Confronting the truth could kill her.
After years of abuse and eventual abandonment, Janie wants to forget her parents ever existed. Moving to her mom’s hometown of Everod doesn’t make that easy. Then she meets Tristan. The emotions he ignites within her are almost enough to make her ignore all of the weird things he says. Almost enough to ignore the way the entire town seems ready to pounce on her as if she were fresh meat.
Almost, though, isn’t enough when Janie finally discovers what the town is hiding. The people of Everod have been waiting for Janie and if she hopes to survive, she’ll need to confront the truth of who and what she really is.
After years of abuse and eventual abandonment, Janie wants to forget her parents ever existed. Moving to her mom’s hometown of Everod doesn’t make that easy. The town has dangerous secrets. They’ve been waiting for Janie and if she hopes to survive, she’ll need to confront the truth of who and what she really is.
I smoothed my hand over the delicate etching on the small wooden box. It sat on my dresser unopened for years. I lifted the lid. Sifting through the various necklaces, I searched for the one I wanted. The last time I’d seen it, my mother had tried to rip it from my neck. In the six years since she’d left, I hadn’t even thought about it.
Right then, it called to me. I found it burrowed in a corner of the box. The silver charm twirled as I pulled the knotted chain free—the one tangible piece of evidence that I had a mother and father—from the mess. A small wolf silhouette dangled from the chain. I reached up and caught the charm between my thumb and finger, turning it so I could see clearly.
My thumb brushed across it, and I jerked as the air was sucked from the room. Everything turned black and then just as quickly burst with color. A chilly breeze settled around me, and the colors shifted, taking on solid forms.
My room fades away. Sunlight filters through towering trees at the edge of a pool of water I stand staring into.
A waterfall thunders behind me. Cold fingers wrap around my neck. Squeezing. I reach up, my hands flailing, pushing against her cheeks. My vision blurs, and a burning pain fills my chest as I gasp for breath.
Twisting my fingers into her pale hair, I wrench with all my strength. Her scream shatters the calm of the forest, the pain in my ears more intense than that of my starving lungs. She throws me from her, and I crumple to the hard ground, gasping for air. She touches her bleeding scalp. A patch of blonde locks are tangled between my fingers.
“I should have killed you the day I found out about you,” she spits, wiping her hand along her hip. A deep-red streak mars the pristine white gown.
I begin to scramble back. She’s on me before I can move. Razor sharp nails bite into my arm as she drags me to the water’s edge, thrusting me under its crystal surface. The shock of the icy water freezes my muscles.
Submerged in the frigid depths of the pool, I can hear the thundering of the waterfall as it plunges through the water, echoing the pounding of my heart. Vivid green eyes glare at me, filled with every ounce of hatred she has for me. I clutch her wrist and strain to break free. My exhausted lungs ache for air, but her grasp is unbreakable. I take a breath. Icy water fills my lungs. My body jerks in agony as my chest feels ripped apart. I take another gulp—more pain. She disappears as the water churns with my struggles, but her grip remains, never weakening. My movements slow, and gradually, my stiff fingers relax their hold on her.
The water settles, and I stare at her through the haze of color settling around me. Even distorted in fury, her face remains angelic. This is the real her. This is my mother.
The colors swirled, darkening until blackness filled my mind. The water was gone and just as abruptly as I’d been pulled out of my room, I was back.
The necklace fell from my fingers to the floor as I gasped for breath. It hadn’t been real, but blinding pain squeezed my chest with each push of air into my lungs. As the pain eased, I stared at the only memento I had of my father. I didn’t want to touch it again. The images still had me shaking, and I had enough horrific memories of Elin. I didn’t need new artificial ones. I kicked the necklace with my foot so it slid under the bed. It was silly to think that what I’d seen was real, but that didn’t stop the insane fear from consuming me.
Shaking off the lingering dread, I went downstairs and settled in a chair across from Tim, my stepfather. He nudged a plate of pancakes toward me, and I hesitantly lifted one onto my plate, vaguely conscious of Tim watching my every move. I was distracted enough from the vision that I didn’t even question who cooked breakfast.
“What are you up to today?” Tim asked, skipping over his usual good morning.
Forcing myself to swallow the pancake in my mouth, I fought the urge to gag as the gooey mass made its way down.
“Library,” I said.
“You promised to give this place a chance. Make some friends,” he pleaded. He’d been begging me to do the same thing for two weeks.
I struggled with another mouthful of pancake. Justin, my stepbrother, had already left, eager to meet up with his new friends.
“Tim…” I sighed.
“It’s a fresh start, Janie.”
“Yeah, like every other time we move.” Dumping my plate in the sink, I grabbed my bag and left. I didn’t want to argue with him. Tim was a hopeless optimist—enjoying life regardless of where he was or who he was with.
The walk to the library was quiet. I didn’t mind not having a car as the midmorning sun beat down with only the sporadic shade of the trees cooling me. Driving would have been impossible anyway with images of Elin floating through my mind.
It reminded me of the bad dreams I’d had since a car accident had left me hospitalized four years before. According to the last shrink I’d seen, the recurring nightmares stemmed from my abandonment issues. That’s when I told Tim I was done with counseling. I didn’t have issues with my mom abandoning me; I had issues with her beating the crap out of me.
This visions wasn’t normal, though, since I obviously hadn’t been asleep. It was also a lot more detailed than the nightmares had been. Of course, normal was subjective, especially when you considered the idea of your mother killing you.
Being in her hometown must be driving me crazy.
I entered the library, nodded to Ms. Markov, the librarian, and then headed to the back corner. Settling into my spot, I pulled a random book off the shelf. The silence of the library was encompassing; only the faint tapping of Ms. Markov on her smart pad and my periodic turning of pages broke the peace. I loved the serenity, the solitude it provided. The library was my sanctuary.
The sudden swoosh of the door was startling. I looked up, shifting my position to peek through the aisle of books to see who had dared to encroach on my territory. Not once in the weeks I’d been going there had anyone else passed through those doors. A guy with creamy brown hair that curled at the nape of his neck spoke with Ms. Markov, his tone so hushed I couldn’t make out what he was saying. He gestured smoothly with his hand, gliding it through the air. I shifted a little more, trying to get a better view. He stopped talking, and his head cocked to the side as if he was listening intently. His head swung around and, for an instant, I saw his face.
There was no other way to describe him except to say gorgeous. Not perfect, but definitely hot. He had a strong jaw and dark brows. His nose was large but not big, and his lips were full, tilting into a smile. God, he was smiling at me.
I panicked and pulled back to my hiding spot. He’d caught me watching him like some peeping tom. I shoved the book back on the shelf, not even caring that it went in the wrong spot, and almost ran down the back aisle to the opposite end of the library. Turning the corner, I glanced back and saw him standing in my spot watching me. I kept running, pushing madly through the doors to the restroom.
Locked in a stall, I gasped for air, hiding there as if he’d chased me. Pressing my forehead against the stall door, I attempted to catch my breath. Get a grip, girl! So a hot guy caught you staring, so what? I smiled as a giggle burst out. I was such an idiot. The laugh turned hysterical, and I could feel tears forming. My belly hurt from the force of the laughs, but I couldn’t seem to stop, even when Tim’s mushy pancakes threatened to resurface.
Peeking through the restroom door into the library foyer, I found the path clear and scurried for the exit. I rushed home, ignoring the tingling along my back that suggested I was being watched.
Throwing my bag on the floor, I flopped onto the couch, breathing heavily from my frantic rush home.
Sixty-eight days. I could make it. I had lasted two hundred seventy-one days in New York and almost six months in London. Sixty-eight days in Everod, Colorado was manageable. Then, Tim would let me go back and live with his sister in Dallas if I wanted.
I shifted on the couch, turning my attention to my stepbrother, Justin. He sat in the recliner, his hazel eyes staring at me.
“What?” I asked, unnerved by his steady gaze.
“Are you going to spend all summer moping and counting days?”
“What do you mean?”
“Come on, Janie.” His eyebrows lifted. “Are you planning on talking to someone other than the librarian?”
I didn’t say anything because he was right. Elin had shown me how people could hurt me. It had always seemed safer to keep my distance. It was more of a habit now, and I’d rather be alone than rejected yet again.
“Well?” he broke into my thoughts.
He gave me a look that said he knew that I knew what.
I shrugged one shoulder. “Maybe.”
“You’re killing me, Janie. Seriously, the library is like the deadest place in town. I’ve never even seen anyone else go in there.”
“Ha. I saw a guy there today.”
“Yeah, but did you talk to him?”
“You don’t go to a library to talk, Justin. You go there to read.”
“You can do that anywhere else. It’s not going to kill you to make some friends.”
Easy enough for him to say; he never had problems making friends. I wouldn’t be surprised if by the end of summer, he’d dated half the girls in town.
“I dare you.”
I rolled my eyes. “Justin, in six years have I ever accepted one of your dares?”
“Yes. Once you ate a whole plate of Dad’s meatloaf surprise.”
“There were mitigating factors. I seem to remember you promised you would do my chores for a month.”
“Well, I’m daring you to make a friend, and if you do I’ll be your personal chauffeur for a week.”
I thought for a moment, wondering how I could possibly dissuade him. “Two months.”
“Hold on. What are you getting out of this?”
“A sister with a life, and if you don’t win, you do the cooking for the month.”
It wasn’t a horrible deal. Logically, there was nothing to lose since I pretty much did most of the cooking anyway, but even though I was tempted to try, I had no clue where to start.
“I’ll even give you a head start.” He smiled smugly as if he knew I couldn’t do it. “You can come hiking with a group of us tomorrow.”
Hiking wasn’t my kind of thing, but I wasn’t going to back down. “Fine. I accept your challenge.”
He beat his fists against his chest. “It’s on like Donkey Kong.”