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You've Been Warned--Again
With Derek Nikitas
Formats and Prices
- ebook (Digital original) $3.99 $4.99 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 3, 2017. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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Only two homicides have ever been horrific enough to shake Detective Medeiros. The first was a decade ago. The second is today, a Black Friday morning after the worst Thanksgiving nor'easter he can remember.
And it's at the same house.
Sitting in the back of an evidence van, Medeiros is glad to have escaped the crime scene. There's a tremor in his spine. It's not the cold. It's not the carnage. He's seen all that before.
It's his soul recoiling from a darkness that lingers even here, under a stark winter sun.
It's the presence of evil.
A young technician takes the plowed path from the house. The snowbanks flanking her are three feet high. She's carrying what looks like a knife in a white paper evidence bag.
"May I?" Medeiros asks.
She's more than happy to give it up. On closer inspection, it's not a knife but a letter opener bearing the etching:
The Fálcon Hotel, New York City
A faint but chilling memory brushes the back of the detective's neck.
"Another bedroom find," the tech says. "Dried blood on the blade, if you can call it that."
"If it stabs…" Medeiros muses.
The young tech climbs into the van. She wants heat for a minute, and Medeiros doesn't begrudge her. The house itself has become a vast icebox after a power outage, doors left open, windows smashed. Mirrors coated with frost and snowfall on the furniture.
Already they've collected a Browning shotgun and three spent shells, plus an antique Colt "Peacemaker" revolver. Nearly ten thousand dollars in loose one-hundred-dollar bills. A broken candelabra, also bloody.
"They used to call this place the Thorpe House, yeah?" the tech asks.
Medeiros nods, casting another glance at the residence in question. It looms on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean, on the southernmost stretch of Rhode Island. It's a monstrous estate, a seaside cottage built to palatial scale.
"The Thorpe family owned this land from colonial times," Medeiros explains. "Till ten years ago."
"The other murders." She lifts a Ziploc bag. "This is them, right? The Thorpes?"
In the bag is a faded family portrait. Designer clothes and haunted expressions. Looking at the picture, Medeiros feels a weight press on his soul. Maybe his priest would understand, or the witness they've got waiting back at the station.
"You were here? Ten years ago? For the other…" the tech asks.
"That was my case, too."
"But these people just bought the place?"
"New York City transplants, to my understanding."
"So what are they doing with a picture of a dead family from ten years ago?"
Medeiros lets the question hang. Soon enough, they'll piece a story together. They'll take the witness testimony and correlate it with what they've found. They'll close the case.
But Medeiros has been to this house before. Here, there are deeper machinations that no police report will ever explain. A hunger that won't abate.
Not until the whole house burns and its charred remains are bulldozed into the sea.
This is the last time I'll ever see my family.
In the back of a Subaru Forester, I huddle against my boyfriend, Nate, desperate to stay warm. Father's personal assistant drives us over winding back roads in the middle of a freak November snowstorm.
We're headed to my parents' new house, a place I've never visited. Like some kind of tyrant king, Father has summoned me, his youngest daughter, for a Thanksgiving feast.
He'll disown me by the end of the day. I'm sure of it. Once the Whitmores hear my decision, I'll be totally banished. And maybe that's what I'll choose to be thankful for today.
Father's assistant has just fetched Nate and me from the train station. Trish is her name. She's a recent hire, but I doubt she'll last, poor lady. Anyone forced to deal with my family as a full-time job deserves a Medal of Valor. She twitches every time the wipers squeak across the windshield. I don't know if it's the weather or the Whitmores that have her spooked.
Same deal for me. I can't stop shivering from the cold and the dread of what this day will bring. "Who even knew there could be a middle-of-nowhere in tiny Rhode Island?" I ask Trish.
She gives me this forced laugh.
"You're going to try to make it back to the city tonight?"
"Dear God, yes," she exhales.
Nate marvels at the gnarled tree branches reaching over the road, the granite stone walls almost buried in snow. He's got zero clue what he's in for. Every time I try to warn him, it sounds like I'm just recounting the plot of some terrible stage play.
"Joanie, it's like a Robert Frost poem," he says.
"Except we're in H. P. Lovecraft country."
"Aw, you're just nervous. It'll be great," he says. I love that Nate's an optimist, but he's never met my family. He's from Tampa, so he carries sunshine around wherever he goes.
All I can hope is that he'll make it through this visit with his usual grace intact. We'll scratch "meet the parents" off the bucket list, never look back, and live happily ever after.
I've almost convinced myself to be just that hopeful when out of nowhere something leaps over a low stone wall, straight into Trish's path. It happens in slow motion, like a dream.
Trish cries out. She stomps the brake so hard the Forester fishtails. I grab the armrest, convinced we're going to roll into a ditch. All my worry is realized in a sudden rush—
The car skids to a stop. Silence, except our panicked breathing. The creature in the road stands still, its breath huffing white. It isn't a deer. It's something that shouldn't be out here in the woods at all.
A black goat.
Its horns curl up like motorcycle handlebars. Its long tuft of chin hair ripples in the bitter wind.
"Would you look at that?" Nate chuckles slowly. "You don't see that every day."
Trish places a hand against her heart. Her last coping mechanism has just been busted, and I don't blame her.
I reach over the seat and grip her shoulder. "It's all right. We're safe," I tell her. I don't know Trish, but it seems like she should know I've got her back just now.
"I like his beard," Nate says, stroking his own wavy facial hair.
I don't know where it possibly could have come from, but this random goat gives me the creeps. The creature watches us through the windshield with its almost-demonic slitted pupils.
When Trish finally honks, the goat throws back its head in disgust. It bleats like a man strapped to a torture device. The bell on its neck gives an empty clang.
I've had enough of this place already. I just want Trish to turn around and drive straight to Manhattan without looking back. Nate and I could spend the holiday alone and head back to classes at Columbia on Monday, no harm done.
The goat stands its ground, so Trish steers around it. As we pass, it swivels its head, watching us. It stares so unblinkingly and intensely that I think it will ram its horns into the car.
Another mile later, we turn down a snow-covered drive. A gate of black iron rails slides open on its tracks. As Trish drives between the pillars, my sense of dread thickens, like we've slipped into some other atmosphere. Our last chance to turn away is gone.
The house looms on a flat stretch of land. It's a huge Nantucket colonial with countless gables and a rough hide of cedar shakes. It verges on a flat, gray span of snow-covered emptiness that in better weather is supposedly an oceanfront vista.
My father, Carter Whitmore, the shrewd and infamous New York hotelier, has picked the literal edge of the earth for his retirement home.
My nerves go rigid. I've come here to tell my parents that I'm engaged to this bearded, bleeding-heart liberal Lit major from Florida. Chances are, they'll disown me, and if that's the way it has to be, I'm more than willing to renounce my name. It's honestly my best chance at losing all this baggage and living a normal, productive life.
For reassurance, I kiss Nate a little too hard on the lips. Maybe, just maybe, things will go a different way. Maybe he'll charm them. Maybe, when my family gets to know him, they'll give us their blessing. Maybe they'll change for the better. Miracles happen.
Trish shifts the car into Park and turns to get a look at us. Her glasses magnify her intense eyes in a way that makes me want to jump out of the car and bolt. She stares into me just like that goat on the road, almost like it's channeled some silent message to her, possessed her.
"Listen, Joanie Whitmore," she says. "You seem to be the good one. The white sheep."
I try to swallow but my throat is too dry. Her voice vibrates through my spine.
She takes my hand in her icy grip and squeezes hard enough to make my bones ache. "Please, just do this for me? Promise me you'll watch yourself in there. Whatever you do, do not give in to that house. You've been warned."
The security gate clangs shut behind Trish's retreating car.
Even as I clap the front door knocker, I wish for anything that will help us avoid going inside. But out here the wind bites hard and the icy snow attacks our eyes. There's no choice, nowhere else to go.
Still, it's kind of a relief when nobody answers.
"You could just go in," Nate suggests. "It's technically your house."
"It is not my house." But I shove the door open anyway. Right off, I catch a chill that has nothing to do with temperature. Trish's warning echoes in my mind: Do not give in to that house.
The timber floors lead to a burning fireplace so huge you could light a Christmas tree inside it. The whole room has a dusty, oily air of distress. There's a mirror hanging opposite the doorway, but it's so clouded I can't even see myself. Stalactite-shaped water stains yellow the fleur-de-lis patterned wallpaper. A once-grand estate neglected.
What strikes the most is the bare foreignness of the place. A few pieces, like the velvet Chesterfield sofa and some trendy stacked side tables, look fresh off the showroom floor, but otherwise I'm floored that my parents would even dream of occupying this shabby space. There are no art objects and tchotchkes from our New York apartment. Nothing is familiar. It's like they've quietly replaced another vanished family and taken over their lives.
I might've thought I walked into the wrong house if Mother's shrill voice didn't cut through the gloom just then. "Congratulations, Cart, you've bought yourself a ticket on the Hindenburg with this place." She shortens Father's name like it's a curse word.
In a black off-the-shoulder dress, she teeters on high heels over the step down from the raised kitchen. It's like she dressed for an Upper East Side cocktail party and all she got was this lousy family dinner.
As always, she wields a dirty martini with a single olive.
"Happy Thanksgiving!" I sing through clenched teeth, flashing a nervous glance at Nate. If I concentrate, I can almost imagine a scene where a mother gives everyone warm hugs at the door, kisses on the cheek. A father greets his youngest daughter's fiancé with a firm handshake and a prized seat in front of the Dallas Cowboys on TV. We can all dream of a better world.
But this is reality. Mother hasn't even noticed me. Neither has Father. He sits stiffly in his recliner wearing a flannel shirt and wool socks. He stares into the roaring fire. I've never seen him in anything but a suit, never mind his face unshaven or his scalp completely bald.
- On Sale
- Oct 3, 2017
- Page Count
- 144 pages