I finished this book in a day because it was such a puzzler and I was desperate to get answers. Whenever teens are involved, you can count on them being unreliable narrators who muddle up the mystery. It’s just natural for them to keep secrets from adults and it was clear that was at play here. It’s a slow build while time is taken to fully flesh out Natalie, Brooke and Asha, which I’ve learned to be patient in the process. Thank goodness I did because it was worth it by the time the last third of the book unfolded. It’s a complicated and diabolical plot that was a popcorn-worthy listening experience. I’m such a fan of the narrator as Teri Schnaubelt is a talented storyteller. She mastered this story, keeping it edgy and well paced. I had a good time with this one, even though I was fairly clueless until close to the reveal. Someone needs to make this into a movie!
PrologueTHE NECKTIE OF her ex was still clasped in her hand when Natalie woke. Her head was pounding, and her mouth tasted bad, like she’d fallen into bed without brushing her teeth. She had a horrible, cloudy feeling that she’d done something regrettable, but in that moment, she couldn’t remember what it was.
She wasn’t at home. Instead, she was upright, a seat belt crossing her chest. In front of her was the windshield of her own car, coated in a sheet of frost, and her I LOVE COLORADO! key chain was dangling from the ignition.
Natalie realized then that she’d blacked out. It had happened before, when she was much younger, and the memory of that awful awakening hit her with an electrifying jolt. After a frantic inspection, she concluded that all her clothes were on and nothing seemed torn or altered. She slipped the tie into her coat pocket.
Yanking the rearview mirror toward her face, she saw that her hazel eyes were huge, the pupils tiny pinpoints, and her mascara was smudged. A chapped crack ran down the bottom of her lower lip, but there were no other bruises or cuts. It didn’t appear that she’d crashed into a building or a tree. There were no sirens.
She rolled down her window, and a thin wall of ice collapsed into the car, dampening her plaid skirt. It was almost dark outside.
Work. She was at work. Across the snowy parking lot, she could see the back door to the east wing of the private school where she was an administrative assistant in the front office.
Pulling on her stocking cap and opening the car door, Natalie noticed footprints, slightly softened by snowfall, leading from her car to the rear exit of the school’s gym. Another set of identical prints returned from the door to the car, but not in a straight line. They zigzagged, and there was a large compression in the snow, just about the size of a small person like her. Gingerly, she lowered one boot into the first of the prints to make sure it was a match. It was. It seemed likely that the body-shaped spot in the snow was an indication that she’d fallen, and a quick pat down of her coat confirmed that it was wet.
Natalie stepped out of her car and squinted into the wind. Her legs felt weak, as if she’d just returned from one of her longer runs.
She retraced her own tracks, leading to the school. The sky was changing color from a grayish stormy dusk to night, and it struck Natalie, who loved art, that the swirling white flurries between her and the stars resembled a monochrome Van Gogh painting. Snow-capped peaks surrounded her on all sides. Down the mountain was the town center. Lights twinkled. Houses, vacation condos, and old-timey shops were piled like Christmas gifts on top of one another alongside a dark and twisting river.
The heavy back door was ajar. When she tugged on it, it groaned, scraped, and opened. Heart pounding, she went in.
During school hours, the sports pavilion would have been filled with the sound of bouncing basketballs, laughter, whistles, and sneakers squeaking on the gym floor. Now, there was distant, droning pop music playing up on the mezzanine, but no one was singing along or dropping weights to the floor with a crash.
Natalie walked with slow, hesitant steps over to the double doors that opened onto the basketball courts.
Normally those doors stood propped open by gray rubber wedges. Now they were closed, but each had a rectangular window. Natalie curled her hand and made a cup for her eyes.
It took a second to see anything at all. The court was dim, aglow only from the small green emergency lights situated over the doors and in the corners of the room. Her eyes were adjusting. Something was there.
She jumped away from the door as if the glass had burned her skin. Her hands flew up to cover her mouth. A scream almost escaped, but she stopped it in her throat with a choking noise.
Not far from the door was what looked like a crumpled pile of clothes and broken body parts, motionless in the middle of a spreading pool of blood.
What the hell did I do?
The security lights in the Falcon Academy parking lot flickered. It was early Monday morning and still dark. A beat-up Pathfinder left tracks in the snow as it swerved into a spot re-served for employees.
Harry Doyle climbed out and used his heel to squelch a cigarette into the ground. He grabbed a battered baseball cap from the dashboard and plopped it on his head, holding down what little was left of his hair. After slamming the driver’s door shut, he looked up at the sky, which was turning pink and orange to the east. An enormous blanket of fluffy white covered the parking lot. Last night had been the first big storm of the season, and some parents would call their kids in sick so they could hit the slopes with their friends.
The sixty-eight-year-old custodian shuffled towards the rear entrance of the sports pavilion. The automatic fluorescents in the back hallway glowed a sickly yellow. He hummed as he plodded down the hall to the boys’ changing room, where he put his lunch and jacket away in his locker before going to the storage closet. Harry grabbed the fiberglass handle of the deluxe wet mop and hauled it, and the bucket, out into the corridor toward the basketball courts. Pushing past the double doors, he activated all nine light switches with a swipe of his hand. The bulky, caged gymnasium overheads burst to life with a buzz.
“What the hell?” he exclaimed, dropping the mop.
The handle clattered against the maple wood planks. “Oh dear God.” The words came out strangled.
Harry scrambled for his phone in a zippered compartment of his slacks.
“Hello?” he managed to say, after dialing 911. He was having trouble breathing. “The Falcon Academy. Off Highway 70. Just west of Blackswift. Oh Jesus. Jesus Mary and Joseph. We need help. There’s a lot of blood.”
Excerpted from The Lying Club by Annie Ward, Copyright © 2022 by Annie Ward. Published by arrangement with Harlequin Books S.A.
(Thanks to Harlequin Audio for my complimentary copy. All opinions are my own.)