about them her gifts are making her an easy target. Will she be able to stay ahead of her enemies and will she find out the truth behind the murders she and Gabriel are looking into? Omens is a fantastic story about mysterious gifts, strange ritual killings, hidden connections and secrets. I was immediately intrigued by Olivia. She's strong, incredibly smart and capable. She's able to see through people and can handle them well. I was impressed by her skills and her determination to survive on her own. I loved how she handles Gabriel. Gabriel's number one concern is his own wellbeing and an extension of that is his bank account. I often had to smile when I read about his flaws. He's a man nobody should mess with and he isn't afraid to let people know. They're a fabulous team and they uncover a lot of interesting facts. I was fascinated by all of them and read this book in one sitting, I didn't want to put it down. Kelley Armstrong skillfully divides tension throughout her story. That makes it a real treat to read, because every single page is compelling. I was anxious to uncover secrets together with Olivia and Gabriel and absolutely loved every detail. I liked the mix of a realistic mystery and supernatural gifts. Olivia's abilities are making her character extra spectacular and I loved the way Kelley Armstrong uses them to give her story some fabulous layers of depth. Omens is a brilliant start of the Cainsville series, it's another mesmerizing book by Kelley Armstrong that I highly recommend.
Have you ever heard the old adage of don’t judge a book by its cover? Well that saying certainly applies to why I hadn’t gobbled up this series yet. I do not like horror novels. I get scared easily, have nightmares and am basically a big chicken. The name Omens took me back to my teenage years of slumber parties and being scared to death watching Halloween and He Knows You’re Alone. Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong! I should’ve known, I am a huge fan of Kelley Armstrongs Otherworld series and love paranormal books. This series, even though set in a town called Cainsville, is NOT like Amityville Horror! It is a fabulous paranormal mystery series whose protagonist learns a deep dark secret about herself that makes her look deeper into her kind of superficial life and make some abrupt changes. Olivia Taylor-Jones, a socialite in Chicago, finds out abruptly that she is adopted. That fact is shocking but when she finds out her birth parents were notorious serial killers her life is turned upside down. To escape the press, she runs away to a small town outside Chicago, called Cainsville. It is in Cainsville that she starts to learn about her talent for reading Omens, but when those Omens start to come true, she looks deeper into herself and her background to find out why and how. Part of that discovery is dealing face to face with her birth mother, who is in jail for committing murder on four couples in a ritualistic manner. With the help of her mothers ex lawyer, Gabriel, she starts to investigate one of the murders, the outcome of which changes the path her life had been taking. Kelley Armstrong has a talent for world building, and Cainsville and its inhabitants are a new world for me to explore. Even though this book isn’t a horror story, it does live up to its name. Omens has its creepy moments, the mystery is paranormal in nature, and the characters are not as they appear. Just the way I like it! Lucky for me, there are four books out in this series, with the fifth and last due out in August. I can’t wait to see the relationship develop between Olivia and Gabriel and learn the other secrets they unearth about themselves and Cainsville.
Love the series!
A Must Read Contemporary Paranormal Suspense, Romantic Elements Olivia Taylor-Jones is twenty-four-years old and has the perfect life. She has an Ivy League education and is the only daughter of a wealthy, prominent Chicago family. She pursues philanthropy and volunteerism. Olivia is also engaged to a young, handsome tech-firm CEO with political ambitions. Olivia’s world is soon shattered when she learns she is actually adopted. Todd and Pamela Larsen are notorious serial killers that are serving life sentences. They are also Olivia’s real parents. Olivia decides to leave her once comfortable home to find out the truth about the Larsens when the news of them brings a maelstrom of unwanted publicity for her fiancé and adopted family. Olivia ends up in the small town of Cainsville, Illinois. It is an old and cloistered community and it is taking a particular interest in Olivia. It is also interested in her efforts to uncover her birth parents’ pasts. Gabriel Walsh is her mother’s former lawyer and together they focus on the Larsens’ last crime. The one that Olivia’s birth mother swears will prove their innocence. Gabriel and Olivia start investigating the case and Olivia soon finds herself using abilities that have been hidden since her childhood. The gifts make her both deeply vulnerable to unknown enemies and a valuable addition to Cainsville. It seems there are darker secrets behind the scenes in the her new home and the powers lurking in the shadows have their own plans for her. This is a suspense story that starts out fast and doesn’t let up until the very end. It will keep readers turning the pages just to see what exactly is happening and just what is the real truth about the Larsens. The characters are complex and make for a story that is as intriguing as it is engrossing. It will also have readers reaching for the next book in the series to watch Olivia grow and find out just who she really is now and also to see just where Gabriel and Olivia end up.
I was hesitant at first with the main character being someehat naive. But after a ciuple chapters I loved tue slow build in characters so that the author made you invested into the stories. Loved the book and am officially trapped in this new series.
This is a great author and cannot wait to read more of her books.
Enjoyed this new tale set in Cainsville
Ireally enjoyed it. I love the use of folk lore.
The premise of the story seemed interesting but it was slow getting started and the characters felt disjointed. I'm a huge fan of Susanna Kearsley's paranormal romances and by comparison, Armstrong's prose reads like something my seventh-grader could have produced. I will not be going back for the second in the Cainsville series or any other Armstrongs.
Great read. Will miss the underworld series but so far this series has been a great replacement.