The Color of Lies

The Color of Lies

by C. J. Lyons

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780310765370
Publisher: Blink
Publication date: 11/06/2018
Sold by: HarperCollins Publishing
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
Sales rank: 26,468
File size: 757 KB
Age Range: 13 - 18 Years

About the Author

Pediatric ER doctor turned New York Times bestselling thriller writer CJ Lyons has been a storyteller all her life—something that landed her in many time-outs as a kid. She writes her Thrillers with Heart for the same reason that she became a doctor: because she believes we each have the power to change our world. 

 

In the ER she witnessed many acts of courage by her patients and their families, learning that heroes truly are born every day. When not writing, she can be found walking the beaches near her Lowcountry home, listening to the voices in her head and plotting new and devious ways to create mayhem for her characters. 

 

To learn more about her Thrillers with Heart go to www.CJLyons.net

Read an Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

Ella

I hate birthdays.

Birthdays taste of burnt toast and sour milk and smell of parched grass and frozen steel. Especially here in Cambria City, a place cold and ironbound, with shadows so thick the sun runs and hides for weeks at a time. I yearn for the soft embrace of the sea, the sweet jasmine whisper of salt air.

Funny, because I've never been to the ocean.

Today I'm eighteen. Officially an adult. So I decide to celebrate my birthday my way. I ditched my morning classes at the high school, showed up for my advanced composition and photo-collage class early at Cambria College, and now, instead of heading home like I'm supposed to after my studio time, I'm relaxing at the bottom of a swimming pool in the college's natatorium. As usual, I'm alone; this narrow lap pool is too small for any classes or swim team practices, and it's in one of the back rooms of the nat, hardly ever remembered.

Every year on this November day, my gram Helen, who raised me, laughs and sings and dances — usually she's a hermit, so I know the effort costs her dearly. That's exactly why I make sure to thank her, as much as I'd prefer to ignore the date circled on the calendar. I can't let her down. Because behind her façade of giddiness, she weeps silent tears.

So many tears you could salt an ocean with them. Every single time Gram Helen wishes me a happy birthday, it's with the shadow of death clinging to her.

It's a story never told, not from start to end, but so many bits and pieces have been filled in by so many voices. Helen's voice and Uncle Joe's and even Darrin's. Never mine, though.

I can't remember anything from back then. A blessing, Helen says, they all say. A few years ago, I mustered the courage to check out the newspaper article about the fire, but I didn't make it past the picture below the screaming headline, f lames reaching out to me from my laptop, heat singeing my face before I even reached the reporter's words. It left me sick for a day after, my imagination conjuring horror and pain, worse than if I'd been there in person.

So lucky I wasn't there, everyone tells me. So lucky I was only three, too young to remember. So lucky my parents decided to leave me with Helen so they could take their first vacation in years. So lucky to have been hundreds of miles from that small cottage on a remote beach ... lucky to have been nowhere near the blaze that killed them.

Which is why I'm here now. Hiding from Helen's false smiles.

I hover a few inches above the pool's floor. Swishing my fingers above my face, I use the crystalline water and softly shimmering light to paint images invisible to anyone except me. A mom and dad cradling a baby, love shining gold all around them. A little girl, dancing and running and jumping into their arms for hugs, and her parents are so happy, so proud of her. They join hands, the girl swinging from their arms, knowing, certain, trusting that they will never, ever let her fall.

The perfect family. Smoke and f lames fill my vision, vanquishing the sheltering calm of the water, engulfing my imaginary family. They vanish, ripples of a dream that never lived to see the light of day.

I throw my body to one side but the f lames reach out for me, greedy, grabbing. Fire stole my parents and now it's come for me. I huddle, my legs scraping the rough surface of the bottom of the pool. Black tendrils of smoke bind me, choking my breath. They lead back to a fiery figure standing high above me at the far side of the pool, the nightmare demon who terrorizes my dreams. When I was little, I used to have this nightmare almost every night. But now, the memories only haunt me on this day — my birthday.

The day the fire took my parents.

I struggle to re-create my peaceful happy birthday wish. But the spell of the water is broken and my lungs burn with need. I exhale, push off the bottom, and rise to steal a breath, the air slapping at my face. I inhale, then immediately return below the surface, using only my flutter kick to propel me faster than most people can swim using both arms and legs.

I reach the far end of the pool and come up, ready to f lip into my next lap, but as I break the water my motion stutters and I fall back, flailing my arms. For a moment, all I can see is fire and smoke. My chest tightens and I can't breathe past my panic.

Then I blink and there's a guy standing above me — a real one, not my nightmare fire-demon.

He's fully clothed, a messenger bag across his chest, watching me with eyes magnified by horn-rimmed glasses, eyes so green they mirror the water surrounding me.

"Nora Cleary, right?" he asks.

I splash in confusion, getting the tops of his shoes wet, yet he doesn't retreat. Nora? No one calls me that, not since I was a child — he must have the wrong girl. Unless ... maybe something's happened to Gram Helen. Why else would a stranger be searching me out? "Is something wrong? Who are you?"

I squint at him, the water's ref lection dancing over his clean-cut features. He can't be the police or campus security — he's only a year or two older than me, dark-skinned with hair as black as mine, dressed like a student in jeans and a Carhartt jacket.

"I'm Alec Ravenell. There's a project I'm working on. Could we go someplace? Talk? I could really use your help." His words are soft, lilting, carried by an accent hailing from someplace else, far from ironbound central Pennsylvania. Virginia or the Carolinas?

The bitter taste of fear slowly ebbs, replaced by curiosity as I realize it's not solely his accent that sets him apart from other guys. Usually by now, I'd be seeing colors and scenes conjured by whoever I was talking to — I wouldn't have to guess where his accent is from, I'd see it in his words. But the air around Alec remains calm. No shimmers of color, no images ghosting over reality.

I blink. Look again. Nothing. That has never, ever happened before. Not with anyone. "My help?"

"Yes. Unless ... Is this a bad time?"

"N-no," I stammer, still staring past him, waiting for the empty air to come to life and show me what he's really talking about.

I'm not used to taking anyone's words at face value — I've never needed to. Like most everyone on my mom's side of the family, I have synesthesia. It means my senses get tangled up, confusing what I hear with how my brain translates another person's words, all combining to form auras of brilliant colors and pictures in my mind. Images so vivid, I've spent my whole life coloring, drawing, painting, trying to reproduce them.

But not with Alec. No sparks of color, no ghostly images to reveal the truth behind his words. Suddenly, I feel as if I've become half-blind, tone deaf, and lost the use of three of my four limbs. I struggle to remember what he even asked me only a few seconds ago. Words without any colors to ground them slip by so fast; mere sounds, virtually without meaning.

Following my gaze, he turns to glance over his shoulder. There's nothing there except stacks of unused race blocks and lane floats. Then he looks back at me, curiosity lighting his eyes. Bewildered and uncertain, I duck below the surface and swim to the ladder. When I climb out, he's there to hand me my towel.

"Thanks."

"I've never seen anyone swim like that. You should try out for the team."

As I towel my hair — water slipping from the dark strands to create a puddle at my feet until I straitjacket them with the terry cloth — I parse his words, seeking their hidden meaning. Usually so-called small talk reveals everything I'd ever want to know about a person's true intentions — auras don't hide behind small talk. But now I'm drowning, with no clue what truth lurks beneath Alec's words.

"I don't go here." I wrap a second towel over my swimsuit, adding an additional layer of protection to combat my sudden vulnerability. I'm not feeling underdressed — I'm feeling naked.

Alec says nothing. He's still shrouded in an aura-less mystery of blankness. An empty canvas waiting for me to gather the courage to create that first splash of color that will change everything.

"To college. Not yet. I mean, I do take classes here, and I have permission to use the pool ..." I'm rambling. I never ramble. I never chat. I watch and listen, let others do the talking. But I can't stop myself. It's as if the empty space around him is a black hole and I need to fill the void. "Besides, Cambria High doesn't have a swim team." I clamp my lips shut, immediately regretting the confession that I'm still in high school. But I have the feeling he already knows everything I've just told him.

Grabbing my bag and stepping into my sandals, I stumble toward the women's locker room.

"I'll meet you out front," he calls after me.

I haven't agreed to anything, but I feel like my fate has already been sealed.

CHAPTER 2

Alec

At least she didn't scream, is all I can think as I make my way down the hall from the swimming pool where I found Nora Cleary. I trudge back to the natatorium's main lobby. The look on her face when she came out of the water and saw me standing there — sheer terror.

This was a mistake. A huge mistake. I should just leave now.

I almost do, but I catch the eye of the blonde manning the reception desk and pure, stubborn pride stops me. She's watching me but pretending not to, her expression filled with curiosity. Given how I fast I went into the pool area and came back out, not to mention the way I'm loitering now, I guess it's rather obvious I didn't come here to swim. My stare goes on too long and she edges her hand up onto the phone.

Had Nora's friends set me up? Did they call campus security? They seemed nice enough, genuinely pleased to tell me where to find Nora once I explained I needed her help for a school project; I even showed the guy, Max, my student ID. Maybe they thought it was a harmless prank, sending a strange guy to surprise their friend?

Except Nora had been more than startled. She'd been panicked by the sight of me.

No. I can't put the blame on Nora's friends. It's my fault. I should have thought this through, planned better. But it's taken me three months to find the courage to approach Nora at all. I never expected it would turn into such a mess so quickly.

I turn away from the girl at the desk, forcing my rigid spine to ease into a less threatening slump, and pretend to study the bulletin board. I need to regain control — my first meeting with the girl who might change my life could only be described as a train wreck on steroids.

That look. I can't erase it from my mind. Unadulterated primal fear. I edge a glance at the receptionist. She's still wary, I can tell by her posture, but at least she's no longer gripping the phone like a lifeline. Did Nora see me the same way? As a threat?

It was a mistake. Coming here. I'd been thinking of privacy when I should have been considering how a girl swimming alone in a deserted pool would feel if a strange guy suddenly showed up, knowing her name — knowing so much more about her, more than she could imagine — and wanting to talk.

I pull my phone free and pretend to be fascinated by what I'm reading. Really, I'm debating if I should call Professor Winston. Tell him I can't get the interview, that I've blown it. Without what he calls the "human face of tragedy," he won't use my story in his book.

No. The chance to have a publishing credential like that is too good to pass up. It will make my career, open doors I could never dream of otherwise. I slide my phone back into my pocket. Dr. Winston and Nora Cleary are the only reasons I left home to come to this third-rate, cold-all-the-time, rust-belt college.

No way am I going to give up. Not after so many years, so many miles. So very many questions. Nora is my chance to finally have answers. Answers I've been seeking most of my life. Answers I need.

The outside door opens and a chilly breeze brings in the smell of wood smoke along with a trio of white guys carrying gym bags. The smoke makes the hair on the back of my neck stand at attention, reminding me of the first time I laid eyes on Nora.

Fifteen years ago, I'd pulled her from the sea like a treasure from a shipwreck. Despite the salt water soaking her to the skin, she smelled of smoke and ash. And that look of terror — almost identical to one she gave me at the pool just now.

Did she recognize me? After so many years, does she remember who I am?

I push my glasses higher on my nose. Goosebumps pepper my arms as a shiver ripples over my skin. Remembering that night always does that to me. It was the first time I'd ever seen death. Smelled it. Felt it reach out and try to take someone I loved. Even now, fifteen years later, I've never been as terrified as I was that night.

Suddenly, I have the urge to call home. To hear familiar voices as soothing and calm as sunrise on the ocean. Anything to feel normal and accepted by people with whom I can let my guard down, not have to worry about what I think they think I am, or wonder if they're afraid I'm a threat instead of just a guy trying to figure out his past and future.

This was such a huge, huge mistake ...

CHAPTER 3

Ella

I shower and change into my jeans and a cowl-neck, then pull a fleece top over it. Gram Helen says I dress in more layers than an Eskimo, but since she almost never leaves the house, she's not one to judge how best to stay warm in a Pennsylvania winter. As I lace up my boots, I can't help but wonder why Alec sought me out. What kind of project could I possibly help him with? He didn't have the look of an art student — the only classes I take here at the college.

How had he found me? Why was he using my childhood nickname?

A guy I couldn't read past his actual words ...

I glance at the locker room's side exit, half tempted to head home to whatever cringe-worthy birthday surprise Gram Helen has waiting and pretend this encounter with Alec never happened.

I text Rory, knowing she'll be with Max and my gram. She and Max have been my best friends since the first day of third grade when Rory, with her waves of violet effusiveness, gathered us two misfits into her orbit. We've been inseparable ever since.

Usually I would have had lunch with them before coming to the college for my art classes, but not today, when I'd see all their secrets spilling out in a rainbow of colors whenever they thought about whatever they had planned for tonight.

Met a guy on campus, I type. Alec Ravenell. Needs my help? I'm hoping I got the spelling of his name somewhat close.

Helen's freaking, comes Rory's almost instantaneous reply. I swear she'd have her phone surgically implanted if she could — unlike Max, who's as likely to forget his on the charger as have it with him. He's like me, feels no need to stay connected simply so others can intrude whenever it's convenient for them. That means the two of us are usually a step behind when it comes to gossip or current events, but that's why we have Rory to catch us up.

Before I can type a response, my phone rings. Rory. Of course. "Don't worry, I'll be home soon," I answer. "Helen will still get her birthday torture."

"You're on speaker," Max's voice comes through.

Ouch. I hope Helen didn't hear — but she probably has her noise-cancelling headphones on if Max and Rory are in the house.

"Don't worry, it's just us," Rory adds, to my relief. "Helen's in the kitchen, putting the final touches on your cake."

"Not sparklers again?" Last year, she set the curtains on fire. They were ugly curtains, so not a bad thing, until the smoke alarm began blaring and poor Helen had to retreat to her soundproof studio in the basement while we cleaned up the mess.

Although everyone on my mom's side of the family has synesthesia, we all have different forms. Gram Helen feels sounds — not as fun as you might think, and it's driven her to work alone from home, where she can control her environment, barely coming into contact with any other humans. But it's also given her the most wonderful voice — she can pitch it to create any emotion she wants, which is why audio publishers pay her top dollar as a voice talent. If she could survive the outside world, she could have been a movie star, she's that good.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Color of Lies"
by .
Copyright © 2018 CJ Lyons.
Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN.
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.

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