This isn’t my Jack, who once looked at me like I was his world. The guy who’s occupied the better part of my mind for eight months.
This is Z, criminal hacker with a twisted agenda and an arsenal full of anger.
I’ve spent the past year trying to get my life on track. New school. New friends. New attitude. But old flames die hard, and one look at Jackthe hacker who enlisted me into his life and his hacking ring, stole my heart, and then left meand every memory, every moment, every feeling comes rushing back. But Jack’s not the only one who’s resurfaced in my life. And if I can’t break through Z’s defenses and reach the old Jack, someone will get hurt…or worse.
About the Author
Vivi Barnes was raised on a farm in East Texas where her theater-loving mom and cowboy dad gave her a unique perspective on life. After college, she convinced her supportive husband to move with her to be part of the sunshine and magic in Orlando, Florida. On a good day, she manages to divide her time writing, working, reading, goofing off with her three kids, and avoiding dirty dishes. Vivi is a proud member of SCBWI and attends conferences whenever she can.
Read an Excerpt
By Vivi Barnes, Stacy Abrams, Tara Whitaker
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Vivi Barnes
All rights reserved.
The white rose just a few inches from my nose is the first thing I see when I awaken on Valentine's Day — my first Valentine's Day in this huge mansion and the seventeenth without a boyfriend. Which leaves my grandfather as the rose culprit. Surprising, considering he rarely steps foot in my room.
It's fine with me. I have exactly zero interest in a boyfriend, considering the last — and only — love in my life was a hacker who refused to leave that life for me. My therapist told me I should try to make more friends, maybe even go out with one of the guys at school who'd shown interest. Why would I want to talk to some immature guy? The only person I'd ever told my secrets to was a secret himself. Nobody can know about the boy who was Z to everyone else, but Jack to me.
The boy who saved me, then broke my heart.
Twirling the rose in my fingers, I walk out on my balcony. The sun has barely crept over the horizon, slivers of pastel hues breaking the sky. It used to be my favorite time of day, when the world around me is silent and I can actually think. But even after eight months, the painful memories of Jack are what fill my mind these days. His face is burned in my brain — kaleidoscope eyes that looked straight into my soul, blond hair hanging long over his forehead, even the warm smell of his jacket — an intoxicating mix of leather and spice that hinted at danger.
I haven't heard from him since that night on this very balcony. The night when he gave me his heart, then left me to go back to his "family," the home of foster-kids-turned-cyber-criminals. The rumble of his Ducati as he pulled away became the background music of my nightmares.
Not that my life isn't great. I love my grandfather. It was because of Jack that I was reunited with him in the first place, so I should be grateful for that. I am. I just wish —
Stop, Liv. Face the fact that he's moved on.
The longer I'm away from Jack, the more I wonder if what we had was even real to begin with.
A knock sounds before I hear my bedroom door open. I don't need to turn around to know it's Mrs. Bedwin with a cup of oolong tea, a morning ritual since I first came to live here. A year ago, I'd have laughed if someone said I'd be living in a mansion, waited on hand and foot. Funny how quickly a person can get used to being rich.
Mrs. Bedwin brings the tea out to the balcony where I'm still standing, staring over the wall past the huge oak that partially blocks my view of the street.
"It's chilly out here," she says, handing me the cup and rubbing her hands together.
"At least it's not snowing," I tell her. I run a hand over the fluffy pink robe she gave me for Christmas.
She smiles. "I don't mind the snow. A good hard freeze rids us of summer's bugs. Where'd you get that?" she asks, nodding at the white rose in my hand.
I lift it to inhale the faint scent. "It was on my pillow this morning. I guess Grandfather snuck in before heading to work."
"Really?" Her eyebrows rise. "Odd thing for him to do."
"That's what I thought. Has he already left for work?"
"He left an hour ago. He said your dinner reservation is at six thirty this evening."
I smile and turn my gaze back to the street.
"What are you looking for out here each morning?" Mrs. Bedwin asks curiously.
"Well, you stand on this balcony almost every morning and stare at the street, or maybe the tree. Either you're wanting to become an arborist or you're searching for someone."
I don't answer. It wouldn't help to lie to her. She always seems to know what's going on in my head. Not everything, exactly, but my feelings in general. It's strangely comforting from this sweet, caring woman who once loved my dead mother, too. I can tell her almost anything, though I don't tell her about Jack. I'm sure she's heard about him from my grandfather, whose questions early on made me realize he'd come to his own conclusion that Jack was no good for me. Sometimes I get the feeling my grandfather's asking her to fish for information on him.
Mrs. Bedwin touches my cheek gently. "You look tired. Still having a hard time sleeping?" She sighs. "Sweetheart, I really think we should talk to your grandfather about restarting your therapy sessions —"
"No," I interrupt a little too quickly. "I'm fine." They had me see a counselor after I'd been kidnapped by Jack's hacking ringleader, Bill Sykes. Though it did help to get me over some of the horrible things that happened in my past — things I wouldn't have shared except that the therapist already knew them from my foster-care records — there was no way I was going to tell her everything. "I just had a bad night."
"Do you want to talk about it?"
I shake my head. I don't share with anyone the thoughts that keep me up at night, sometimes causing my heart to race so fast it might as well thump its way out of my chest. Some are based in memories, like visions of my last foster father Derrick trying to force himself on me; some are based in fear — Julia at Child Welfare knocking on our door and telling my grandfather that this has been a big mistake and that I'm ready to be shipped off to the next disturbing home, or Jack begging me to return to his life of hacking.
Mrs. Bedwin squeezes my hand. "You're safe here, remember? We're not going anywhere and neither are you." She winks at me. "Well, that's not exactly true. You'd better get downstairs — Juliette is making ham and eggs and will be awfully upset if you skip breakfast before school again."
* * *
I only have a couple minutes to shovel down breakfast before slipping on my coat and gloves and running out the door to my car. I slide into the driver's seat and start the engine, then crank up the heat. A square white envelope on the passenger seat catches my eye, my name printed on the front in plain block letters. Behind it is a pink and white striped bag with pink tissue paper. Good thing I left the car unlocked last night. Smiling, I slide the card out of its envelope. First the rose, now this. Grandfather is obviously trying to overcompensate for years of missed Valentine's Days. Much like Christmas morning, when I swear there were more gifts under the tree for me than I'd received in my entire life.
The picture on the front of the card is a white rose with a simple message:
Thinking of you on Valentine's Day.
There's nothing inside — it's completely blank. Grandfather didn't even sign it. I know he probably hasn't gone out with anyone since my grandmother died before I was born, and he doesn't have any other family except me, but seriously, he's got to know how to write in a card.
I set the card down and pick up the bag, pulling out the tissue paper and a rectangular white box. Inside lays a delicate gold link bracelet, accented with emeralds and diamonds that twinkle in the stream of sunlight. In the eight months that I've been here, Grandfather's supplied me with almost enough jewelry to open a store — pearl earrings and necklace, a diamond necklace that belonged to my grandmother, a gold infinity bracelet. How much jewelry can a person wear?
I start to slip the bracelet around my left wrist but stop, my eyes on the bracelet Jack gave me that I never remove. My fingers trace the slender gold chain lightly. It's the simplest of jewelry, something that belonged to his mother, but aside from the locket that once belonged to my mother, I've always treasured it most. I wrap the new bracelet around my other wrist and shoot Grandfather a quick text: Thank you for the gift. It's beautiful.
Emerson is just behind me when I drive up to Dalton Academy for the Obscenely Wealthy. It's not a bad school, just filled with the richest, most entitled kids in the world. And not a single one with a past like mine — not that they'll know about that. Grandfather was quick to change my name to Brownlow, his last name and also my mother's before she ran away with the guy who got her pregnant. Something he never talks about.
"Happy Valentine's Day," Emerson sings through her window as she pulls her Audi into the parking spot next to mine. She gets out of her car with a big heart-shaped box of candy and presents it to me with a flourish.
"This is for me?" I ask, taking the box.
"Of course, silly!"
"But I didn't get you anything." I had no idea friends got each other gifts. I thought Valentine's Day was a relationship kind of thing.
She laughs at that and wraps an arm around my shoulders. "You didn't have to. I just felt like getting it. But if you want, you can give me a truffle from the box. I won't mind."
I let her browse through the box until she finds one and pops it into her mouth, grinning. Emerson, my best — and really only — friend here at Dalton, was the first person to even say three words to me my first day of school. Those three words happened to be, "Need a friend?" And I did — very much. Having someone as well-liked and genuine as Emerson made my first months at Dalton more tolerable.
"Check out my present from Kade." She holds up her hand to show me a ring with a small emerald in the middle. "Sneaky guy, he gave it to my mom last night so I'd have something first thing this morning."
"It's pretty. Is it like a promise ring or something?"
Her mouth drops open, then she closes it. "No. At least, I hope not. Oh my God, do you think he's thinking like engagement or something?"
I bite back a grin, surprised that she didn't come to that conclusion herself. Emerson's a total romantic. "No, he probably just thought it'd look great on you."
"Oh. Good." She frowns, stretching her hand out to stare at the ring. "I guess."
"It matches my bracelet," I tell her, holding up my wrist.
"Wow, who gave you that?"
"My grandfather. He left it on my car seat this morning."
"Oh, boo. I thought maybe you had a secret admirer or something." I try not to smile at her obvious disappointment. Emerson's been on me to date for months now. She knows I had someone back in Richmond who was special, but only that we broke it off before I moved here. She doesn't know anything else about Jack. No one does, because what would I say? The last guy I dated is a criminal, and the last time I saw him was right after we got kidnapped by his horrible boss and almost died trying to escape. That'd go over really well.
"I don't know, what do you think?" Emerson breaks into my thoughts as we walk down the hallway to our lockers.
She sighs. "Where Kade's taking me tonight. Girl, you are not with it today, are you? Are you doing anything tonight?"
"My grandfather's taking me to dinner."
"Sweet. Not so romantic, but sweet."
I smile. "Yes, he's sweet. But a little over the top on gifts sometimes." Even after eight months of living the wealthy life, I'd be happier if he gave me a gift card to a bookstore instead of extravagant jewelry I rarely wear.
My phone starts buzzing, and I pull it from my pocket. Grandfather's text reads: What gift?
I frown, typing, The bracelet you left in my car. I snap a quick picture of the bracelet on my wrist and send it to him. Maybe his text was a hint to send a picture, though I doubt it. He's usually pretty direct about things.
"What's up?" Emerson asks.
"Looks like Grandfather forgot he left me the bracelet." But even as I say it, it doesn't sound right. He's one of the sharpest people I've ever known, and he runs a financial institution.
"Maybe he gave it to one of his staff to put in your car." Her voice has the usual bitter tone whenever she's thinking of her parents. They're hardly ever around, and when they are, they don't pay much attention to her.
"Yeah, you're probably right." I don't believe that, though. Even though it's possible Mrs. Bedwin did put it there, I doubt it. Grandfather is the type to handle things himself when it comes to me. But Emerson's parents travel so much for their business that they often let their staff handle things like birthdays and other events they think aren't important. So as grateful as I am that Grandfather's always there for me, I don't like to rub that in Emerson's face.
"Maybe you really do have a secret admirer," she says hopefully.
I roll my eyes. "I doubt that."
"Oh, really?" She stops in her tracks, her eyes fixed straight ahead. I follow her gaze, a sharp sense of dread creeping down my spine. A white rose is dangling from the vent in my locker.
A rose I know wasn't placed there by my grandfather.CHAPTER 2
I ride the Ducati through the main entrance of Briarcreek House, my eyes on the three-story home at the end of the long drive. The house is beautiful from the street. Sometimes I stop halfway down the drive and look at it through narrowed eyes, trying not to see the rust overtaking the archway sign or the weeds growing onto the drive. It looks especially bleak in the winter — everything brown and worn. The glory days of Monroe Street have passed, and all we have left is this shell of a life, barely eking out enough money to hold on to this property.
I had no idea how much we relied on Bill.
As I walk into the house, the noise of Xbox and laughter sounds normal enough to make me relax a bit. We're still a family, even if we don't have all the money we had before.
"Z!" Dutch comes out of the kitchen to slap my hand. By the slightly acidic smell of tomatoes mixed with smoky garlic, I'm guessing we're having spaghetti tonight. It's the cheapest thing Nancy can make for so many kids, so it's on the menu every week, and sometimes twice. I have to hand it to Nancy — she's pretty good at stretching the ol' dime.
"Been out on a killing spree?" I ask Dutch, pointing at the spatters of red sauce all over his shirt.
"Yeah, pretty much. I won," he says, his voice warbling slightly. Only in eighth grade, Dutch is the youngest kid in the house. His hacking skills are pretty impressive for his age. Or they were, before Nancy pulled the plug on our business.
"You're kitchen duty tonight, huh?" I ask him.
He nods. "Better than cleanup. That's Jen." His grin is slightly evil, which makes me laugh. Jen hates having any kind of kitchen duty, but since we took in some of the girls from Bill's prostitution ring that most of us tried to forget existed, Nancy's had to reassign duties to accommodate everyone. Not only that, by playing "mom" to all these extra kids, she suddenly decided that we all needed to stop hacking. Live a good example and all that crap, just because Bill's crazy idea to kidnap Liv for her grandfather's money almost got us caught. Never mind that we'd gone years without any incident. I wouldn't be surprised if she carts us all off to church soon.
The frustration of knowing we can do something about our situation but won't is almost more than I can take. We need the money. Her work-at-home job as a remote computer tech isn't cutting it. She'd be upset if she found out I saw a pretty hefty credit card bill on her desk, but it's stuck in my head now. We, the Monroe Street family, who not long ago had so much money that we never had to even think twice about buying a new car or computer, are now ringing up debt on credit cards and struggling to pay bills. And it's for that reason I'm shocked she doesn't allow us to continue hacking for profit. It's also one reason that I haven't stopped.
I'm not going to let my family do without if I can help it.
Nancy calls to me from the office as I start toward the stairs. "Close the door behind you," she says. Her eyes are fixed on the monitor in front of her, her hand pressed to her lips.
"Something wrong?" I ask, shutting the door and sitting across from her.
"I don't know. Did you buy some jewelry lately?"
I start laughing until I realize she's not even smiling. "Um, no, why?"
She turns the monitor toward me. "Well, someone has. Two thousand dollars' worth from our emergency account. You know you and I are the only ones who have access to it. Did your debit card get stolen?"
I peer at the monitor to see the line she's pointing at. The transaction is with Abbott & Peterson Jewelers, a jewelry store about a mile from our house.
What the ...
Excerpted from Olivia Decoded by Vivi Barnes, Stacy Abrams, Tara Whitaker. Copyright © 2016 Vivi Barnes. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.