Dead Girls Don’t Lie

Book Cover: Dead Girls Don't Lie

An action-packed, suspenseful whodunit for readers of The Girl Who Lived, Two Can Keep A Secret, and The Cheerleaders.

Seventeen-year-old Janie Davis was found wandering a Maine beach with second-degree burns on her arms and no memory of what happened. An accident on her family's rented yacht caused it to sink, taking her parents and best friend down with it. Recovering, Janie returns home under the watchful gaze of her new guardian--an aunt who had been ostracized by Janie's family.

Snooping uncovers the accident report. Horrified to learn the deaths could be murder, Janie's determined to solve the crime. Selective breaking and entering leads her to two suspects: her father's shady business partner who profited from Dad's death and her aunt, a woman with a sketchy past she's eager to hide.

Her investigation leads her to crash a party where she uncovers more evidence in the homeowner's office. Then her brake lines are cut and only a quick plunge to the floor keeps an overhead lamp from impaling her. This, and the warning, You're Next, proves she's getting closer.

If she doesn't expose the murderer, Janie could be the next victim.

Dead Girls Don't Lie is a complete, standalone, young adult novel filled with twisty suspense, a shocking conclusion, and flirty romance.

Excerpt:

DEAD GIRLS DON’T LIE
A Standalone Novel
© 2019 Marty Mayberry


CHAPTER ONE

 

Aunt Kristy insisted I was strong enough to go to school today, but my heart, a tiny bird trapped in my chest, disagreed. I climbed from her SUV and pushed the door shut, steeling my expression as pain shot up my arms.

My aunt came around the hood and thrust out her hand. “Give me your backpack, Janine. I’ll take it inside for you.”

“It’s Janie,” I said.

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“What?”

“I told you before. Everyone calls me Janie.” I tightened my hand on the strap looped over my shoulder. “And I can carry my own bag, thanks.”

“Well. Okay. If you’re sure. Janie.” She worried her necklace, releasing a sigh, then pivoted on her heel and hurried up the walkway. I imagined she was dying to get to the teacher’s lounge to put away her things. Gulp down a cup of coffee before she had to convince a bunch of teenagers that chemistry was fun. Or maybe she just wanted to get away from me.

Two months ago, Aunt Kristy moved into my home and applied for a job at my high school. She’d done her best to be a parent since. Few people would take on raising a niece they barely knew. Considering she and Dad hadn’t been close since before I was born, that said something.

“Hey, there you are,” someone said from behind me.

Turning, I hugged Sean, my remaining best friend from before.

“Whoa, aren’t you a rebel? I like it,” he said, taking in my dark green skirt and white tee. At Finley Cove High School, we were expected to wear white collared shirts and khakis, and ‘keep our appearances tidy’. Sean could be a poster child for the school dress code.

“That’s me, living dangerously.” I’d tucked my shirt into a skirt that landed above rather than below the knee. While my outfit would challenge the school board rules, it still felt awesome wearing something other than ratty shorts and a tee. “I, well, you know, lost weight. Nothing else fits. Think I can get away with it until I hit the mall?”

“I won’t tell.” His gaze fell away from mine. “You ready to hit the gauntlet?” At my tight nod, he shoved his backpack strap higher on his shoulder and held out his arm. A few months ago, he would’ve held out both arms. One for me and one for his girlfriend. Brianna. 

The doctors said I should be grateful because I’d only received second-degree burns. Third-degree would’ve been worse because the nerves would be shot and I’d never regain sensation. Those doctors didn’t know a damn thing. Pain could be swatted away like a pesky fly. Losing the people I loved had gutted me.

We caught up with a bunch of girls who stalled and grew silent when they saw me. I’d known most of them since elementary school, hanging out together more times than I could count to talk about hot guys, TV shows, and make-up. Frivolous stuff, but I’d been frivolous back then.

Marley’s lips twitched as she took in the red patches on my pale skin and the puckers from my grafts. Another girl pretended to gag, not realizing that while my arms and hands might’ve been burned, my eyes worked just fine, thank you very much. Back home, I’d convinced myself my scars were battle wounds proving I’d survived when everyone else hadn’t. Seen through the eyes of these girls, I was repulsive, a thing that should be hidden. I yanked my sleeves down around my wrists, wishing I could pull the material over my fingertips, as well. 

“So, Janie. You still have—” Marley made air quotes. “—amnesia?”

“I don’t remember much about what happened that night if that’s what you’re asking.” The doctors said my memory might never return.

“But, but…” Marley’s mouth dropped open. “What if you caused the accident?”

The other girls released muted giggles, savoring the drama.

“I didn’t.” My heartbeat pulsed in my throat.

Like my personal Pitbull straining against his leash, Sean bared his teeth and snarled.

“Kinda hard to say if you’re to blame or not, now isn’t it?” Marley smirked. “Considering you don’t actually remember.”

Anger slammed through me like a semi hitting a paper-thin wall. “I wouldn’t hurt my parents or Brianna.”

Sean elbowed himself between us. “Get lost, Marley, would you?”

With a huff, she spun and continued toward school with the other girls clustering around her feverishly whispering.

“Thank you,” I said, grateful all over again I still had Sean in my life.

“Any time.” We continued toward school. “Umm, about swimming. I thought about it a lot over the past few weeks.” His footsteps paused before picking up speed. “Decided I’m going.”

Sean, Brianna and I had been on the swim team together and had made a game out of competing for the best times. While Sean could literally swim laps around us due to his male body structure, Brianna also beat me at every meet. A foster kid, she’d worked twice as hard as me to get ahead. If only I’d appreciated that fact sooner.

“Swimming?” A shiver went through me. “How could you—I just can’t.”

“Going to the pool will be one of the hardest things I'll ever do but it’s what she would’ve wanted. Yeah, I mourn her.” His eyes squeezed shut. When he opened them, they glistened. “I’m going to miss her forever. But she would’ve wanted us to keep going.”

My aunt had been after me to jump back into ‘activities you used to do before the accident,' but I didn’t see how I could. Going to classes without Brianna would be tough but it would ruin me to do anything else we used to share.

“I’ll feel closer to her when I swim. Like she’s still with me,” he said.

Whenever I thought about getting into the water, my brain flashed to memories of me struggling in the sea…my head going under…our boat lighting up the night as it was consumed by flames.

“Hey.” Sean peered down at me. “You look pale. You still up for this? ‘Cause, we can bail, if you want.”

Like that would do me any good? My grades were skating too close to the edge already. I pushed for a smile. “I’m okay. Let's go.”

Crossing the lobby, we walked down the hall to the wing lined with lockers where I ditched my backpack and pulled out a notebook.

Sean slouched against the wall. “Are you starting to remember what happened that night?” The hope in his voice tugged my insides sideways. If only I could give him one more memory of Brianna, a tiny speck he could hold on to.

“Some.” I fiddled with a pen before stuffing it inside my pocket. “It’s sporadic. Which is frustrating.” Fear came through in my words. “Do you think I’m blocking it out because…”

“Janie. You weren’t responsible. Forget what Marley said.”

A worm of doubt kept wiggling through me, spreading its poison.

“Fireworks caused the fire. That’s what the police said.” He pulled out his phone and glanced at it. “Damn. I’ve gotta get to AP Chem.” Not that Sean needed to worry about angering my aunt by being late to her class. With our school’s highest GPA, he was the top candidate for the Upstanding Citizen Award, which came with a full college scholarship. If I knew Sean, he’d finish with the best grade in the class.

Unlike me. I’d be thrilled if I got a C in basic chem.

I went in the other direction, toward calc. Inside, I took my usual seat—front right and next to the window so I could look outside if I got bored.

The teacher clapped her hands. “Okay, everyone. Let’s get settled.”

Since I couldn’t start school with everyone else in September, Sean had brought me my assignments, but I was barely squeaking by in some of my classes. It was time to get to work. I opened my notebook and clicked my pen.

When I looked down, my heart stopped. I stared at the top corner of the white laminate desk surface where someone had drawn a tiny hummingbird in dark blue ink.

My hand flew to my right hip, and I traced the identical pattern. Brianna and I had used fake IDs to get matching tattoos earlier this summer. The fact that this one looked exactly like mine was just a coincidence. It couldn’t mean anything.

An intense longing for my friend rushed through me, and tears swam in my eyes all over again. Jeez, I was hopeless.

The teacher’s sympathetic gaze sliding my way only made things worse. She nudged her head toward the hall and lifted her eyebrows.

Running from the classroom, I went to my locker and dumped my stuff. I pressed my forehead against the cold metal until my ragged breathing eased.

This…wasn’t going to work. Not today, anyway.

Slamming my locker closed, I ran.

 

***

 

I shouldn’t be afraid to go downstairs. This was my house now that my parents had died.

The creak of my bedroom door sent a quiver down my spine. Old houses have rusty hinges, plumbing that sputters, and wooden floorboards that protest whenever you walk across them. History, my dad used to say. No, it felt creepy. Out on the landing, I peered down. My aunt had left a light on in the dining room, and a yellow beam bled across the carpet covering the entryway and glinted on the table where my parents had always dropped their car keys. Where Aunt Kristy dropped her car keys, now.

Somewhere deeper in the house, a man spoke, but I couldn’t make out his words.

Barefoot, I tiptoed down the staircase to the first floor. While I could poke my head into the study—where I’d determined the voices came from—and tell my aunt what I was doing, why bother? I could dart into the kitchen, drink fast, and scoot back to my room without her knowing I’d been near.

“…haven’t told her?” the man said.

Abandoning my thirst, I slipped through the living room and hovered against the wall beside the almost-closed study door.

“… need to know…” my aunt said. “I…best if she never knows. Janie’s…fragile.”

Great. She was talking about me with some man.

Nothing good ever came from eavesdropping, especially when you were the subject of the conversation. Part of me wanted to run back upstairs and jump under my blankets. Hide.

Curiosity only killed cats, not teenage girls.

I leaned forward, tilting my head to place my ear closer to the opening.

The hardwood floor groaned as the man shifted. “I think you—”

“This is a closed subject,” Aunt Kristy said crisply. “Are we clear?”

A long moment passed. “You are her guardian.” She’d applied for that honor a day after the police called her.

“Legally,” the man added, “It’s up to you to tell her or withhold the information.”

“Exactly,” Aunt Kristy grated out. “Is there anything else we need to discuss before you leave?” A chair screeched across the floor as if she’d shoved it back to stand.

“No,” the man said. “Just doing my duty, delivering the report as requested, now that—”

“Thank you. I appreciate your efforts on our behalf.”

“Anytime, Ma’am.”

“Let me walk you out.” Footsteps approached, and my heart leaped against my ribcage. Pivoting, I raced into the living room and stared around frantically before diving behind the sofa. I landed on the carpet, jarring my hip against the wall. Breathing fast, I lay still, listening. As my aunt and the man crossed the living room, my hands grew clammy with sweat.

“Thank you for coming,” Aunt Kristy said. “I know you’re busy at the station.”

Station? I crept forward to peer around the end of the sofa.

Aunt Kristy unlocked and pulled open the front door.

A cop stood with her in the entryway. After dropping his hat onto his head, he grunted. “Let me know if there’s anything else we can do.”

“Thanks.” My aunt’s hands twitched as he stepped out onto the porch. His footsteps retreated, and a car door slammed. The engine fired.

Aunt Kristy shut the front door and slumped against it. She swiped her dark hair off her face with trembling hands. “Just what I needed,” she growled. The click of her heels echoed as she strode into the study.

Because I didn’t want to get caught snooping, I waited until she went upstairs, shutting the lights off behind her. Rising, I crept to my father’s study and clicked on my phone light. Dad’s oak desk sat sentry on the opposite side of the room with two windows overlooking the inky backyard behind. My heart pinching, I crossed to the back of his desk where I pulled out his chair and sat.

This chair had hosted my pretend rocket launches to Mars. My buggy rides down shady lanes. And Dad used to spin me around in it until I laughed and got dizzy.

When I closed my eyes, I could almost feel him.

Nothing lay on the scarred wooden surface except a green blotter and a few pens. I pulled open a drawer and pawed through pencils, a stapler, a billion paper clips, and a small framed picture of me taken when I was ten. Bank statements, a few thumb drives, and a folder with copies of letters Dad had sent to various businesses and the government. Nothing worth bringing a cop to the house at night.

The bottom drawer wouldn’t budge, but I wasn’t stopping now. When I wiggled a letter opener in the lock, it clicked open.

“Bingo.” Inside the drawer, I found a green folder containing a letter from Dad’s lawyer dated July 18, a week before the accident. Two pages of tiny print ended with Dad’s printed name—he hadn’t signed it yet.

My breath caught. He’d never sign it, now.

Mr. Somerfield’s name jumped out at me. If I read this correctly, Dad had been planning to dissolve their business partnership, which was odd, because we’d gone boating to celebrate the upcoming release of an app Dad had designed for the company. But they had argued a lot.

Had Mr. Somerfield known about this?

Stuffed in the back of the drawer, I found a yellow envelope with Davis Accident Report scrolled across the front.

Ah. This was what my aunt was talking about.

I stared down at it for a long time. Did I dare look? Going through the details would make my grief fresh all over again, but looking might also drag my memories closer to the surface. I wanted to remember what happened that night, didn’t I?

Raking my teeth across my lower lip, I separated the top of the envelope and reeled back when I found pictures.

They’re not people you love. 

The whimpering part of me insisted they were nothing different than photos I’d see on TV, but I couldn’t stop the tears from filling my eyes.

When I upended the envelope, the images slid out onto the desk. Black and white and with the bodies carefully posed, the photos looked like graphic art. A gruesome nightmare played out before my eyes because they were the people I loved. No use pretending otherwise.

I traced my fingertip along the burned arm of the person in one photo. Long limbs. Gutted belly. Face a blackened skeleton. Horror rushed through me, making me weak.

Leaning closer, I squinted at the writing along the bottom. Male, approximate age early-twenties. Burned beyond recognition. One of the crewmen of the rented yacht?

Another photo: Male, approximate age mid-forties. Burned beyond recognition.

Dad.

My keen echoed in the room. This charred carcass with bits of flesh clinging to its bones wasn’t my dad. This…this thing wasn’t the man who’d rocked me to sleep when I was little and read me stories when I was sick.

If I was wise, I’d go upstairs, take a sleeping pill, and sink into a medication-induced coma. In the morning, I’d convince myself this had all been a dream.

Next picture. Female, approximate age forty. Burned.

Mom.

A whiff of Chanel No 5 drifted through the room. If I closed my eyes, could I pretend she was still with me or would I see flames?

Clumping the pictures together, I shoved them back into the folder then pulled out and skimmed through the accident report.

Approximate time of death of the passengers: 23:00. Four hours after we left Finley Cove, where Dad had rented the boat.

If only I hadn’t talked my best friend, Brianna, into coming with us. But it had been her birthday. I’d wanted to celebrate it someplace special. I couldn’t have known she’d die.

Cupping my face, I peeked through my fingers at the report.

Location of the wreck: ten miles offshore, due east of Big Berry Island. They’d found me wandering the beach after I escaped the boat and swam to shore.

A witness, Andrew Smythe, reported seeing a bright light at sea he dismissed as boaters setting off fireworks. He eventually became concerned about ongoing flashes and called 9-1-1.

The Coast Guard rushed to the scene but found nothing. It took divers and a thorough search to drag up the final evidence.

Highly combustible fuel source suspected. The heat of the flames killed the victims almost immediately. And, the yacht burned through to the outer hull before sinking underwater, taking everyone down with it.

I wiped my eyes, but they kept tearing. Bringing my phone closer, I stared at the last bit of information in the file.

My harsh cry rose from deep in my belly and burst into the room.

Possible homicide. Investigation is ongoing.

No, no. This couldn’t be true.

Homicide?

Mom, Dad, and Brianna had been murdered.

COLLAPSE

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