Half-buried in the muddy earth and surrounded by puddles of water lies the naked body of a beautiful young girl. Her pale skin looks like porcelain in the early morning light. Her fragile arms bent and crooked like a broken doll.
When Detective Katie Scott is called to the discovery of a young girl buried on the grounds of a former children’s home in Pine Valley, California, she’s hopeful it’s the end to a devastating cold case she’s been working on. No one has seen Candace Harlan since she ran away from Elm Hill Manor five years ago. Her death will be a tragedy, but it will also bring peace to those who miss her most. But the girl in the ground is not Candace.
The victim is almost identical to Candace in every way, but fear grips Katie as she takes in the black ink that decorates the girl’s back – a terrifying message tattooed on her skin after she drew her last breath.
Forcing down traumatic memories of losing her own parents, Katie is certain someone mistook this poor soul for Candace, and that this crumbling home for lost girls is at the heart of this terrible crime. She sets to work digging into the tragic history of the owners who lost so many children of their own and tracking down the last six residents and the staff who cared for them – but no one wants to talk, let alone remember.
The next day, as second girl’s body is found down by the creek at high water, the same words etched into her skin. Katie’s worst fear is confirmed: someone is picking off the last of the Elm Hill girls one by one. But what does the tattoo mean? And what monster would target these innocent girls who have already been through so much?
Katie must dig deep to confront her own fears and protect the vulnerable – but as the body count rises further, will there be anyone left to save?
Hurry. Candace whispered urgently as she disappeared down the
wooden staircase and into the pitch-black basement.>
Tanis’s breathless reply as she slowed to glance behind her. In just a flimsy yellow nightgown, the damp air from below chilled her bare arms and feet. She shuddered.
The padlock Candace had picked open swung precariously from the latch, ready to drop and awake the rest of the sleeping house. This was a bad idea.
“C’mon” urged Candace from somewhere down in the abyss. “Hurry up!”
They were going to get caught.
The consequences would be merciless.
Shifting her weight on the wooden landing, Tanis pushed herself onward and pressed her foot onto the first wooden step. And then another. Each footstep creaked beneath her slight weight. She clutched the loose railing and clumsily made her way through the dark until her feet touched cold cement.
Hands fisted at her sides in fear, she frantically blinked her eyes, straining to see through the darkness—to the unknown. It left her powerless. There had been no time to find a flashlight, but it would only capture unwanted attention anyway.
A hand grabbed her arm.
“C’mon, we’ve got to go now.”
Candace took Tanis’s hand and pulled her toward the end of the basement and around a sharp corner to where a dim light from outside allowed her eyes to begin to focus.
The girls moved as fast as they dared through the maze beneath the old house.
Tanis could only see Candace’s long hair flicking from side to side as they ran. At one point, she closed her eyes and relied on her friend’s strong will and instinct to get them to safety.
They stopped abruptly at a storm door, the only thing standing between them and freedom. Panting in the darkness, a creak from upstairs lifted both their heads in fear—someone was awake.
Candace lunged forward and grabbed the large bolt locking the door with both hands and pulled. It gave way with a loud clunking sound, and she pushed the bulky door open to reveal the half-moon outside.
Cool air whipped inside, wrapping itself around Tanis’s shivering body as she watched her friend take the final two steps—to a new life.
With the moon behind her, and with her arms outstretched in joy, Candace resembled an angel in her white cotton nightgown, her dark hair blowing all around her. “C’mon,” she urged again.
Tanis froze. It was as if her feet were cemented to the basement floor. Doubts about running away from the foster home plagued her mind.
They would never stop searching for them—ever.
She and Candace knew too much about what went on at Elm Hill.
How would they survive without any money?
She realized that she just couldn’t do it—not now, not like this. She would soon be eighteen and then things would be different—the home would no longer be her prison. She would be legally free. No one would care anymore.
“What are you waiting for? This is our chance.”
“I can’t… I can’t do it. It’s just another year,” said Tanis. “Not even that long.”
“No, we’re doing this together. We have each other,” said Candace adamantly, shaking her head. “I’m not going to leave you here. We escape together.”
“You have to go. You can’t stay…”
Candace ran to the side of the house and retrieved a duffel bag, which had been carefully packed and stashed for their escape. Unzipping the top, she pulled on a pair of jeans and slipped on a pink sweater. It was her favorite color, always matched to her nail polish.
“Hurry.” Tanis changed her tone.
She wanted her best friend to escape the abuse of the home—the authority and focus was always more concentrated on her anyway. Tanis knew that she could endure another ten and half months, but Candace couldn’t.
“Yes, hurry. I can help misdirect the she-beast and the cops. You’ll be safe.” Tanis heard the rustle of branches in the distance and looked toward the edge of the property, near the hiking trail, and saw the outline of a man. She had never met Ray, had only seen him from a distance, but he was their ticket out of here. At least, that was how Candace had described him. “Go. We’ll meet back in ten months and three days at our secret spot. I promise.”
“I will come back for you.” Candace’s voice faltered. It was clear she wanted to stay, but as she looked to the south she saw Ray waiting; that was all she needed to push forward.
Tears welled up in Tanis’s eyes. She knew that she’d made the right decision to stay behind, but that didn’t make it any easier. One of them had to stay. It would soon be over. It all would be over.
Candace hugged Tanis tight. Whispering in her ear, she said, “I love you and I’ll be back.” She gave her a long look before she turned and ran.
Tanis watched her friend move quickly into the shadowed night—and soon disappear altogether.
I love you and I’ll be back.
Jennifer Chase is a multi award-winning and USA Today BestSelling crime fiction author, as well as a consulting criminologist. Jennifer holds a bachelor degree in police forensics and a master’s degree in criminology & criminal justice. These academic pursuits developed out of her curiosity about the criminal mind as well as from her own experience with a violent psychopath, providing Jennifer with deep personal investment in every story she tells. In addition, she holds certifications in serial crime and criminal profiling. She is an affiliate member of the International Association of Forensic Criminologists, and member of the International Thriller Writers.
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This is the first time I read anything from Jennifer Chase and by gee this gripping mystery was to die for. I could barely put it down!
Last Girls Alive throws us into Elm Hill Mansion, a once family home then foster home for children but now a sad home waiting on demolition. But then a shout emerges by a foreman — a body was found of a young girl who was the age of the last residents that lived there two years ago. Detective Katie and her partner Deputy Sean McGaven is cold case workers and they are looking for a missing girl whom ran off from Elm Hill one night to never be seen again. Next thing Katie knows she is working a double murder while still grieving a personal loss just a few short months earlier.
Katie has to work fast to prevent more deaths while her PTSD, from her days in the Army, is trying to rear its ugly head and now there is a new undersheriff keeping its eye on her. Then another girl vanishes. Talk about getting even more stressed than Katie was already under.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading Last Girls Alive and I had no idea whom was responsible for the deaths’ but it did feel a wee rushed. Kept me guessing! Our heroin, Katie, was a great protagonist and she had a wonderful support by coworkers and family in this gripping mystery. Apparently her and her partner is also in a relationship but this seemed more of a highlight or undertone which I was a little sad over because I wanted a little more into them – Possible previous book content that I am just late to the show for.
Our author did a fantastic job with description of the scenes, causing such anxiety about what is around the corner and keeping you hooked on every word chapter after chapter. Sadly the ending was a little lack-luster. Chase didn’t really explain why the killer was committing these crimes and as a avid Investigation Discovery watcher I love hearing about the motive behind the crimes… But this did not stop me from loving this read.
Thank you to Pump Up Your Books and Chase for this wonderful read in exchange for a review of my own! I thoroughly enjoyed it as I read it a second time not long after! I soo will be picking up the previous books in the series to catch myself up!
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