When Riley first gets the postcard tucked into her bag, she thinks it's a joke. Then she finds a birth certificate for a girl named Jane Elizabeth O'Leary hidden inside her baby book.
Riley's parents have always been pretty overprotective. What if it wasn't for her safety...but fear of her finding out their secret? What have they been hiding? The more Riley digs for answers, the more questions she has.
The only way to know the truth? Find out what happened to Jane O'Leary.
Praise for Truly, Madly, Deadly
"A fast-paced thriller."—Kirkus Reviews
"What a ride! Full of twists and turns — including an ending you won't see coming!"—April Henry, New York Times bestselling author of The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die
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"No, Riley. No way."
"But, Dad, you haven't even heard-"
Riley Spencer's father took a slurping sip from his coffee cup and looked over the rim at his daughter. "I said no. End of discussion."
Riley blew out a sigh and crossed the kitchen, slamming the cupboard door after retrieving a coffee cup.
"I hope you're pouring that for me," her mother said, coming up over her shoulder and slipping the now-full cup out of Riley's hands. "What's going on?"
Riley fumed. "I can't go on the school trip-the school trip to look at colleges-and now I can't even drink a cup of coffee! It's like you want to keep me here in this stupid little fortress forever!"
Riley's parents were staring at her, her father in mid-sip with newspaper in one hand, her mother with a glint of a half-smile on her pale pink lips.
"Ry, we talked about this."
"No," Riley said, "we did not talk about this. You talked about this. And no one said I couldn't drink coffee."
Her father shrugged and went back to his paper. "Have a cup of coffee. Be five foot two for the rest of your life. See if I care."
"We already had this discussion, hon. Your father and I said no." Riley saw her mother's eyes flash over the rim of her coffee cup. She gave a quick glance at her husband, and Riley knew she was shut out.
Her mother sighed. "It's not like we do this for no reason, Ry." She shook a single pill from the prescription bottle and held it in her palm. "There will be crowds and a lot of confusion. Dr. Morley said it would be best to ease into a new environment."
Riley glared at the tiny pill before snatching it up and popping it into her mouth. "What's the point of taking antianxiety medication if I never even have the opportunity to get anxious?" But even as she said the words, a tiny, singeing panic burned up the back of her neck. "It's not like I have a panic attack every time I leave the house or anything."
She slumped, glaring through lowered lashes at each of her parents. She let out a low, dejected sigh before pushing around the cereal in her bowl.
"Well, I guess getting straight As doesn't matter anymore anyway. If I can't even go check out a university on a heavily chaperoned school-sponsored trip, there's no reason to even apply to college. I mean, I don't want to go to a school I've never even visited. Even if it is my beloved father's alma mater. What if there are rapists and murderers surrounding the campus? I'd be caught totally off guard. I guess it's going to be Crescent City Junior College after all. I hear they have a pretty decent math department. I think it was ranked eighty-fifth in America's Best Junior Colleges. Eighty-fifth. That's not bad, right?"
"Ry, we agreed that your dad and I would take you and Shelby to look at colleges over your spring break. What happened to that?"
Riley looked her mother full in the face and blinked. "I have a thirst for knowledge that can't wait, Mom."
A beat passed as her parents shared an is-she-serious look.
"Oh, come on!" Riley moaned.
"Ry, honey." Her mother patted her hand. "We need to make sure you're taken care of. We just like to know you're safe." She offered Riley a tight-lipped smile.
"I'll be safe. You can call me every five minutes. You can shoot one of those pet tracker chips in the back of my neck!"
Her father cocked his head, but he didn't look about to relent. Riley's lower lip started to quiver. She hadn't planned on pulling out the big guns until the situation got dire, but her eyes filled with tears on their own.
Her mother let out a long sigh. "Your father and I will talk about it again."
• • •
"‘Talk about it again'?" Shelby Webber snapped as she followed Riley up the stairs that afternoon. "That's good, right?"
Riley gave her best friend a look.
"OK, it's not a definite no."
"Might as well be. How long does it take for them to talk about it? ‘Hey, Ry should go on her school trip. Oh, OK.' Three seconds. Not an entire school day, which is like a lifetime in me-waiting-to-go-on-a-trip time."
Riley dumped her backpack on the floor and flopped down onto her bed. "Face it, Shelb. I'm trapped. I'm never going to get out of here. You'll go off to college, forget about me, and I'll be here, under curfew, reporting back to my parents."
Shelby's lips quirked up in a half smile. "Drama queen, party of one?"
"Shut up." Riley's stone gray eyes went up to Shelby, who was biting her lip, looking nervous. "What?"
"It's just-and I seriously hate to ask this, you know, because you're not going and all, but..."
Riley rolled her eyes. "Spit it out. What do you want?"
"Can I borrow your Hudson sweatshirt?"
"So you can ride up to Hudson without me, wearing my Hudson sweatshirt, without me?"
"Forget I said anything."
"No, no." Riley sighed as she pushed herself off the bed. "I'm going to die in this room anyway. Someone might as well get some use out of my clothes. The sweatshirt is probably still packed in one of the moving boxes." She jutted a thumb over her shoulder at the haphazard spread of torn-open cardboard boxes spread around the room.
"I can't believe you guys moved all the way out here." Shelby shuddered like the Blackwood Hills Estates, with its empty model homes and landscaping of mud and excess construction materials, was a hideous other planet. Which it kind of was.
"Thanks for coming all the way to outer Mongolia to visit me." Riley narrowed her eyes. "Unless it was all a ploy just to borrow my sweatshirt."
"I would never scam you that way, Ry. Not without getting some matching shoes or something too."
Riley poked through one of the boxes on her bedroom floor. "Oh, actually, it's probably in my parent's room."
Shelby followed Riley across the hall. "Why is it with their stuff?"
"Because technically, it's my dad's. It was my dad's. He got it when he was at Hudson. Never wears it anymore, so it's mine now."
"Whenever you sneak it out of their room."
Riley put her hands on her hips. "Do you want it or not?"
"Lead the way."
Riley put her hand on her parents' bedroom doorknob and turned to Shelby. "By the way, if anyone asks, we were never here. Ever."
Shelby looked around. "Your parents always let me come over."
"Not here, here! In my parents' room." Even as she said it, her heart skipped a little-but she smashed the niggling, rule-breaking guilt way down and piled her tethered-to-Crescent City annoyance on top of it. "We're not exactly supposed to be"-she made air quotes-"in there."
"Oh, Riley's breaking the rules!"
Riley narrowed her eyes and Shelby rolled hers. "Oh my God, Ry, your parents are, like, the nicest people on the planet. They're going to beat you if they find out you were in their room?"
"No! But they flip out over the weirdest things. When we were packing up the other house, I was trying to find some room for my shoes so I went through one of my dad's den boxes and he fully spazzed out."
"Awesome. We're going through the boxes of an unbalanced dude who can snap when people go through his boxes."
"He's not unbalanced. Just...wildly protective of office supplies?"
"Yep, that's logical."
Shelby let out a low whistle when Riley pushed her through the door to her parents' bedroom. "This is amazing. If you have to spend your whole life in the house anyway, you should have chosen this room."
"Would if I could. Here." Riley pushed open the closet and lugged out three enormous cardboard boxes. "It's in one of these. But other than the stuff in there, don't touch anything."
As if on cue, Riley's cell phone went off, a classic telephone ring that made her eyes roll. "It's like they know we're here." A hot stripe shot up the back of her neck, and she faked a cheerful voice. "Hi, Dad."
"Hey ya, turnip."
"Please, Dad-stop with the turnip stuff already."
"But you know how much I love turnips!"
Riley watched Shelby pacing the room, picking things up off her mother's dresser. She covered the phone and waved frantically at Shelby, mouthing, don't touch anything!
Shelby held her hands up and Riley had a fleeting thought that her father was just outside the bedroom door, ready to catch them both and sentence her to a lifetime grounding. She jumped when her father cleared his throat on his end of the phone.
"So, I guess you don't even want to know why I was calling."
Riley took a deep breath. "Hey, Dad, why are you calling?"
He chuckled. "Better. Anyway, your mother was here for lunch and we talked."
Riley held her breath, the edges of her stomach starting to quiver. "And?"
"And we've decided you can go on your school trip."
Riley blinked, mouth open. Shelby just stared. "Wait," Riley said into the phone. "What's the catch?"
"There is no catch."
"There has to be. Like, you're chaperoning, or Mom slipped a GPS tracker into my Cheerios."
Her father chuckled again. "Nothing like that. But there are rules. We'll talk about them tonight over dinner."
"OK." Riley's grin was so big it hurt her cheeks. "Thanks, Dad."
Shelby rushed up to her, grabbing both wrists. "You're going. They're letting you go!"
"They're letting me go." Riley said the words slowly, and Shelby dropped her arms and stood back appraisingly.
"What is this that you're doing? This isn't the happy dance. This isn't the dance of ‘we are spending an entire weekend on a college campus with no parents.' What dance is this?"
Riley's eyes swept her parents' room, the torn-open boxes. They had just given her permission to go on a trip even as she pawed through all their stuff...
She worried her bottom lip. "They're up to something."
"What are you talking about?"
"My parents never let me go anywhere. They never let me do anything. And suddenly, poof, they listen to me and let me go to another city? No."
"Maybe pod people ate your parents. Who cares? Your pod father gave you permission."
Riley looked up. "Maybe I shouldn't go."
Shelby slung her arm over Riley's shoulder and sat her gently on the bed. She dropped into a soothing voice as she petted Riley's hand. "What you're feeling is normal, Riley. There's even a name for it. It's called Stockholm syndrome."
Riley shoved Shelby but laughed. "Shut up!"
"You shut up. We're going away for the weekend! Be. Excited."
Riley thought about she and Shelby, lounging on a big green lawn in the shadow of a huge university and several university men.
After breaking into spontaneous happy dances and a short round of screams, Riley went back to the cardboard boxes. "OK, I feel kind of bad being in here, but now it's even more important. The sweatshirt for you and"-she disappeared waist-deep into one of the boxes and rifled around, coming up with a faded, vintage-looking Hudson tee-"this for me."
"We're going to be college girls!"
"No parents, free for the weekend!"
With gusto, Shelby dug into the box in front of her. Her flailing legs immediately stilled.
Riley stood. "Shelbs? Are you all right? Did a giant clothes rat eat your head off?"
"Oh my God!" Shelby flopped out of the box, cheeks red, maniacal grin spreading across her face. She waved a thick book with a pink gingham cover, the whole thing rimmed in eyelet lace. "Is this what I think it is?"
Riley crossed her arms in front of her chest, confused. "What do you think it is?"
Shelby climbed up on Riley's parents' bed and flopped on her stomach, chin in hands, book in front of her. Riley did the same.
"I think it's a tribute to the life of one cutesy-wutesy Wriley Spenca." She pinched one of Riley's cheeks. "Aww," she cooed, once she lifted the cover and revealed a wrinkled picture of Riley, dwarfed by a polka-dot-patterned baby blanket and a teeny little hat.
"I was a pretty cute baby," Riley said, grinning to herself.
"Nah, cute toddler. You were at least three in that pic."
"How do you know how old I was?"
"Are you kidding me? I can spot a toddler at eighty paces. And then I turn around and run the other way before my mom makes me babysit it."
Shelby went back to flipping through the pages while Riley hopped off the bed and continued shopping through her mother's clothes.
"Ugh. How do my parents expect any guy to look at me-let alone a college guy-in stuff like this?" Riley held up a particularly unflattering shirt with buttons in the shape of miniature horse heads.
Shelby just turned a page in the baby book, not bothering to look up. "A, that's probably their whole point and B, they probably expect you to wear your own clothes."
Riley groaned and dove back in the box where the album came from, grumbling about her mother's love of holiday turtlenecks.
"Ah ha!" she beamed a minute later, holding the Hudson sweatshirt up against her. She twirled, admiring herself in the mirror. "You know, now that I'm going on the trip too, maybe I should just wear this. It looks good on me, right?"
Shelby looked up. "Absolutely. You wear the sweatshirt I'm so totally borrowing, and I'll wear a sweatshirt with this on it." She held up the pink gingham album, open to a heinously embarrassing picture of four-year-old Riley on the toilet.
"You play dirty."
"You're the one on the toilet, toots. Sweatshirt, please."
Riley balled up the shirt and tossed it at Shelby, knocking the album right out of her hands and onto the floor.
"OK," Riley said, going back to the box. "We just need to get everything back in the box on Monday, and my parents will never notice."
Shelby picked up the album. "Um, they might notice you broke your baby book."
Anxiety pricked at the base of Riley's neck. Though her parents wouldn't let her go out for anything, they were pretty laid back when it came to just about anything else-as long as Riley followed the one cardinal rule: no going through their things.
Which inadvertently means no borrowing without asking, Riley thought. She immediately chased the thought away.
"It's just a couple of shirts," she muttered to herself.
"Hello?" Shelby said, holding up the book.
Riley snapped from her headspace. She crossed the room and took the baby book from Shelby, gingerly pulling at the paper that was now sticking out from the spine end.
"Oh," she said, relief crashing over her in waves. "It's not broken; there's just a little slit here in the cover. It's kind of hidden behind the bunny. See?" She held the book up for Shelby to inspect. "This was in there."
Shelby's eyes went wide. "What is it? Some kind of mysterious message?"
"Oh my God, Shelby, we need to find you a guy."
Riley pulled the paper out and unfolded it, sucking in a breath.
"What is it?"
Riley frowned. "Kind of a mysterious message. It's a birth certificate."
Riley shook her head. "I don't think so."