“WILL SEND CHILLS DOWN YOUR SPINE.” –Book Reporter
Along the shores of Oregon’s wild Columbia River, the Victorian mansion where Sarah McAdams grew up is as foreboding as she remembers. The moment she and her two daughters, Jade and Gracie, pull up the isolated drive, Sarah is beset by uneasy memories—of her cold, distant mother, of the half-sister who vanished without a trace, and of a long-ago night when Sarah was found on the widow’s walk, feverish and delirious.
“JACKSON DEFINITELY KNOWS HOW TO JANGLE READERS’ NERVES. . . . PERFECT FOR READERS OF JOY FIELDING OR FANS OF MARY HIGGINS CLARK.” –Booklist
But Sarah has vowed to make a fresh start and renovate the old place. Between tending to her girls and the rundown property, she has little time to dwell on the past. . . . Until a new, more urgent menace enters the picture.
“A REAL PAGE-TURNER.” –Suspense Magazine
One by one, teenage girls are disappearing. Frantic for her daughters’ safety, Sarah feels the house’s walls closing in on her again. Somewhere deep in her memory is the key to a very real danger. And only by confronting her most terrifying fears can she stop the nightmare roaring back to life once more . . .
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Close to Home
By Lisa Jackson
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2014 Lisa Jackson
All rights reserved.
October 15, 2014 Blue Peacock Manor
"God, Mom, you've got to be kidding!" Jade said from the passenger seat of the Explorer as Sarah drove along the once-gravel lane.
"Not kidding," Sarah responded. "You know that." Winding through thick stands of pine, fir, and cedar, the twin ruts were weed-choked and filled with potholes that had become puddles with the recent rain.
"You can't actually think that we can live here!" Catching glimpses of the huge house through the trees, Jade, seventeen, was clearly horrified and, as usual, wasn't afraid to voice her opinion.
"Mom's serious," Gracie said from the backseat, where she was crammed between piles of blankets, and mounds of comforters, sleeping bags, and the other bedding they were moving from Vancouver. "She told us."
Jade shot a glance over her shoulder. "I know. But it's worse than I thought."
"That's impossible," Gracie said.
"No one asked your opinion!"
Sarah's hands tightened over the steering wheel. She'd already heard how she was ruining her kids' lives by packing them up and returning to the old homestead where she'd been born and raised. To hear them tell it, she was the worst mother in the world. The word "hate" had been thrown around, aimed at her, the move, and their miserable lives in general.
Single motherhood. It wasn't for the faint-hearted, she'd decided long ago. So her kids were still angry with her. Too bad. Sarah needed a fresh start.
And though Jade and Gracie didn't know it, they did too.
"It's like we're in another solar system," Jade said as the thickets of trees gave way to a wide clearing high above the Columbia River.
Gracie agreed, "In a land, far, far away."
"Oh, stop it. It's not that bad," Sarah said. Her girls had lived most of their lives in Vancouver, Washington, right across the river from Portland, Oregon. Theirs had been a city life. Out here, in Stewart's Crossing, things would be different, and even more so at Sarah's childhood home of Blue Peacock Manor.
Perched high on the cliffs overlooking the Columbia River, the massive house where Sarah had been raised rose in three stories of cedar and stone. Built in the Queen Anne style of a Victorian home, its gables and chimneys knifed upward into a somber gray sky, and from her vantage point Sarah could now see the glass cupola that opened onto the widow's walk. For a second, she felt a frisson of dread slide down her spine, but she pushed it aside.
"Oh. My. God." Jade's jaw dropped open as she stared at the house. "It looks like something straight out of The Addams Family."
"Let me see!" In the backseat, Gracie unhooked her seat belt and leaned forward for a better view. "She's right." For once Gracie agreed with her older sister.
"Oh, come on," Sarah said, but Jade's opinion wasn't that far off. With a broad, sagging porch and crumbling chimneys, the once-grand house that in the past the locals had called the Jewel of the Columbia was in worse shape than she remembered.
"Are you blind? This place is a disaster!" Jade was staring through the windshield and slowly shaking her head, as if she couldn't believe the horrid turn her life had just taken. Driving closer to the garage, they passed another building that was falling into total disrepair. "Mom. Seriously. We can't live here." She turned her wide, mascara-laden eyes on her mother as if Sarah had gone completely out of her mind.
"We can and we will. Eventually." Sarah cranked on the wheel to swing the car around and parked near the walkway leading to the entrance of the main house. The decorative rusted gate was falling off its hinges, the arbor long gone, the roses flanking the flagstone path leggy and gone to seed. "We're going to camp out in the main house until the work on the guesthouse is finished, probably next week. That's where we'll hang out until the house is done, but that will take ... months, maybe up to a year."
"The guest ... Oh my God, is that it?" Jade pointed a black-tipped nail at the smaller structure located across a wide stone courtyard from its immense counterpart. The guesthouse was in much the same shape as the main house and outbuildings. Shingles were missing, the gutters were rusted, and most of the downspouts were disconnected or missing altogether. Many of the windows were boarded over as well, and the few that remained were cracked and yellowed.
"Charming." Jade let out a disgusted breath. "I can't wait."
"I thought you'd feel that way," Sarah said with a faint smile.
"Funny," Jade mocked.
"Come on. Buck up. It's just for a little while. Eventually we'll move into the main house for good, if we don't sell it."
Gracie said, "You should sell it now!"
"It's not just mine, remember? My brothers and sister own part of it. What we do with it will be a group decision."
"Doesn't anyone have a lighter?" Jade suggested, almost kidding. "You could burn it down and collect the insurance money."
"How do you know about ...?" But she didn't finish the question as she cut the engine. Jade, along with her newfound love of the macabre, was also into every kind of police or detective show that aired on television. Recently she'd discovered true crime as well, the kind of shows in which B-grade actors reenacted grisly murders and the like. Jade's interests, which seemed to coincide with those of her current boyfriend, disturbed Sarah, but she tried to keep from haranguing her daughter about them. In this case, less was more.
"You should sell out your part of it. Leave it to Aunt Dee Linn and Uncle Joe and Jake to renovate," Jade said. "Get out while you can. God, Mom, this is just so nuts that we 're here. Not only is this house like something out of a bad horror movie, but it's in the middle of nowhere."
She wasn't that far off. The house and grounds were at least five miles from the nearest town of Stewart's Crossing, the surrounding neighbors' farms hidden by stands of fir and cedar. Sarah cut the engine and glanced toward Willow Creek, the natural divide between this property and the next, which had belonged to the Walsh family for more than a hundred years. For a split second she thought about Clint, the last of the Walsh line, who according to Dee Linn and Aunt Marge, was still living in the homestead. She reminded herself sternly that he was not the reason she'd pushed so hard to move back to Stewart's Crossing.
"Why don't you just take me back to get my car," Jade said as Sarah swung the Explorer around to park near the garage.
"Because it won't be ready for a couple of days, you heard Hal." They'd left Jade's Honda with a mechanic in town; it was scheduled to get a new set of tires and much needed brakes, and Hal was going to figure out why the Civic was leaking some kind of fluid.
"Oh, right, Hal the master mechanic." Jade was disparaging.
"Best in town," Sarah said, tossing her keys into her bag. "My dad used him."
"Only mechanic in town. And Grandpa's been gone a long time, so it must've been eons ago!"
Sarah actually smiled. "Okay, you got me there. But the place was updated from the last time I was there. Lots of electronic equipment and a couple of new mechanics on staff."
To her amazement, Jade's lips twitched as well, reminding Sarah of the younger, more innocent girl she'd been such a short while ago. "And a lot of customers."
"Must be bad car karma right now," Sarah agreed. There had been an older woman with her little dog and two men, all having problems with their vehicles; the little group had filled the small reception area of the garage.
"Is there ever such a thing as good car karma?" Jade asked, but she seemed resigned to her fate of being without wheels for a while. Good.
Until recently, Jade had been a stellar student. She had a high IQ and had had a keen interest in school; in fact, she had breezed through any number of accelerated classes. Then, about a year ago, she'd discovered boys, and her grades had begun to slip. Now, despite the fact that it might be a bit passé, Jade was into all things Goth and wildly in love with her boyfriend, an older kid who'd barely graduated from high school and didn't seem to give a damn about anything but music, marijuana, and, most likely, sex. A pseudo-intellectual, he'd dropped out of college and loved to argue politics.
Jade thought the sun rose and set on Cody Russell.
Sarah was pretty sure it didn't.
"Come on, let's go," she told her daughters.
Jade wasn't budging. She dragged her cell phone from her purse. "Do I have to?"
"She's such a pain," Gracie said in a whisper. At twelve, she was only starting to show some interest in boys, and still preferred animals, books, and all things paranormal to the opposite sex, so far at least. Blessed with an overactive imagination and, again, keen intelligence, Gracie too was out of step with her peers.
"I heard that." Jade messed with her phone.
"It is kinda creepy, though," Gracie admitted, leaning forward as the first drops of rain splashed against the windshield.
"Beyond creepy!" Jade wasn't one to hold back. "And ... Oh, God, don't tell me we don't get cell service here." Her face registered complete mortification.
"It's spotty," Sarah said.
"God, Mom, what is this? The Dark Ages? This place is ... it's horrible. Blue Peacock Manor, my ass."
"Hey!" Sarah reprimanded sharply. "No swearing. Remember? Zero."
"But, Jesus, Mom—"
"Again?" Sarah snapped. "I just said no."
"Okay!" Jade flung back, then added, a little more calmly, "Come on, Mom. Admit it. Blue Peacock is a dumb name. It even sounds kind of dirty."
"Where is this coming from?" Sarah demanded.
"Just sayin'." Jade dropped her phone into her bag. "And Becky told me the house is haunted."
"So now you're listening to Becky?" Sarah set the parking brake and reached for the handle of the door. The day was quickly going from bad to worse. "I didn't think you liked her."
"I don't." Jade sighed theatrically. "I'm just telling you what she said." Becky was Jade's cousin, the daughter of Sarah's older sister, Dee Linn. "But it's not like I have a zillion friends here, is it?"
"Okay. Got it." In Sarah's opinion, Becky wasn't to be trusted; she was one of those teenaged girls who loved to gossip and stir things up a bit, gleeful to cause a little trouble, especially for someone else. Becky cut a wide swath through everyone else's social life. Just like her mother. No doubt Becky'd heard from Dee Linn the tales that Blue Peacock Manor harbored its own special ghosts. That kind of gossip, swirling so close to home, just barely touching her life but not ruining it, was right up Dee Linn's alley.
Gracie said, "I think the house looks kinda cool. Creepy cool."
Jade snorted. "What would you know about cool?"
"Hey ...," Sarah warned her oldest.
Used to her older sister's barbs, Gracie pulled the passive-aggressive card and acted as if she hadn't heard the nasty ring to her sister's question. She changed the conversation back to her favorite topic. "Can we get a dog, Mom?" Before Sarah could respond, she added quickly. "You said we could.
Remember? Once we moved here, you said we'd look for a dog."
"I believe I said 'I'll think about it.'"
"Jade got a car," Gracie pointed out.
From the front seat, Jade said, "That's different."
"No, it's not." To her mother, Gracie threw back Sarah's own words, "'A promise is a promise.' That's what you always say." Gracie regarded her mother coolly as she clambered out of the backseat.
"I know." How could Sarah possibly forget the argument that had existed since her youngest had turned five? Gracie was nuts about all animals, and she'd been lobbying for a pet forever.
Once her younger daughter was out of earshot, Sarah said to Jade, "It wouldn't kill you to be nice to your sister."
Jade threw her mother a disbelieving look and declared, "This is so gonna suck!"
"Only if you let it." Sarah was tired of the ongoing argument that had started the second she'd announced the move two weeks ago. She'd waited until the real estate deal with her siblings was completed and she had hired a crew to start working before breaking the news to her kids. "This is a chance for all of us to have a new start."
"I don't care. The 'new start' thing? That's on you. For you. And maybe her," she added, hitching her chin toward the windshield.
Sarah followed her gaze and watched Gracie hike up the broken flagstone path, where dandelions and moss had replaced the mortar years before. A tangle of leggy, gone-to-seed rosebushes were a reminder of how long the house had been neglected. Once upon a time, Sarah's mother had tended the gardens and orchard to the point of obsession, but that had been years ago. Now a solitary crow flapped to a perch in a skeletal cherry tree near the guesthouse, then pulled its head in tight, against the rain.
"Come on, Jade. Give me a break," Sarah said.
"You give me one." Jade rolled her eyes and unbuckled her seat belt, digging out her cell phone and attempting to text. "Smartphone, my ass—er, butt."
"Again, watch the language." Sarah pocketed her keys and tried not to let her temper get control of her tongue. "Grab your stuff, Jade. Like it or not, we're home."
"I can not believe this is my life."
"Believe it." Sarah shoved open the driver's side door, then walked to the rear of the vehicle to pull her computer and suitcase from the cargo area.
Of course, she too had doubts about moving here. The project she planned to tackle—renovating the place to its former grandeur before selling it—was daunting, perhaps impossible. Even when she'd been living here with all her siblings, the huge house had been sinking into disrepair. Since her father had died, things had really gone downhill. Paint was peeling from the siding, and many of the shiplap boards were warped. The wide porch that ran along the front of the house seemed to be listing, rails missing, and there were holes in the roof where there had once been shingles.
"It looks evil, you know," Jade threw over her shoulder before hauling her rolling bag out of the cargo space and reluctantly trudging after her sister. "I've always hated it."
Sarah managed to hold back a hot retort. The last time she'd brought her children here, she and her own mother, Arlene, had gotten into a fight, a blistering battle of words that precipitated their final, painful rift. Though Gracie was probably too small to remember, Jade certainly did.
Gracie was nearly at the steps when she stopped suddenly to stare upward at the house. "What the ...?"
"Come on," Jade said to her younger sister, but Gracie didn't move, even when Sarah joined her daughters and a big black crow landed on one of the rusted gutters.
"Something wrong?" Sarah asked.
Jade was quick to say, "Oh, no, Mom, everything's just perfect. You get into a fight with that perv at your job and decide we all have to move." She snapped her fingers. "And bam! It's done. Just like that. You rent out the condo in Vancouver and tell us we have to move here to a falling-down old farm with a grotesque house that looks like Stephen King dreamed it up. Yeah, everything's just cool." Jade reached for her phone again. "And there's got to be some cell phone service here or I'm out, Mom. Really. No service is like ... archaic and ... and ... inhumane!"
Gracie whispered, "Someone's in there."
"What?" Sarah said, "No. The house has been empty for years."
Gracie blinked. "But ... but, I saw her."
"You saw who?" Sarah asked and tried to ignore a tiny flare of fear knotting her stomach.
With one hand still on the handle of her rolling bag, she shrugged. "A girl."
Sarah caught an I-told-you-so look from her older daughter.
"A girl? Where?" Jade demanded.
"She was standing up there." Gracie pointed upward, to the third story and the room at the northwest corner of the house, just under the cupola. "In the window."
Theresa s room. The bedroom that had been off-limits to Sarah as a child. The knot in Sarah's gut tightened. Jade again caught her mother's eyes in a look that silently invoked Sarah to bring Gracie back to reality.
"Maybe it's a ghost," Jade mocked, "I hear there are lots of them around here." She leaned closer to her sister, "And not just from Becky. You told me you'd been doing some 'research' and you found out the first woman who lived here was killed, her body never found, her spirit roaming the hallways of Blue Peacock Manor forever."
Excerpted from Close to Home by Lisa Jackson. Copyright © 2014 Lisa Jackson. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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