The Amateurs


By Sara Shepard

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Five years ago, high school senior Helena Kelly disappeared from her backyard in Dexby, Connecticut, never to be heard from again. Her family was left without any answers — without any idea who killed Helena, or why.

So when eighteen-year-old Seneca Frazier sees a desperate post on the Case Not Closed message board, she knows it’s time to change that. Helena’s high-profile disappearance is the one that originally got Seneca addicted to true crime. It’s the reason she’s a member of the site in the first place.

Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, she agrees to spend spring break in Connecticut working on the case with Maddy Wright, her friend from Case Not Closed. However, the moment she steps off the train, things start to go wrong. Maddy’s nothing like she expected, and Helena’s sister, Aerin, doesn’t seem to want any help after all. Plus, Seneca has a secret of her own, one that could derail the investigation if she’s not careful.

Alongside Brett, another super-user from the site, they slowly begin to unravel the secrets Helena kept in the weeks before her disappearance. But the killer is watching . . . and determined to make sure the case stays cold.

#1 New York Times best-selling author Sara Shepard is back with The Amateurs, first in a gripping new series packed with scandalous twists, shocking betrayals, and sizzling romance.

“Shepard . . . unravels the truth, the author lulls readers into a false sense of security before expertly pulling the rug out from underneath them. This is a delicious start to the Amateurs series.” –Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A twisty and ultimately satisfying romantic whodunit.” –Kirkus Reviews
“[L]ikely to reach best-seller status.” –Booklist

“A delicious and suspenseful page-turner. I want more!” -I. Marlene King, Executive Producer, Pretty Little Liars
“Chilling and romantic and full of surprises.” -Cecily von Ziegesar, New York Times best-selling author of the Gossip Girl series
“Long live the queen of secrets! The Amateurs is a dark and twisty thriller which might just fill the Pretty Little Liars shaped hole in my heart!” -Danielle Paige, New York Times best-selling author of Dorothy Must Die

“Deceitful and delicious!” — Kami Garcia, #1 New York Times best-selling coauthor of Beautiful Creatures and author of The Lovely Reckless

“It’s clear that Sara Shepard is no amateur; her devious and thrilling twists will leave you frantically turning pages until the very last moment.” — Kass Morgan, New York Times best-selling author of The 100 series


Copyright © 2016 by Alloy Entertainment, LLC and Sara Shepard
Cover illustration and design by Elaine C. Damasco

All rights reserved. Published by Freeform Books, an imprint of Disney Book Group. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher. For information address Freeform Books, 125 West End Avenue, New York, New York 10023.

ISBN 978-1-4847-4735-3


To Kristian and Henry

THE SNOW FELL all night, transforming the world by morning. It was crystal snow, magical snow, creating a perfect, uniform blanket that concealed everything underneath.

Eleven-year-old Aerin Kelly scrambled down the three-tiered back patio, her boots sinking into the sparkling fluff. She fell forward and laughed, rolling onto her back and staring at the white sky. A figure appeared over her. It was her seventeen-year-old sister, Helena, wearing a fitted white overcoat with a fur collar, fur boots, and a brown fedora. Her eyes looked extra blue. Her newly short platinum-blond hair framed her face. Helena looked more beautiful than ever that day, Aerin would think later.

Aerin scrambled to her feet just as Helena tipped her face upward. “Isn’t it funny how snow has a smell?” Helena mused.

“I think we’re supposed to get more,” Aerin said eagerly.

Helena pressed a fur boot into a snowdrift. “Got your phone? Can I check”

“You’re always losing yours,” Aerin said good-naturedly, lobbing her iPhone, which she’d talked her mother into buying for her last summer, to her sister.

Helena caught it between her red leather gloves, pulled them off, and tapped on the screen. “Six more inches today.” She grinned. “We really should make our inaugural snowman tomorrow, but I bet you’ll be on the slopes all day. You up for it now?”

“Sure.” The girls tramped toward the middle of their vast six-acre property, where they’d been building the first snowman of each season since they were little. Helena started rolling a snowball, her hat tilting across her eyes.

“I think this year’s should be a snow-woman,” Helena decided. “With big boobs.”

“And a badonka butt,” Aerin added, still breathless.

Helena smirked. “And maybe a vagina. Make her totally anatomically correct.”

Aerin giggled. But what she really wanted to do was throw her arms around her sister. Helena was downplaying it, but it was weird they were hanging out again. Laughing.

There was a time when Helena and Aerin had been inseparable. They made tents out of blankets and told ghost stories. They dreamed up new, better uniforms to propose to Windemere-Carruthers, the private school they attended in Dexby, Connecticut. They invented new ice cream flavors like strawberry jalapeño for their mother to make in her ice cream machine, crazy ones they both admitted they would never try themselves.

At the beginning of last summer, though, Helena had…changed. She’d holed up in her room, chopped off her signature long hair, and stopped talking to her family, even Aerin. “She’s a teenager,” their mother had told Aerin absently. “She has her first boyfriend. Give her space to figure it out.”

But Aerin had needed her more than ever. Their parents, who had always seemed so in love, were fighting nonstop. Aerin knew Helena heard the fights through her thin bedroom walls, too, but whenever Aerin tried to talk to her about it, Helena always changed the subject.

But now Helena was piling snow together for the torso, smiling like things were totally normal. She even started chattering about how Aerin should join the junior ski team—she was so talented. Suddenly, Aerin blurted, “I guess Kevin didn’t want to make a snowman?”

Helena stopped and looked at her. “I didn’t ask him.”

“Do you guys, like, do it?” Aerin asked quickly.

Helena’s brow furrowed. “Do it?”

Aerin had thought asking would make her seem older, like a girl her sister still wanted to hang out with. Helena would probably go inside and slam her door, and that would be that.

Helena cupped Aerin’s shoulder instead, the way she used to at swim meets when Aerin would climb out of the water after coming in last. The gesture was so tender and familiar that Aerin felt a rush of tears. “It’s just that I miss you.”

Helena squeezed hard. “We’ll talk more. But…some of it will have to be under wraps.”

Aerin blinked. “Huh?”

“Like on our phones.”


Helena looked at her as if she wanted to say something more, but then cocked her head toward the woods like she’d heard something. Aerin followed her gaze but only saw the same trees that had always been there. When she peered at Helena again, her sister was scooping up a ball of snow and smashing it into Aerin’s head. Aerin squealed. “Let’s find sticks for her arms,” Helena said. “I’m freezing my butt off.”

They built the head and shaped the hair. Chatted about getting a new puppy. Aerin voted for a golden; she thought they could name him Cap’n Crunch.

“That’s a good name,” Helena said softly.

Aerin looked up, even more puzzled. It was a dumb name, and they both knew it. Why was Helena being so nice? Aerin felt self-conscious. What if she knew something about their parents Aerin didn’t—like they were getting a divorce? Aerin wasn’t sure she was ready for that conversation.

But Helena said nothing about that, and then the snow-woman was finished. Both girls stepped back a few feet. Aerin smiled at their work. “She’s our best one yet.”

When she looked at Helena, her sister’s head was turned toward the woods again. “Totally,” she said softly. For a moment, she looked like she might cry, but then she focused on the snow-woman and smiled cheerfully. “She needs something else, don’t you think?”

“Like what?”

“Like…” Helena put a hand to her mouth. “A purse, maybe. I found a brown vinyl one at Goodwill a few days ago. It’s on my bed. Wanna grab it?”

Aerin was certain she’d heard her wrong. Helena’s room was off-limits. Maybe this was some kind of test? “O-okay.”

Aerin opened the sliding door and padded through the living room, leaving wet tracks on the handwoven rug. The house was quiet, her parents absent. She smiled at her reflection in the giant hallway mirror. She had the same blond hair as Helena, but her features were more muddled, her shoulders broader, her face more masculine. Still, it was clear they were sisters.

Maybe they would get pizza later. Maybe Helena would drive her somewhere in her VW Bug. Maybe they’d figure out some way to get their parents to stop arguing.

Helena’s bedroom door was closed. Aerin turned the knob. Inside, she breathed in patchouli oil and jasmine—heady scents that seemed mysterious and grown-up. She surveyed a desk full of art supplies, posters of bands Aerin had never heard of, an iPhone on a heart-shaped pillow on the bed, the brown vinyl purse. Helena’s closet doors were flung open, revealing the flamboyant clothes she’d been wearing lately—feathers and silk, swirl prints and fringe. Aerin’s gaze moved to the dresser. A crane, folded out of slick red paper, stood like a sentinel.

A shiver went through her body. It seemed to be staring at her.

She walked closer, touched its wing. A cloth-covered journal lay next to it. Aerin lifted the cover and looked at her sister’s name written on the front page in her spiky scrawl.

There was a creak, and Aerin stiffened. She grabbed the purse from Helena’s bed, slung it around her elbow, and ran into the hall. The giant kitchen was still empty. She peeked into the backyard. Helena was gone. The snow-woman stood, arms akimbo, in the middle of the yard.

“Helena?” Aerin called out, taking a few steps onto the patio.

A bird called from a high branch. The wind was still. The yard was a blank, open, lonely square.

“Helena?” Aerin cried again, clomping down the steps. “Where are you?”

Her voice echoed in the stillness. Her heart thudded. She left because I spied.

She ran around to the front. Helena’s car sat in the driveway. No one was in the driver’s seat. Aerin flashed on the image of Helena’s phone, still inside the house. Her sister would never leave without it.

Something flickered at the tree line, and Aerin turned. “Helena?”

Then she noticed something in the snow. The fallen berries from the bushes that lined the back of the property looked like smeared blood against white. In their midst, Aerin almost hadn’t seen the red leather gloves Helena had been wearing, in the snow next to them, palms up.

Aerin ran to them, heart pounding hard. “Helena?” she called out. “Helena!”

Helena would never answer again.

Welcome to CASE NOT CLOSED, the #1 cold-case web community




Posts: (1) April 14, 9:02 p.m.

AKellyReal: I need some answers about my sister. Help…

ON THURSDAY NIGHT, just before school was off for spring break, Seneca Frazier sat cross-legged on her bed in her small dorm room at the University of Maryland. It was after 11:00 p.m., and the dorm was quiet because everyone was out partying at the frats or in upperclassmen houses. Tove Lo played through her laptop’s speakers. Packed boxes sat around her bed. She’d shut off the overhead light, and the glow from her computer turned her tawny skin a brassy gold. The perfume her roommate, Eve, had sprayed on before she went out kept making Seneca sneeze, and pieces of her wiry ponytail kept falling out and tickling her cheeks. But when she saw the post Maddy had just written on the chat feature of Case Not Closed, a crime-solving forum Seneca was a little bit addicted to, those small aggravations fell away. Her gaze tunneled in on the words on the screen.

MBM0815: Do you know this case?

Below was a screen grab of a post written just hours before by someone called AKellyReal. Seneca’s stomach flipped at the name in the thread’s title: Helena Kelly. Yeah, Maddy. I have every last detail of that case memorized.

But she couldn’t tell Maddy that. She wiggled her fingers over the keyboard.

TheMighty: Rich girl goes missing about five years ago? Body found in a park?

MBM0815: Yep. It happened in my town. I’m thinking about looking into it.

Seneca pulled at the chunky-knit infinity scarf around her neck and looked again at the screen grab. Was the poster, AKellyReal, Aerin Kelly, Helena’s sister? How had Aerin heard about Case Not Closed? Maybe the same way Seneca had—by accident. Ashton, one of her friends at college who she’d swapped dog-eared Agatha Christie paperbacks with, mentioned it in the dining hall: “Did you know there’s a website where amateur sleuths solve crimes?” he said excitedly. “It’s, like, part video game, part Bones. It’s totally eating into my homework time.” Seneca had given him an apathetic shrug and pushed around her concoction of strawberry froyo and Cocoa Krispies. “Sounds fun.” The first moment she could, however, she’d bolted up to her room, pounced on her laptop, and typed Case Not Closed into the browser.

It was easy to lose hours on the message boards of CNC. She’d bring her laptop to class, pretending to take notes but instead weighing in on cold-case murders and abductions. Some days she skipped class altogether—the course videos went online later anyway. She didn’t want to miss any new developments on her cases. Some of the posters were morons or rubberneckers, but others had smart input and practical knowledge: MizMaizie used to work for the Seattle PD. UnicornHorn had a background in forensics. BMoney60 always chimed in with a one-sentence proclamation like Spoiler alert: The mom did it. He was often right.

It was like Seneca had her own little CSI unit inside her computer.

And then there was her friend Maddy—or MBM0815, or Madison Wright from Connecticut. On Facebook, Maddy was a smiley cheerleader type with perfect Asian skin and hair and a penchant for pink, but her posts on Case Not Closed were witty and insightful. When they’d graduated to Gchat, they talked about silly, personal things and made up a game where they compared people they knew to types of candy. Seneca had admitted lots to Maddy, but not everything. She never told anyone everything if she didn’t have to.

Temptation stirred inside Seneca, and she started a new message.

TheMighty: Crazy idea. I’m on spring break starting tomorrow, and I’m going to be super bored. I could come see you. We could check out the Helena stuff together.

She added a surprised-face emoji and pressed send, anxiously tapping her nails against the bedpost. It would be amazing to meet up with a new friend. She had a group of kids she hung around with at college, but they all still felt like acquaintances.

And Helena Kelly…well. That was the Holy Grail of cases for her. She was dying to dig in.

Five and a half years ago, right around when Helena disappeared, Seneca had watched CNN religiously. The news wouldn’t shut up about the story. Valiant search parties went out every day, the whole town was interviewed, and even the governor of Connecticut gave a speech about bringing Helena home safely. At first, it disgusted Seneca, leaving her empty, but as the months passed and Helena still hadn’t been found, her feelings began to shift. When Seneca saw a Helena report on the news, she dropped everything to watch. She read every Helena investigative story over and over. She trolled her memorial page, inadvertently memorizing her friends’ names. She searched the family’s Facebook pages for months, discovering that the Kelly parents were separating and that Mrs. Kelly was reviving an ice cream business in town, supported heavily by the Dexby community “in the family’s time of need.” Seneca had held her breath, hoping for Helena’s safe return. She understood that the universe didn’t dole out happy endings, but she thought, just maybe, Helena would beat the odds.

Then, four years later, Helena’s body was found. Seneca watched in horror as the Dexby police admitted that they doubted they’d ever find who’d done it. But there’s so much more to look into! she’d thought. Why hadn’t they tried harder to prove the boyfriend’s alibi? Couldn’t they send more dogs into that upstate park? Was every moment of Helena’s life accounted for?

Seneca’s computer pinged again. She clicked the message.

MBM0815: You must have ESP. I was thinking the same thing. You can stay with me. Amtrak to Metro-North will get you here—there’s a train station in Dexby.

Seneca sat back, knocking into her packed box labeled Mysteries, A–L. Excitement flooded her body, followed by a chilly grip of fear. She was actually going to do it. Travel to the place that had consumed her thoughts, question the people she already knew so much about. It would bring up a lot of memories she’d long tried to ignore.

Yet she couldn’t help but feel galvanized by the challenge. She knew more about this case than most of the cops who’d worked it. Maddy needed her. Hell, Helena needed her, and Aerin, too. Seneca could just picture Aerin logging on to Case Not Closed just like she did, desperate for answers. Maybe if Seneca figured it out, everything else in her life that was spinning out of control would fall into place, too. All right, then: She was going. She was going to figure out what happened.

It wouldn’t solve all her problems. It wouldn’t solve all her mysteries. But it was a start.

AERIN KELLY SANK into an uncomfortable wicker love seat in her friend Tori’s sunporch, crossed her legs provocatively, and gazed at the guy next to her. Oliver. No, Owen. Shit. It was definitely Owen.

“Some party, huh?” She sipped the Mike’s Hard Lemonade she’d grabbed from the ice chest, wincing at its sickly sweet flavor. She should have gone for a Corona.

Owen’s fingers twitched around his beer. “I wish I lived in Dexby. This place rocks.”

“Not if you live here,” Aerin said with a shrug.

She gazed out the screened windows at Tori’s immense backyard. Even though Mr. and Mrs. Gates had explicitly told Tori to stay away from the fire pit when they were out of town, there was a big bonfire blazing. A bunch of kids were dancing tribally around it, drunk or stoned or both. On the court, guys from Windemere, Aerin’s stuffy prep school, were playing basketball, tripping over three cackling girls who’d decided to lie down and stargaze. Pitbull was blaring, someone was throwing up in the bushes, and Aerin was pretty sure she’d seen Kurt Schultz back Mr. Gates’s Porsche out of the driveway. A typical night in Dexby, Aerin thought wryly. People here did everything to excess—especially parties.

She gave Owen her sexiest smile. He was an out-of-town cousin of Cooper Templeton, who was probably smoking out of the gravity bong he’d brought with him because that was what Cooper always did at parties. Earlier, Aerin had noticed Owen across the crowded, trashed great room. He’d looked kind of adrift, so she’d sidled over. “Let’s find somewhere quiet to talk,” she’d said, taking his hand. On her way out, Quinn McNulty, Aerin’s friend from homeroom, had given her a thumbs-up. “He’s cute,” Quinn had murmured, but Aerin had chosen Owen mostly because he didn’t know her…or her baggage.

Owen’s gaze drifted to Aerin’s fingers, which were tiptoeing up his arm. He laughed nervously. “What do kids do around here? I saw there’s a ski slope close by. You into that?”

“I used to be,” Aerin said, “but I got bored.” It was the same lie she’d told her parents.

She wasn’t in the mood to talk, so she stood up and pulled her T-shirt over her head, revealing a pale purple lace bra. The sunporch was empty and private. Sort of. Though plenty of guys here had already seen her bra anyway. Owen’s jaw dropped. “Whoa.”

“Your turn,” she demanded, pointing at him and lowering her lashes.

Owen pulled his oversized Sunkist T-shirt over his head and dropped it to the floor, too. It was so easy to divert a guy’s attention.

Aerin looked him up and down. He had tanned skin and tight abs. The bright yellow waistband of his boxers peeked out over his shorts. There was a quarter-sized scar to the right of his belly button. All details she’d forget within the hour. He reached out his hands and pulled her close. “Mmm,” he groaned, pressing his lips to her clavicle. “Wow.”

Aerin made a hmm sound, too, trying to feel a flutter of…well, something. But really, Owen could have been anyone. She just needed an outlet to forget about posting that crazy-ass thing on that crazy-ass crime-solving website.

They made out for a while, Owen’s hands moving to the clasp of her bra. Aerin gave him a few attentive kisses and pressed her hands against his smooth, bare chest. His fingers moved down to the waistband of her skirt. She felt him fumble for the button and popped up.

“Wait. No,” she said, moving backward.

Owen stared at her. His hair was mussed, and his lips were parted. Then he smiled. “C’mon,” he urged, kissing her neck.

His hands eased toward her waistband again. Aerin felt the old panic, and she heard that familiar voice. Don’t. “I said no,” she said, lurching away from him.

He sat back, hands on his knees. Someone let out a scream from the party. The basketball loudly thumped against the pavement. Owen looked stunned. “Seriously?”

Aerin stood and almost tripped over her shoes, which she’d kicked off. Owen’s eyes searched for an answer as she tugged on her shirt. “Did I miss something?”

She stiffened. “I changed my mind.”

He grabbed his T-shirt from the carpet and put it back on. He drained the rest of his Coors Light in one gulp. “Psycho.”

She watched as he slammed off the porch to the backyard, wove toward the fire pit, and plopped sulkily on one of the wooden chairs. You are such a freak, she said to herself.

Sighing, she walked into Tori’s downstairs powder room, which was littered with toilet paper and had a condom wrapper in the sink. She turned on the tap anyway and splashed water on her face. Her reflection stared back at her from the mirror, mascara streaky, lipstick smudged. Her highlighted blond hair was straight, thanks to a hot iron, and her skin was flawless from her forty-five-minute makeup routine. Her boobs, which had grown significantly in the past five years, looked extra voluptuous in her V-neck blouse. What had gotten into her, seducing that poor kid and then blowing him off? It wasn’t just that today was the anniversary of her sister’s bones being found. It wasn’t just about that post she’d put up on that site. This had happened many times before.

The first time had been on the two-year anniversary of her sister’s disappearance. She’d been thirteen. She and James Ladd were in line for morning chapel at school, and he’d been looking at her, probably feeling sorry for her. “Want me to take my top off?” she’d blurted.

They’d snuck into the school’s theater and hid behind the big Christmas tree on the stage. There, she’d pulled up her shirt. James had looked at her with such…appreciation. It felt good to be in control of a situation instead of the other way around. It felt good to feel something after two years of numbness.

So she kept going. There was Kennett McKenzie, the boy she kissed at an Upper West Side town-house party when she was supposed to be visiting her dad. And Landon Howe, the boy she showed her panties to at a garden brunch. Or that time exactly a year ago when Aerin made out with Brayden Shapiro on the ninth tee at the Dexby Country Club. That same day, her mom had gotten the call about her sister’s remains in that park in Charles County, two hours away. Aerin had tried hard not to faint when the CSI people spoke of the blunt-force trauma to Helena’s pelvis, still apparent after almost five years of decomposition.

Suddenly, there was commotion outside. Aerin peered through the window. Blue and red police lights whirled in the front yard. A siren’s whoop pierced the air. As she opened the powder room door, kids stampeded past, tossing beer cans and plastic cups over their shoulders. “The woods!” Ben Wilder yelled. “Grab your purse!” Rebecca Hodges hissed to Greta Attkinson. “Otherwise they’ll find your license and know you were here!”

Aerin grabbed a Dorito from a bowl in the foyer and walked calmly into the front yard. She’d had one sip of Mike’s. Let the cops bust her. She didn’t care.

Police officers were giving Breathalyzers. Tori was crying on the porch. Aerin considered consoling her, but it wasn’t like it would solve anything. “You can’t leave!” a gruff voice shouted at Aerin. A cop shone a harsh light in her face, but after a moment, he lowered the light to the grass. “Aerin Kelly?”

The young officer stepped toward her. He had such smooth, pale skin; Aerin wondered if he even shaved yet. His uniform hung on his skinny frame.

“It’s Thomas.” There was a slight tremor in his voice. “Thomas Grove? We met at the, um, Easter Bunny party last year?”

Aerin looked closer. “Oh shit.”

The Easter Bunny party was an annual thing in Dexby. It was held on the Chester Morgenthau estate on Easter Sunday night—in fact, this year’s Easter Bunny party was next weekend. The adults dressed up, schmoozed, bragged about their net worth, bid on stuff in the silent auction, blah-di-blah. One of the traditions was that it was totally appropriate for girls to show up dressed as half hooker, half Easter Bunny, complete with a woven basket.

Last year had been Aerin’s first foray into the Easter Bunny party world, and she hadn’t been surprised to see fistfights in the wine cellar and people practically having sex on the cashmere rugs. Not one to be left out, Aerin dragged a random Windemere senior into the walk-in pantry. Not that she ever really had to drag anyone.

And here he was: Thomas Grove. If she’d had a million chances to guess his name, she never would have picked it.

Thomas stepped toward her, but not in a menacing way. His smile was surprisingly sweet and shy, and he was the first guy in a while, Aerin noticed, who was not staring at her chest. “You’re a cop now?”


On Sale
Nov 4, 2016
Page Count
320 pages

Sara Shepard

About the Author

Sara Shepard is the author of the Amateurs trilogy, as well as the New York Times bestselling series, Pretty Little Liars and The Lying Game. Her duology The Perfectionists is now a TV show on Freeform. She graduated from NYU and has an MFA from Brooklyn College. Visit her online at @sarabooks on Twitter and Snapchat, and @saracshepard on Instagram.

Learn more about this author