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First pages

Part 1

“Presentiments are strange things! and so are sympathies; and so are signs… And signs, for aught we know, may be but the sympathies of Nature with man.” - Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë

Chapter 1

It was a muggy August day, and the ocean did not seem content to drape seaweed on the beach below, but was determined to suffocate me with moisture and heat. I’d collapsed in my room with the big ceiling fan on, an untouched chart of lesson plans at my elbow, but abruptly I grew so restless I couldn't stand it.

I silenced the music on my phone and slipped on my flip-flops. The large house was empty except for me, but I never felt truly alone in this place. I had no reason to think a hidden nanny-cam was filming me (if only Adele’s father cared half that much for her), but I’d been here for three months and I still could never totally relax. My hand glided down the polished wooden banister and my flip-flops smacked loudly on each step as I went downstairs. I had to remind myself that no one was listening.

The formal upper floor of the estate was technically the family area, which was almost a joke, except that the downstairs was even less welcoming. At least it was darker and cooler down here. Heavy drapes blocked all the sunlight and made the aquariums more striking. These rooms held more than thirty large tanks, all with dazzling saltwater displays.

I pressed my hand against the cool glass of my favorite aquarium, and then rested my forehead on it as well. Even the jellyfish drifting inches from my face, with its lacy, deadly tendrils, looked lethargic. The ten-year-old girl I looked after, Adele, preferred the darting yellow tangs, but this man-o-war was my favorite.

The ground floor of the estate was open to the public four days a week, but during the weekends, she and I sometimes came down and helped feed. During those times, the fish belonged to us.

Today though, the bubbling water and whirring filters only made me more restless. I paced to the back of the house.

A rectangle of late afternoon sunlight came slant-wise through the rear glass door into the mud room. I had never seen a speck of mud in here. Instead, it held supplies. There were rolls of coiled tubing, canisters of compressed gas, and today, two large panels of glass leaned against the wall. No doubt they’d be used to repair a compromised tank, but they looked ready to slice off unwary fingers. Hayes House was a strange place for a little girl to live, and for me, too. It was more like a museum or a city aquarium than a home.

Outside, I left the patio and headed for the beach. Maybe the waves and evening breeze would make me feel less trapped.

Hayes House was positioned on a steep hill—you could probably see it from far out on the water—and I took the rough, rock-hewn stairs down through the trees. There was only a thin strip of sand on this part of the cove, the pines and rocks came almost to the waves.

I left my flip flops by the bottom step and let the next wave rush over my feet. I hadn't liked the ocean for a long time—my cousin had nearly drowned me once—but it was growing on me here.

The cold water made my arches tingle and I waded in until the water was over my knees, lapping at my shorts.

Surfers swam out from the neighboring estate. I could hear their laughter and shouts from where I was. Perhaps I could learn to surf if I stayed here all year.

I had to find something I could do to subdue my edginess. It would be the stupidest thing in the world to give up this job on Kingstree Island because I was bored, but... I was almost tempted.

The only friends I had here were my charge, Adele, and Mari, the housekeeper. Steve was around some, the older estate manager who worked for Adele's father, but he stayed busy. A man named Poole lived downstairs, as a general custodian and caretaker, but he mostly ignored Adele and me.

That was it.

School buses full of children came to the house for field trips. Tourists came when they grew overly sunburned and wanted to wander around dark rooms for a bit. The house was often full, and yet felt curiously unfriendly.

I wasn't allowed to use the van to drive Adele to her swimming lessons and grief-counseling sessions, since Steve hadn't put me on the insurance yet. Mari had taken me into town several times when she herself went to run errands, but for someone who had been independent since high school, I felt imprisoned.

I slapped the incoming wave and the spray blew over me. Finally, the wind was picking up.

“I'm not trapped,” I called out. There was no one to hear me. Mari had taken Adele to mass tonight, and Steve and Poole were away for the afternoon. “I'm not trapped.”

The wave rushed out, dragging against my calves.

Impulsively, I threw myself into the next wave, soaking my clothes and hair. I pulled myself further out—still well within my depth—and swam parallel to the shore. The occasional wave pummeled me, but it was worth it if I could convince myself that access to All This meant I wasn't stuck.

It didn't take long for me to be winded. I went back up to my beach and leaned against one of the large, square boulders. My shorts and shirt were salty and I probably had sand in my underwear... but had it helped?

Maybe a little bit.

The problem was, as much as I enjoyed Nature with a capital N, I wanted people.

I buried my feet in the warm sand. The breeze blew over me, but it would probably take hours for the humid air to dry me out. I should probably go up to the house and shower.

Music drifted from the neighbor’s beach—it must have been very loud for me to hear it as clearly as I did—so I stayed and listened and watched a family of seabirds diving for dinner. I loved birds. Everywhere I’d lived, I’d had my regulars, the ones I spotted frequently enough to identify by sight. On Kingstree, even the birds had been standoffish.

The scent of steak wafted from the neighbor's beach as well. I couldn't see it from here, but they must be starting one of their big parties. I'd seen several over the summer, from a distance. If you went over the spit of hill that divided the properties, you could look down and see their two big fire pits filled with bonfires and the five manicured terraces that led to their house. Unlike Adele's father, whom I still hadn't met in person, they'd opted to make their whole space usable.

Maybe it was the smell, or maybe it was that I had already swum in my clothes and was feeling obstinate, but I decided to crash the party.

I wouldn't take their refreshments or anything, so what harm would it do if I wandered over and mingled with the guests?

I wouldn't go on the terraces, just the beach. The last party at the Rockwells’ house must have included upwards of two hundred guests, and a lot of them were around my age. I supposed there was a slight chance I might accidentally speak to the owner without realizing it, but if there was no risk at all, it would be a little less exciting.

I wrung out my clothes and hair as I followed the path. At the last party, many of the guests were in swimsuits, so I didn’t think I’d stand out too much.

Sure enough, the beach was lit up by the two bonfires as well as several tall outdoor heaters, which seemed like overkill considering it was August.

I drifted towards one of the fire pits, but as I got close, a geyser of steam exploded out of it. I jerked back, unnoticed, as the group cheered. They’d put a glass bottle in the fire, I realized. It blew again and steam shot ten feet in the air with a whistling hiss.

Then the bottle exploded—at least that’s what it sounded like—and everyone dove backwards screaming.

I flinched, covering my face instinctively, but no glass hit me. No one else seemed to be much hurt either. Already they were asking somebody named Jed if he was done with his beer. He passed it over and a girl ran past me to fill the new bottle in the ocean. I drifted away from them toward the other fire.

Barbecue-scented smoke wafted from the upper terraces and my stomach growled. I would go home for dinner soon.

This fire was more peaceful, but as I got nearer I realized it was because most of the people around it were couples, and more than one of them were making out.

They weren’t being horribly inappropriate, but it was a little uncomfortable since I didn’t know any of them.

No one was playing volleyball so I couldn’t join in with that. I tossed the ball back toward the court as I left the second fire.

My enthusiasm was cooling. There were surfers out in the waves, but I couldn’t exactly join that group, either. On the upper terraces, more adults mingled and chatted, but I didn’t want to go up there alone. I fit in down here on the beach, in my casual, wet clothes; up there they were dressed nicer.

I finally sat on one of the plastic lounge chairs (far from the heaters, ugh) and watched the surfers. That, at least, was a respectable thing to be doing if someone noticed me. I could pretend I knew one of those guys.

Was it just excitement that I wanted? Had I come over here expecting to find a new best friend? Or for some guy to ask me out at first sight? I glanced at the groups around both fires and up on the terraces.

I excused myself of that fantasy. But I had wanted to engage with someone. Adele was cool, but there’s only so much communion to be had with a fifth grader. I wasn’t old enough to be her mother, but wasn’t really in sister zone either. Perhaps that was a typical nanny problem; this was my first nanny job, so I wasn’t sure.

There was still some light in the sky, but the sun had set, and unless I was imagining things, it felt a bit drier as well. The evening air must have dropped ten degrees already. Without the oppressive heat, I began to feel silly. I should have just stayed on my own serene beach—no broken glass there. And Mari and Adele might even be back by now.

Maybe all I needed was a break in the weather.

Chapter 2

I’d give it five more minutes and then retreat. I tapped the sand out of my flip flops and pulled my legs up to wrap my arms around them. Just like always, I was sliding into the social crack of the nondescript and self-sufficient. I wasn’t the sort of woman to make random guys approach, and I wasn’t needy enough to draw out the girls who were natural rescuers. And why should they have to make room in their evening for me? I had no claim on them.

I was born in a crack, so I suppose that makes me comfortable slipping into them.

Growing up in the foster system, I fell in a lot of cracks, but I survived. My schooling was disjointed and my whole middle school record got lost somehow. That doesn't matter so much now, but at fourteen on the first day of school when the records said I didn't exist... well, I felt like I didn't exist. No, that wasn’t true, I’d felt like a spy who’d been found out. I’d been trying to fake a life as a normal teenager and my cover got blown.

What's your name again? Didn't your mother register you during the summer? No? Your foster mom's work number? You don't know? What's your caseworker's number? She's not answering. For heaven's sake. Not your fault. Just wait here.

A crack.

There were others. I was between homes when my period started. I received a few state grants for college (since I aged out of the foster system without being adopted), but I had nowhere to live for a while.

There are safety nets for some cracks—being a citizen, having health insurance, having friends—those things help you survive. But if you fall in the deeper cracks... well, you're in trouble. Some cracks are terrifying.

I am tentatively out of those big cracks. I have a degree. I have this great nanny job with Adele.

I guess I thought that alone would satisfy me. Heck, since I don't have to pay for rent and food, I saved almost my whole third paycheck. It was small, but it was there.

Another bottle exploded in the fire and I gave up.

Maybe I could try again when the Rockwells threw another party.

I shuffled through the sand to the rocky path that led back to my beach, finding my way by moonlight as I moved away from the party. In the waves to my right, a flying fish jumped and landed with a splash. I only caught the brief silver flash out of the corner of my eye, but several more followed the first. I paused, mesmerized, as a whole school of fish began to jump. First two, then three, then more than dozen, flying over yards of water. They each soared like arrows shot from an underwater bow.

They did this to escape from predators, I’d read, but it was beautiful.

The fish were moving parallel to the beach and I was still watching when one of the surfers rode a wave in almost directly through them. His dark silhouette seemed like part of the ocean’s show for a moment – perhaps playing the part of the predator.

He made it nearly to the beach before jumping off into the shallows, and I turned to go on my way.

“Waves aren't big enough for much tonight,” he said. “But the fish are flying.”

I checked over my shoulder. I wasn’t exactly close, but no one else was within earshot.

“For sure,” I agreed. “I thought a few were going to hit you.” There. At least tonight I'd spoken to someone.

The man had on a black wet suit. He pulled his pearly gray board up under his arm and waded towards me. “Visiting for the summer?” he asked. “Friends with Rocky?”

Darn. It sounded like he knew the hosts well enough to know he'd never seen me here before.

“I'm new... ish. I got a job here on the island in May.” That was safe to say. No reason I shouldn't be here and have a job, too. The moon lit up some gray at the man's temples. I couldn't tell how old he was—anywhere between thirty and fifty—but the fact that he wasn't one of the hot, young crowd I'd seen around over the summer reassured me.

He tripped in the ankle-deep water and went down on one knee with a startled curse.

“Ouch. Are you okay?” I hurried to him. Maybe he was older than I thought.

“No. I think I’ve rammed something into my foot.”

In the dim light, I couldn't see his foot very well, but as the wave receded...” Yes, it's bleeding a lot,” I told him. “Can I give you a hand?”

He waved me away, rather impatiently, and tried to get to his feet.

“Here,” I put a hand under his elbow and helped him get up without putting his foot down. “I can help you up to the terraces,” I said. “I'm sure the Rockwells have a first-aid kit.”

He balanced carefully with a hand on my shoulder and one on his board. “Shoot. I think I picked up some glass, I can still feel it in there.” He hopped forward and wobbled. “This is ridiculous. I must’ve twisted my ankle as well.”

“Accidents happen, I guess.”

“Not to me. Not such stupid ones,” he added with a hard laugh, leaning on his surfboard. “Since you don’t seem to have anywhere to be, would you help me hobble over to the next beach? I can shout for help from there.”

“Well...” I hesitated. Why did he want to go over to my beach? “There's no access to the Rockwells’ house from that side. It's steep. And private property,” I added. I would be humiliated if I had to come back to the house from a party I should not have been crashing with a dripping, injured guest leaning on my arm. I hated to think of the questions Mari and Steve wouldn’t ask.

He frowned and took another hopping step with his surfboard. “I know it’s private. Damn, this hurts.”

“I'd be happy to help, but the terraces are much closer…”

“Come on. We didn’t get to finish our conversation. You owe me five minutes of polite chitchat anyway.”

“I work over there, at Hayes House,” I blurted out. “But not for very long. I certainly can't bring anyone up, even if I could help you over the hill and up the stairs to the house. I'm sure you understand.”

He laughed, but I didn't feel relieved. “You work at Hayes House? What do you do there? For that matter, what are you doing here?”

“I'm their nanny,” I said shortly, starting to dislike this guy. “If you'll turn this way...”

“Miles,” a voice came from behind us. “Have you hurt yourself, or are you stealing one of my guests?” A handsome middle-aged man came up to us. His guests? I wanted to sink into the ground. It served me right to be so completely caught by one of the hosts of this party.

“I rather think she's one of my guests,” Miles said.

Miles Hayes, I realized with an even bigger wave of chagrin. Adele’s father. My boss. This was such bad luck.

He still balanced between my shoulder and the surfboard. Did he feel the sudden tension in my back?

“She’s Adele's nanny,” Miles explained. “She was helping me limp home since I picked up some glass.”

“On my beach? Damn. I'll tell Paxton to keep his idiot friends off the rocks. They must have broken another bottle over here. You need help?”

“Please.”

Mr. Rockwell took my place and I followed stupidly behind. Would I be fired for this? Surely not. As embarrassed as I was, the only thing I'd technically done wrong was be at a party I wasn't invited to. It wasn't my fault I hadn't recognized him. He'd never bothered to meet the nanny he hired for his daughter. I'd spoken on the phone with him during my interview process, but only briefly.

For the last three and a half months, he'd been in Europe. Why did I not know he was back? I had been out this afternoon, but Mari or Steve should have told me! But then, perhaps Mari didn't know either. She certainly hadn’t said anything this morning. In fact, she wouldn’t have gone to mass if she’d known he’d be home now. That made me feel better.

Mr. Rockwell helped Miles hop up the rocky stairs. When we were within sight of Hayes House, Steve came out and Mr. Rockwell returned to his party with a wave.

“Have you hurt your ankle? Should I phone your GP?” Steve asked. He helped Mr. Hayes across the patio.

I lagged behind. I wanted time to regroup before I went in. And I was still quite wet.

“Lying in wait for your next victim?” Mr. Hayes asked as they went in.

“Sorry, what?” I stuttered.

“I’ve decided you’re at least partly to blame for my foot. I’m not normally prone to rotten luck.”

I laughed, tensely.

“That’s better,” he said. “Nice to meet you…”

“Jane Agosto,” I filled in, not surprised he didn’t remember my name.

He nodded and they hobbled further in. I heard Steve answer a quiet question. “Jane? She’s great. Adele’s been—Oh, Jane,” Steve yelled back to me, “I left your book order in the school room.”

“Thanks,” I said weakly.

I waited until they were out of sight and then dashed up the stairs to my room to change. And search a few job sites, in case I’d just stumbled into another crack.

Chapter 3

The next morning, a Monday, things already smelled different. For the first time, the scent of roasted coffee suffused the kitchen and dining area. Neither Mari or I were coffee drinkers, and obviously Adele wasn't, but there was a very shiny, large machine on the huge kitchen island, and it was in use today. I liked the smell of coffee, just not the taste, so I found it pleasant. But it was a reminder that my real employer was here, and that made me chew the poppy-seed muffin a little more slowly.

I was dressed in business casual clothes, down to my dress shoes. I’d gotten relaxed over the summer, frequently going barefoot in the family area of the huge house, even coming to breakfast in my pajamas, but that was going to stop now.

I'd gotten this job, at least in part, due to the group home experience on my resume, with the New Hampshire foster system. It might have made me sound older than I was, and I didn't want to immediately shake whatever illusion he might have about me. I had worked in a group home—but I had also lived there.

Mr. Hayes entered the kitchen while we ate. He was dressed in a navy-blue suit, no tie, and looked vaguely angry or pained this morning. He didn’t use a crutch, although he was favoring his left foot.

“Morning,” he said, nodding at the three of us. We sat at the little kitchen table that only sat four. This was definitely the coziest space in the house.

Adele opened her mouth, and then shut it without saying anything, and took a bite of her muffin.

Mari looked up from the word game on her phone. “Get you something, sir?”

He moved past us without pausing. “No thanks. Just need my second cup.”

He filled his mug while we ate silently. It felt like a heavy pause to me, but perhaps it felt normal to everyone else. It would be polite to inquire about his foot, but I didn’t want to remind him that he found his nanny partying with the neighbors last night. Perhaps the fact that he wasn’t addressing my employment right away meant I was off the hook?

There was a round window at the back of the kitchen and he walked over and looked out towards the trees and ocean while he took a sip.

After a moment, perhaps the silence seeped into his awareness, he glanced back at us. Mari and Adele and I were all looking at him and the side of his mouth quirked up. When he smiled, the anger lines shifted, and he looked much more appealing. “You're all very quiet. Did I interrupt something confidential?”

Adele shook her head and Mari went back to her game. Was Adele always this quiet with her dad? I knew they were not close, as Adele had grown up with her mother, not with him, but this was ridiculous.

I smiled, feeling someone needed to respond. “Just making plans for the day.”

Mr. Hayes was probably late-thirties, I guessed now, and he had an unapologetic gaze. “I've made time on Thursday to discuss Adele's curriculum with you. At nine o’clock?”

“Great. That would be good.”

He sipped his coffee. “Do you and Adele often swim in the cove? Even close to shore the tides can be rough.”

“No, we occasionally go down in the morning, but Adele is only learning to swim, so we just play in the waves. Right, Adele?”

She nodded mutely. Didn’t she ever talk to him?

“Still only learning to swim?” Mr. Hayes said. “Everyone on an island should be able to swim.”

I paused, wanting to point out that it was easy for someone wealthy to acquire this skill, but if you didn't grow up in a place with a pool or have parents able to pay for lessons, it was a lot harder. Like for Adele and I. Adele’s mom had not been wealthy.

Adele spoke up finally. “Jane can swim really well. She's swum in the pool with me almost every day this summer. But she says the pool is getting too cold now.”

He looked between the two of us. “That's nice of her. Didn't you know the pool can be heated? It takes a day or two, but...”

Adele and I looked blank.

“I supposed Steve or Mari would tell you.”

“But I do not swim here,” Mari protested.

“And I didn't swim last winter,” Adele added, “I hadn't learned yet.”

“Right. Well, the pool can be heated. Though I do prefer the ocean at this time of year.”

I laughed. “Are you trying to talk us into it or out of it? We’d both prefer a heated pool anyway.”

He frowned in mock disapproval, though there was a strange note in his voice when he said lightly, “How dare you? Have you read any of the displays downstairs? The ocean is my life.”

It was true, in the public part of Hayes House, ocean preservation and environmentalism was the major theme. Next to each tank were museum quality presentations about endangered species, habitat preservation, and ‘doing your part to prevent pollution.’ It was so impersonal though, I hadn’t connected it to him. I barely thought of the downstairs as part of the house. Adele had said it was like living in an apartment above a museum—which she’d once done in Paris with her mother—than living in a normal house, and I completely agreed.

I stood and gathered my plate and cup. “Don't get me wrong, I'm glad the ocean is there. But I don’t often get in. Last night was unusual for me.” Which was true as far as swimming and party-crashing—I felt rather clever for working that in.

Mr. Hayes smiled at me and raised his cup slightly, as if to congratulate me. Yikes. Was I that transparent? I turned away to clear Adele’s dishes.

I’d only recently rediscovered my enjoyment of the ocean. My childhood beach in New Hampshire had been brown, with cold, brackish water, but I’d loved it. On my last visit, when I was about to start first grade, my cousin had come to find me.

I’d been sitting quietly in the wet sand, about thirty feet south of the umbrella outpost where my aunt read. There were mounds of dead seaweed in long, low hills, created by trucks who scraped the beach every morning to make clear patches for visitors. I could sit partially protected by one of these mounds and build castles. I would have stayed there all afternoon, maybe, but my cousin Jayden found me.

“What are you doing in the seaweed?” he’d asked. “It's slimy. Smells like rot. We're at the beach. You should get in the water.”

I shrugged. I knew he’d probably splash me or dump sea water on my head to get salt in my eyes, but what could I do? Aunt Michelle didn't like tattle tales. Or at least, she didn't like whiny ones, which in all fairness, I probably was. She was my father’s half-sister and I’d ended up with her when my mother abandoned me.

I was shocked when Jayden scooped me up and threw me over his shoulder and went into the water.

I probably should have screamed right away, but instead I froze. Michelle wasn’t violent or abusive, but everybody gets angry and I’d already learned the fastest way to make it worse was to make a scene.

But as the water passed Jayden's waist I started to panic. “Stop it! I can't swim, take me back.”

“You should learn to swim, I'll teach you.” Jayden laughed as he dropped me into the water.

I tried to cling to him, but he was slick with water and sunscreen and I couldn't. The water closed over my head and I instinctively kept my eyes open, looking toward the surface. The water stung my eyes like acid, but I hardly noticed. We weren't really that deep, so my feet touched the muddy bottom quickly. I frantically pushed off and my head broke free. I gasped, arms stretched straight out to each side. I wanted to scream, but I couldn't. A wave washed over me and I was going down again.

Jayden jerked me up by an arm, holding me above the water. “You're not even trying. You have to kick your feet.”

“Stop—”

He dropped my arm. I went under again. It felt like an eternity of almost drowning, and him jerking me up to say something before dropping me again.

The last time, I lunged forward when my feet hit the bottom, grabbed his knees, and clawed my way up him. I locked my skinny arms around Jayden's neck and cinched my legs around his waist.

“You—Shit, let go of me!” A wave hit us and knocked us both over, but I clung to him and he found his feet and stood up. He pried me off when he was knee deep. I scrambled out of the water toward the pile of towels, sobbing.

“What’s the matter?” Michelle asked, looking up from her book. “Are you okay?”

“I was trying to teach her to swim,” Jayden said. “She got all scared and scratched me.”

“Jayden, be more careful with her. She’s little,” she said shortly.

I stared at her. That was it? “But—but it was his fault! He tried to drown me.”

“He probably didn’t realize you were scared, Jane. A lot of six-year-olds can swim. I should probably get you lessons.”

“But he—” I was still crying.

“Oh, please don’t. You’re fine, and we’re trying to have a nice day.”

Jayden smirked at me. I was furious. I scooped up a handful of sand and threw it right in his eyes.

He yelled and clawed at them, falling to his knees. “Ow...ow. You little—”

I jumped on him then, rubbing more sand in his face. “I hate you! You’re a *&^%!” I said the worst word my six-year-old ears had heard.

“Stop! Stop!” Aunt Michelle pulled me back, still struggling, and slapped my hand. “Jane! Stop it.”

“No! He tried to drown me! I hope he’s blind!”

“Jane! Sand can really hurt people. Would you want someone to do that to you?” She grabbed a water bottle from the cooler and began to rinse off his face.

“No, but drowning can hurt people, too. He should've left me alone. Why do you always take his side?”

“I don't take his side. I care about both of you.”

“No, you don’t. You always say I’m wrong. I hate you!”

“Okay. That’s a timeout, go sit by the car.”

“But…” I tensed up in a new way. “It’s in the parking lot. Someone could steal me.” I had a horror of being kidnapped. She was always saying, “Don’t wander off, someone might grab you.” And Jayden told me what people did to little girls they grabbed.

“Nobody will steal you! It’s right there. And there’s coast guards and bike police. We’re fine.”

I got a sunburn that day, sitting by the car. I also burned my hands and knees on the hot pavement when I crawled under the car to hide. Maybe she thought since I had relatively dark skin I wouldn’t burn. She was white, so I must have gotten my brownness from my mom. I remember laying there, nauseous with heat, watching the life guards and parking men wander around. Also, a weird homeless guy who smelled bad when he walked by the car.

I remember asking the seagulls to hide me from view whenever he came by. I didn’t want him to see me under there. I don’t know how much was heat exhaustion, but in my memory they stopped pecking at the trash and bunched around me whenever he came by.

At the time, I knew Michelle was breaking some kind of rule by putting me there alone and I didn’t really understand the rules of child endangerment. I didn’t want to get grabbed by that guy, but I didn’t want the parking police to notice me either. Would they pick me up and take me to a life-guard station? Would they yell at me? She would tell them I was in trouble, but then they might yell at her and she’d be angrier.

I don’t remember being pulled out from under the car by strangers. I’d passed out from the heat and dehydration. Soon after that I got put in foster care. Michelle didn’t put up much of a fight.

I shivered at the memory of the heat and the water. I did learn to swim several years later, and no one guessed how much it bothered me every time water closed over my head.

I truly liked Adele. I would make sure she had all the time she needed to learn to swim. If we didn’t accomplish anything else before I left, that would still be something. With any luck, she would also be able to talk to her father like a normal kid.

I moved to rinse my dishes in the sink. “Please bring me your plate, if you're done, Adele.”

She brought it over and I rinsed them both and opened the dishwasher to stow them. Mr. Hayes was finishing his coffee. Rather surprising me, he held out his empty gray mug. I barely hesitated, probably not enough that he'd notice, then took the cup without comment and loaded it as well.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

Corrie has been writing since 2010, when she discovered the awesomeness that is NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and dove in. She has a degree in History & Political Science, along with Computer Science, since she mistook her love of science fiction and romance for a love of computers and history. But she doesn't regret it, since it led to her very own happily ever after. Corrie lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband, four kids, and a lot of very pushy fictional characters.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Some people love Jane Eyre and some hate it, but I was horrified when I realized my younger sister had never even seen a movie of it. I love the book, but I recognize it's not terribly accessible if you don't love the style. I wanted to make a modern version that hit the same emotional notes.
Q. Where did the idea for this book come from?
A.
I'd been reading about magical realism, and it hit me that here was a way to tell a Gothic story in a contemporary setting. I wanted horror, and mystery, and even magic--but only as a way to tell about emotional growth. I don't know if I've achieved it, but it was fun to write.
Q. Tell us about the cover and the inspiration for it.
A.
In this story, Jane has many self-imposed rules for her life, but even doing the best job she can, she ends up in a no-win situation. The woman standing on the tic-tac-toe board felt perfect. Her lines are chalk, but they've made a game she's going to lose. (Until, of course, everything works out!)

Next in:
Romance
Midnight Talk
One woman loves him, the other loathes him.
Mirror Sacrifice
The lines between present and past will blur.
The Last Generation
What would you sacrifice to save the world?