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