When a young couple tries to resurrect a ramshackle B&B, a terrifying evil is awakened in this “deliciously creepy thriller” (New York Times–bestselling author Kevin O’Brien).
For Jack and Annabel Devlin, inheriting an old bed and breakfast in western Massachusetts seems like a perfect chance to start over. But Annabel’s first impressions of the Blue Boy Inn don’t ease her nerves. Locals whisper about its long history of murders and mysterious disappearances. And everything about the gloomy Victorian draws Annabel back into childhood nightmares . . .Soon Annabel hears noises within the walls and glimpses something—or things—scurrying in the shadows. The locked attic, the bricked-up fireplace . . . for years they’ve helped keep a ravenous evil at bay. Now Jack and Annabel’s arrival has stirred the house to life again. Debts must be paid, hungers will be satisfied, and one by one, Annabel’s worst fears are about to come true . . .
Release date: December 30, 2014
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 448
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That was why she kept rolling her car window down now, despite outdoor temperatures hovering around thirty-two degrees, and despite her husband, Jack, constantly admonishing her to roll it back up.
“Really, Annabel,” Jack said. “You’re freezing me to death.”
“I just need the air,” she told him.
He sighed. “We’re almost there. We’re not more than forty minutes away now.”
Annabel took several deep gulps of air, and then rolled the window up again.
They’d been on the road for three hours. That was two and a half hours too long for Annabel. Even a subway ride from lower Manhattan to Washington Heights left her uneasy. It wasn’t that their car was small: It was a good-sized SUV, some name and brand Annabel wasn’t sure of. She never paid much attention to such things. But it was an enclosed space, which meant that she couldn’t get up and move around, and that made her want to crawl out of her skin. Annabel kept looking out the window, trying to focus on the trees and houses going by and hoping that Jack was right, that this move would be good for her. Good for them. Good for their marriage.
All she knew was that she needed air.
“I remember these roads so well from when I was a boy,” Jack was saying. “In the spring and summer there’d be farm stands all through here, selling beans and corn and tomatoes. Dad would stop and we’d load up the car and take it all back with us to the city.”
Annabel could see only stark, frozen, bare trees.
She had never been this far out into the country before. In her twenty-six years, Annabel had been all over the world. London, Paris, Milan, Sydney, Tokyo. It came with the job of being a fashion editor. But it was always cities that she visited. Annabel had never had any interest in seeing life beyond urban boundaries. Even as a girl, she’d always spent her summers in the city. All the grass and trees she had needed she had found in Central Park, and when she grew tired of nature—which was often—there were shops and movies and restaurants and museums. Not for Annabel any regular trips into the pollen-and-ragweed-infested countryside of western Massachusetts of the kind Jack so fondly remembered, visiting his grandfather’s rustic old bed-and-breakfast in the village of Woodfield. Annabel had been exquisitely content to remain in the city.
But they were far away from the city now. They were retracing the route of Jack’s summer-vacation sojourns to Woodfield.
Except that it wasn’t summer. It was the onset of a very cold but so far snowless winter. And the bed-and-breakfast they were heading to no longer belonged to Jack’s grandfather.
It belonged to them.
Annabel looked out her window. They were passing a cemetery. A fat black crow was perched on a granite cross. As Annabel watched, the bird flapped its enormous wings.
She rolled down the window again and breathed in some more air.
When they’d put her in the hospital, the worst thing had been the terrible, confining air. She needed air that flowed freely, and if there was a bit of taxicab exhaust in it, so much the better. How Annabel had wanted to send a chair crashing through the hermetically sealed hospital window and just stand there, her face inches from the jagged glass, and gulp in buckets of air. The sounds of traffic rising from First Avenue would have been far more soothing to her than all that canned hospital Muzak.
“Annabel,” Jack said, lifting an eyebrow over at the window and shivering. “Please?”
She rolled it shut.
They were crossing the Massachusetts line. “We’ll be there in time for lunch,” Jack said, beaming. “And Gran’s making her famous rabbit stew.”
“Jack, you know I’ve become a vegetarian.”
He frowned. “You can’t offend Gran.”
Annabel turned away, resisting the urge for air.
“I’m sure you and Gran will get along just fine,” Jack said. “She’ll like that you have an eye for color and design. You know the place is going to need a great deal of fixing up, and I’m counting on you, sweetheart, to really give it your signature pizzazz.”
“I’m not so sure I’m all that pizzazzy anymore,” Annabel said, her eyes searching out the window for something. But all she saw were trees and more trees.
“Oh, come on, sure you are, sweetheart. You haven’t lost your eye.”
“That wasn’t what Carmine thought.”
Carmine had been her boss at Orbit. The magazine had just launched when Annabel had had her breakdown. She’d been the fashion editor for the premiere issue, but by the time she had come back, after all those months in the hospital, there had been three more editions that had hit the stands. Carmine had brought in what he’d assured Annabel was just a temporary replacement, but the new girl had proven so fresh and hip and original that no one had wanted to let her go. Annabel was offered a “contributing” editorship—which was a nice way of telling her that she was no longer needed.
“I just don’t want you to overwork yourself again, baby cakes,” Carmine had said, trying to sugarcoat his decision.
Annabel had told him what to do with his contributing editorship and stalked out of his office, breaking a heel on her Manolo Blahnik Sorrita shoe as she did so, much to her humiliation.
“Well,” Jack said, “Carmine doesn’t know what he lost by letting you go, sweetheart.”
But he did. Carmine had known full well what he was losing. A woman who drank too much, who snorted too much cocaine, who thought the world owed her fame and fortune. Annabel had worked herself to a very lofty place in New York society, but she had burned every bridge she’d crossed to get there. She might have been the city’s new fashion darling, but she was tired and angry and frustrated and jealous and insecure. That was hardly the recipe for success in New York. Or success anywhere.
Annabel had thought that success would drive away all those feelings, which stretched all the way back to her childhood, but in fact success had only made them worse. And so when the day came when the elevator up to the Orbit penthouse got stuck between the forty-first and forty-second floors, Annabel had simply crumbled. The poised, articulate woman dressed in Givenchy and Karl Lagerfeld who had stepped into the elevator late one Friday night had been reduced to a sobbing, quivering mass of jelly on the floor by early Sunday morning, when a janitor discovered the malfunctioning lift. Annabel was once again a child terrified of being eaten alive by a little blue demon named Tommy Tricky.
“We haven’t had any snow yet this winter,” Jack was saying, drawing Annabel’s thoughts back to the present, “but western Mass can really get sucker punched by nor’easters.” He smiled over at Annabel. “So when we get all snowbound, sweetheart, and the power goes off, we’re going to use the time to get creative. We can scrape old paint and wallpaper off the walls, and polish the antiques that Gran has down in the basement—there’s a mother lode of treasures in that dark old space, Annabel, you’ll see.”
Air. Oh, how she needed air.
“And we’ll go snowboarding and cross-country skiing and skating on the pond—”
Suddenly, Jack slammed on the brakes and yelled. There was something ahead of them in the road. Something big. Something with antlers.
“Jesus Christ!” Jack shouted. “That’s a moose! A goddamn moose!”
The animal was standing perfectly still in the middle of the narrow, two-lane road. It was at least six feet tall and probably nine feet long, with an enormous head crowned with a rack of sharp antlers. Black eyes stared serenely through the windshield at Annabel and Jack.
“Holy shit,” Jack said in a sort of awe. “I’d heard of moose out in Worcester County, but never out this way before.”
He tooted the horn.
Annabel stared at the creature. Its black eyes unnerved her.
Finally, the moose began to move, plodding the rest of the way across the road and then disappearing into the woods.
Jack was grinning like an idiot. “Who’d ever have thought we’d see a goddam moose?” he asked as he began moving the car forward again.
Annabel couldn’t speak.
“Wait’ll I tell Morrison,” Jack was saying. “He’s gonna have a stroke when I tell him we saw a moose!”
“I . . .” Annabel tried again to speak.
“I wonder if the moose population is spreading west—”
“I can’t do this,” Annabel finally said, very softly.
“What’d you say, sweetheart?”
“I said I can’t do this,” she repeated, louder now, looking over at her husband. “I want to go back to New York.”
“Now, Annabel, we’ve been over this—”
“I want go back to New York right now!”
Jack quickly pulled the car over to the side of the road and threw it into park. He turned to face Annabel. “Now, look, sweetheart. You know this is the only way we can move forward. You know there is nothing left for you in New York. . . .”
“Yes, there is! It’s my home!”
Jack looked wearily into her eyes. “We’ve talked about this many times, Annabel. We made a decision! Dr. Adler helped us make the decision. Remember? And we all decided that the best way for you and I to start over was to leave the city and to accept Gran’s offer to take over running the B&B. . . .”
“No, you decided. I just agreed. There’s a difference.”
Annabel turned to look out the car window. How she wanted to roll the window down and climb through it. How she wanted to get out of this car and just start to run. She didn’t care where she ran. She’d just run any which way, simply because she could, because she was free. She hated being closed up in a car for so long. It was like being closed up in that hospital . . . which, of course, was like being put in that closet in her stepfather’s apartment and told that if she made a sound, Tommy Tricky would hear her and chop her up with his little blue axe.
“Annabel,” her mother had told her, “there’s no such thing as Tommy Tricky. Your dad just tells you that so you’ll be a good girl.”
Except that he wasn’t her dad. Her dad, Malcolm Wish, had been killed in the first Gulf War. Annabel’s stepfather was a loathsome man she was forced to call Daddy Ron. And he didn’t tell her about Tommy Tricky to induce her into being good. He told her about Tommy Tricky because he was a sadist—a terrible, evil man who got his jollies from scaring little children.
“Tommy Tricky is a little blue boy with a very sharp axe, and he’s always hungry,” Daddy Ron had told her, as he put her in the linen closet. “He sleeps in here, somewhere under that pile of sheets and tablecloths. So if you make a sound or move around, you’ll wake him up. And if Tommy Tricky wakes up, he’ll chop you up with his blue axe and eat you up, lickety-split, with his blue lips and blue tongue and big blue teeth.”
She jumped as Jack touched her arm.
“It was bad in New York,” he said quietly. “Do you remember how bad it got?”
She nodded, slowly.
“So this is the only way,” Jack told her.
Annabel said nothing more. Her husband put the car into drive and steered it back onto the road.
She was moving to Woodfield because it was the only way she could keep Jack. He’d leave her otherwise. Annabel knew that. And Jack was all she had left. She couldn’t lose Jack, too, not after losing everything else.
She wanted this move to work. She did want to start over, to find happiness once again in her life and in her marriage. Jack was right that there was nothing left for her in New York. Her friends had all turned on her, put off by Annabel’s excesses in those last frantic, hedonistic months before the breakdown. She didn’t want that life any longer. She never really had; she’d just gotten caught up in the idea of success, intoxicated by glitz and access. What Annabel wanted was what she’d always wanted, deep down, ever since she was a little girl treated cruelly by her stepfather and ignored by her mother. She wanted a place where she mattered, where she fit in, where she was loved.
And where she could move around freely, without any constraints.
Maybe, then, this would be the place for her. True, she sometimes felt a creeping sense of claustrophobia knowing that theaters and museums and couturier shops were hours away—and reachable only by car, and Annabel hated to drive—and that western Massachusetts got very dark at night, and frequently lost power in storms, and was susceptible to being snowbound. But in good weather she could take long walks, or ride a bike into the village. It would be a very different way of life, to be sure, but it needn’t be too restrictive. And there was more to recommend Woodfield, too: All of the temptations of Annabel’s old life, which had dragged her down to the depths, were very far away.
Finally, there was Jack.
Annabel glanced over at her husband. How happy he looked. How excited for their new venture. Jack had stuck by her through the worst. He was the only one who had. She owed him this much. But she also had no choice. Jack had been wanting out of the city for the last several years. His own career had stalled as Annabel’s had skyrocketed. He had thought he was going to be a big, important writer—but after his first book tanked, he couldn’t get another advance. He was done with writing, he said; he hadn’t opened his laptop in nearly two years. Annabel knew that Jack would have left New York whether she had agreed to go with him or not. He saw it as the only way forward, for him and for them.
If Annabel had refused to go with Jack on this new venture, he would have gone without her, and she would have been alone. And by herself, Annabel felt certain she would have slid right back to the depths, and never come back up for air.
“There it is!” Jack shouted suddenly, pointing ahead through the windshield. “You see that roof poking out through the trees?”
Annabel tried, but all she saw was a mass of gnarled trunks and limbs, like thousands of skeletal arms reaching up through the soil.
“We’re home, sweetheart, we’re home!”
Jack turned up a side road. The SUV rattled over a surface gutted with holes and bumps.
“Gotta get this road repaved,” Jack said, more to himself than to Annabel.
As they rounded a bend, the house came into view. Jack had told her that it was an exceptional survivor of Second Empire French Victorian architecture, and Annabel could see it had once been a very grand house indeed. But now it was quite run-down, with faded, peeling paint that might once have been yellow, but was now a dull gray. Its mansard roof was cut by eight protruding gabled windows and topped by a cupola. A portico supported by two columns ornamented the front door. Around the house, ancient oak trees stood like sentinels, hunched over the structure as if to shield it from decades of wind and rain.
“I can smell Gran’s rabbit stew from here!” Jack exclaimed, as he turned into the driveway of the house.
Annabel saw the weather-eaten sign that swung in the slight breeze from an old post. She read it once, and then read it again, as cold fingers played her spine like a xylophone.
Below the name was an old engraving of a smiling little boy that looked just like Tommy Tricky.
Getting out of the car—how good that felt!—Annabel walked slowly over to the sign.
“You never told me the place was called the Blue Boy Inn,” she called to Jack.
He was busy hauling out their luggage from the back of the SUV. “Yup. It’s had the same name for over a hundred years.”
Annabel studied the engraving on the sign. The boy was smiling. It wasn’t a nice smile. It was the kind of smile that a little demon might make before polishing off a trapped little girl as a tasty snack. In his hand, he carried a gun, but for Annabel it might as well have been Tommy Tricky’s axe.
“Why the gun?” she asked Jack over her shoulder.
Her husband had sauntered over to stare up at the sign with her. “It’s a musket. The place dates to just after the Civil War. He’s supposed to be a Union soldier.”
Annabel noticed the gold buttons and epaulets the boy was wearing, faded like the rest of the image.
“Maybe we should change the name,” she suggested. “Put up a new sign.”
Jack put his arm around her. “Hey, babe, we can’t start messing with tradition.”
He led her up to the front steps of the house.
“We’ll get our bags later,” he told her. “Let’s go in and see Gran.”
The front door was weathered and flaking with old paint. Jack rapped hard with the old rusted knocker.
“As a kid, coming to this house was always so much fun for me,” he said. “I can’t believe it’s mine now . . . ours, I mean.” He grinned down at Annabel.
The door was opened by a small old man, his face creased in a thousand wrinkles. His eyes were bright and very blue, practically popping out of his gray face.
“Hello, Mr. Jack,” the old man said, looking up at them.
“Zeke!” Jack exclaimed.
He shook the old man’s hand heartily.
“This is my wife, Annabel,” Jack said.
“How do you do?” Annabel asked, doing her best to smile down at the old man, though she found it difficult for some reason.
“Pleased to make your acquaintance,” Zeke replied, nodding slightly.
“Zeke taught me how to fish,” Jack was saying as they entered the house. “Taught me how to fire a gun, too.”
Annabel kept her eyes on the little man. He didn’t seem the outdoorsy type. He was frail and slight, hunched over and unsteady on his feet. His skin was a pale yellow, as if he hadn’t left the house in decades.
The place felt damp. The pungent smell of whatever was cooking on the stove—Jack had said it was rabbit stew—permeated the small, low-ceilinged rooms, filling Annabel’s nostrils with an unfamiliar aroma she couldn’t call either pleasant or unpleasant. Just strong. The house was very dark. Its small windows were nearly obscured by the bushes outside. Ancient, uneven floorboards creaked under foot. Annabel was sure the house was infested with mice. She repressed a shudder.
They found Gran in the kitchen. She didn’t rise to greet them. She remained seated at the old wooden table, a tiny figure dressed in black with a face as pale as her caretaker’s. Her shockingly white hair was pulled back from her face and knotted in an untidy bun at the back of her head. Hands like talons rubbed each other as she watched them enter.
“Gran!” Jack exclaimed, rushing over to embrace the old woman.
“Welcome home,” she said to him, in a low, yet surprisingly girlish voice.
“This is Annabel,” he told her, gesturing to his wife to join him.
Annabel extended her hand. “I’m very happy to meet you, Mrs. Devlin.”
“You must call me Cordelia,” the old woman told her, taking Annabel’s hand and squeezing it tight.
Annabel smiled. “All right, Cordelia. Thank you.”
“I had Zeke air out your room,” the old woman said. “I hope it will be all right.”
“I’m sure it’s fine,” Jack replied.
Cordelia sighed. “It’s an old house. There are a lot of cobwebs. We don’t quite have the strength to keep up with it the way we used to. During the season, we’ve been hiring some college students to come in and give us some help. But now that you’re here . . .”
Jack was beaming. “We’ll get the place in tip-top shape!”
“In fact,” Annabel said, “I’m a designer. I’d love to maybe look at opening up the space a little bit. The rooms are so small. If we open things up a little bit—”
“I wouldn’t go around opening things up willy-nilly,” Cordelia said, cutting her off. Her old blue eyes shone in Annabel’s direction. “The architecture of the house is fragile. You wouldn’t want to open something up and find the whole place falling down on you.”
Annabel smiled. “Of course not. We’ll definitely work with the blueprints.”
“Don’t worry, Gran,” Jack said. “We’re not coming in with a wrecking ball. We’ll respect tradition. That’s what you said in your letter to me. That there was a tradition here and that you’d give us the house if we respected it. And we intend to.”
The old woman smiled.
Annabel looked away. She had the sudden sensation of claustrophobia. The rooms were so small here, so dark. The ceilings were so low. But it was worse than that. She had the sudden fear that she had been lured into this place with false promises. They would make it their own, Jack had promised. They could start over, build something that was theirs. But if Cordelia was always going to be there, overseeing things, nixing ideas and squelching their creativity, then what sort of life would this be? Once again, Annabel wanted to run. She wanted to throw open the back door and run out through the woods until she found the road, and then hitchhike her way back to New York.
But there was nothing in New York for her anymore. All her bridges back into the city had been burned, all her tunnels filled in with cement. She was on her own.
At the Blue Boy Inn.
This is where Tommy Tricky lives, she heard Daddy Ron tell her.
How badly Annabel wanted to run.
Priscilla Morton thought of herself as a ghost hunter. Ever since she’d been a kid, she’d searched out every supposedly haunted house or mysterious graveyard she could find, traipsing all over the south of England, where there were plenty such places. When she and her boyfriend, Neville, decided to take a two-week holiday to the United States, Priscilla had insisted that their first week be spent visiting different haunted inns. She’d discovered that there were as many of them in New England as there were in Old England. Neville, who thought Priscilla’s ideas about ghosts were nonsense, had agreed, only if their second week could be spent in Florida, at Disney World.
Priscilla had told him they had a deal.
That didn’t mean Neville was suffering that first week gladly.
“Really, Priscilla,” he was saying, driving north on Interstate 91 through Hartford, “it’s freezing cold out there. What kind of holiday is this? If we’d wanted cold and gray skies, we could have stayed in England.”
“You have to admit that inn last night was worth it,” Priscilla replied. “I heard the wailing, just as the innkeeper promised.”
Her boyfriend scoffed. “That was just the wind. Really, you believe anything.”
The place in Connecticut had dated from 1799. Two centuries ago a woman had been killed in the room they’d stayed in, and legend had it that her screams still sounded through the house, waking guests and sending them running for the manager. Priscilla had heard the poor woman’s wails and had sat straight up in bed. She’d woken Neville, snoring like a bear beside her, but he’d only grunted and gone back to sleep.
“I’d say we got our money’s worth on that one,” she said, looking down her list of haunted guesthouses. And it was a good thing, too. The first two places, one in Rhode Island and the other near New Haven, had been busts. No screams, no apparitions. Neville couldn’t wait to get to Florida.
“The temperature this morning is eighty-five degrees Fahrenheit in Orlando,” he told her. “We could be sitting by a pool right now, sipping margaritas.”
Priscilla stuck her tongue out at him. She wasn’t sure what she saw in him. He wasn’t very handsome, with kind of a pimply face and stringy hair and a gut that hung over his belt. And he could be such a stick in the mud. Neville didn’t like most of the things that Priscilla liked, be they ghost hunting or bird watching or kayaking. All Neville liked was to watch football and drink beer. But he was good to her, Priscilla supposed. He put up with her. Her mother had always said it would take a rare man to put up with Priscilla’s eccentricities. She was only twenty-four, but she knew that sometimes she acted older. Like how she’d preferred quilting bees to rock concerts growing up. Priscilla had never been into television or fashion or rap music or any of the sorts of things other young girls liked. Even now she would rather go on an architectural tour of old churches than go out to a pub. She and Neville had been dating for three years. Priscilla doubted they’d ever get married. But that was okay by her. She didn’t think she was the marrying type.
Neville was older than she was, by almost ten years, and Priscilla supposed he stayed with her because, all of her quirks aside, he figured he couldn’t do much better. In fact, he’d done very well. For all her peculiarities, Priscilla was quite pretty, with long, silky blond hair, full breasts, and a tiny waist. If not for the thick, black, oversized eyeglasses she wore, she might have been mistaken for a blond bombshell. She figured if she put her mind to it, she could get a much hotter guy than Neville. But she didn’t have time to put her mind to such things. She’d much rather concentrate on ghost hunting or gravestone rubbing.
“Where is this next place we’re heading for?” Neville asked, steering the car past the glittering skyline of Hartford. “It’s in Massachusetts?”
“Yes,” Priscilla replied. “Just keep north on this road. When you get to the Massachusetts Turnpike, you’ll go west.”
“How many miles?”
“I don’t know. I can’t read American maps all that well. But I’ll keep navigating.”
Neville grunted. “We’d better see a real ghost this time, covered in chains. If not, we’re heading out early to Flor. . .
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