A secret is a strange thing.


There are three kinds of secrets. One is the sort everyone knows about, the sort you need at least two people for. One to keep it. One to never know. The second is a harder kind of secret: one you keep from yourself. Every day, thousands of confessions are kept from their would-be confessors, none of these people knowing that their never-admitted secrets all boil down to the same three words: I am afraid.

And then there is the third kind of secret, the most hidden kind. A secret no one knows about. Perhaps it was known once, but was taken to the grave. Or maybe it is a useless mystery, arcane and lonely, unfound because no one ever looked for it.

Sometimes, some rare times, a secret stays undiscovered because it is something too big for the mind to hold. It is too strange, too vast, too terrifying to contemplate.

All of us have secrets in our lives. We’re keepers or keptfrom, players or played. Secrets and cockroaches — that’s what will be left at the end of it all.

Ronan Lynch lived with every sort of secret.

His first secret involved his father. Niall Lynch was a braggart poet, a loser musician, a charming bit of hard luck bred in Belfast but born in Cumbria, and Ronan loved him like he loved nothing else.

Though Niall was a rogue and a fiend, the Lynches were rich. Niall’s employment was mysterious. He was gone for months at a time, though it was hard to say if this was because of his career or because of his being a scoundrel. He always returned with gifts, treasure and unimaginable amounts of money, but to Ronan, the most wondrous thing was Niall himself. Every parting felt like it would be the last, and so every return was like a miracle.

“When I was born,” Niall Lynch told his middle son, “God broke the mold so hard the ground shook.”

This was already a lie, because if God truly had broken the mold for Niall, He’d made himself a knockoff twenty years later to craft Ronan and his two brothers, Declan and Matthew. The three brothers were nothing if not handsome copies of their father, although each flattered a different side of Niall. Declan had the same way of taking a room and shaking its hand. Matthew’s curls were netted with Niall’s charm and humor. And Ronan was everything that was left: molten eyes and a smile made for war.

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There was little to nothing of their mother in any of them.

“It was a proper earthquake,” Niall clarified, as if anyone had asked him — and knowing Niall, they probably had. “Four point one on the Richter scale. Anything under four would’ve just cracked the mold, not broken it.”

Back then, Ronan was not in the business of believing, but that was all right, because his father wanted adoration, not trust.

“And you, Ronan,” Niall said. He always said Ronan differently from other words. As if he had meant to say another word entirely — something like knife or poison or revenge — and then swapped it out for Ronan’s name at the last moment. “When you were born, the rivers dried up and the cattle in Rockingham County wept blood.”

It was a story he had told more than once, but Ronan’s mother, Aurora, insisted it was a lie. She said when Ronan emerged, the trees all grew flowers and the Henrietta ravens laughed. When his parents bickered back and forth about his birth, Ronan never pointed out that both versions could be true.

Declan, the oldest of the Lynch brothers, once asked, “And what happened when I was born?”

Niall Lynch looked at him and said, “I wouldn’t know. I wasn’t here.”

When Niall said Declan, it always sounded like he meant to say Declan.

And then Niall vanished for another month. Ronan took the opportunity to search the Barns, which is what the sprawling Lynch farm was known as, for evidence of where Niall’s money came from. He found no clues of his father’s work, but he did discover a yellowed newspaper clipping in a rusting metal box. It was from the year his father was born. Drily it reported the story of the Kirkby Stephen earthquake, felt through northern England and southern Scotland. Four point one. Anything less than a four wouldn’t have broken it, only cracked it.

That night, Niall Lynch came home in the blackness, and when he woke, he found Ronan standing above him in the small white master bedroom. The morning sun made them both snowy as angels, which was the better part of a lie already. Niall’s face was smeared with blood and blue petals.

“I was just dreaming of the day you were born,” Niall said, “Ronan.”

He wiped the blood on his forehead to show Ronan that there was no wound beneath it. The petals snared in the blood were shaped like tiny stars. Ronan was struck with how sure he was that they had come from his father’s mind. He’d never been more sure of anything.

The world gaped and stretched, suddenly infinite.

Ronan told him, “I know where the money comes from.”

“Don’t tell anyone,” his father said.

That was the first secret.

The second secret was perfect in its concealment. Ronan did not say it. Ronan did not think it. He never put lyrics to the second secret, the one he kept from himself.

But it still played in the background.

And then there was this: three years later, Ronan dreaming of his friend Richard C. Gansey III’s car. Gansey trusted him with all things, except for weapons. Never with weapons and never with this, not Gansey’s hell-tinged ’73 Camaro slicked with black stripes. In his waking hours, Ronan never got any farther than the passenger seat. When Gansey left town, he took the keys with him.

But in Ronan’s dream, Gansey was not there and the Camaro was. The car was poised on the sloped corner of an abandoned parking lot, mountains ghosted blue in the distance. Ronan’s hand closed around the driver’s side door handle. He tried his grip. It was a dream strength, only substantial enough to cling to the idea of opening the door. That was all right. Ronan sank into the driver’s seat. The mountains and the parking lot were a dream, but the smell of the interior was a memory: gasoline and vinyl and carpet and years whirring against one another.

The keys are in it, Ronan thought.

And they were.

The keys dangled from the ignition like metallic fruit, and Ronan spent a long moment holding them in his mind. He shuffled the keys from dream to memory and back again, and then he closed his palm around them. He felt the soft leather and the worn edge of the fob; the cold metal of the ring and the trunk key; the thin, sharp promise of the ignition key between his fingers.

Then he woke up.

When he opened his hand, the keys lay in his palm. Dream to reality.

This was his third secret.


Theoretically, Blue Sargent was probably going to kill one of these boys.

“Jane!” The shout came from across the hill. It was directed toward Blue, although Jane was not her real name. “Hurry up!”

As the only non-clairvoyant in a very psychic family, she’d had her future told again and again, and each time it said she would kill her true love if she tried to kiss him. Moreover, it had been foretold this was the year she’d fall in love. And both Blue and her clairvoyant half-aunt Neeve had seen one of the boys walking along the invisible corpse road this April, which meant he was supposed to die in the next twelve months. It all added up to a fearful equation.

At the moment, that particular boy, Richard Campbell Gansey III, looked pretty unkillable. In the humid wind at the top of the wide green hill, an ardently yellow polo shirt flapped against his chest and a pair of khaki shorts slapped his gloriously tanned legs. Boys like him didn’t die; they got bronzed and installed outside public libraries. He held a hand toward Blue as she climbed the hill from the car, a gesture that looked less like encouragement and more like he was directing air traffic.

“ Jane. You’ve got to see this!” His voice was full of the honeybaked accent of old Virginia money.

As Blue staggered up the hill, telescope on her shoulder, she mentally tested the danger level: Am I in love with him yet?

Gansey galloped down the hill to snatch the telescope from her.

“This isn’t that heavy,” he told her, and strode back the way he’d come.

She did not think she was in love with him. She hadn’t been in love before, but she was still pretty sure she’d be able to tell. Earlier in the year, she had had a vision of kissing him, and she could still picture that quite easily. But the sensible part of Blue, which was usually the only part of her, thought that had more to do with Richard Campbell Gansey III having a nice mouth than any blossoming romance.

Anyway, if fate thought it could tell her who to fall for, fate had another thing coming.

Gansey added, “I would’ve thought you had more muscles. Don’t feminists have big muscles?”

Decidedly not in love with him.

“Smiling when you say that doesn’t make it funny,” Blue said.

As the latest step in his quest to find the Welsh king Owen Glendower, Gansey had been requesting hiking permission from local landowners. Each lot crossed the Henrietta ley line — an invisible, perfectly straight energy line that connected spiritually significant places— and circled Cabeswater, a mystical forest that straddled it. Gansey was certain that Glendower was hidden somewhere within Cabeswater, sleeping away the centuries. Whoever woke the king was supposed to be granted a favor — something that had been on Blue’s mind recently. It seemed to her that Gansey was the only one who really needed it. Not that Gansey knew he was supposed to be dead in a few months. And not that she was about to tell him.

If we find Glendower soon, Blue thought, surely we can save Gansey.

The steep climb brought them to a vast, grassy crest that arched above the forested foothills. Far, far below was Henrietta, Virginia. The town was flanked by pastures dotted with farmhouses and cattle, as small and tidy as a model railroad layout. Everything but the soaring blue mountain range was green and shimmery with the summer heat.

But the boys were not looking at the scenery. They stood in a close circle: Adam Parrish, gaunt and fair; Noah Czerny, smudgy and slouching; and Ronan Lynch, ferocious and dark. On Ronan’s tattooed shoulder perched his pet raven, Chainsaw. Although her grip was careful, there were finely drawn lines from her claws on either side of the strap of his black muscle T. They all eyed something Ronan held in his hands. Gansey cavalierly tossed the telescope into the buoyant field grass and joined them.

Adam allowed Blue into their circle as well, his eyes meeting hers for a moment. As always, his features intrigued Blue. They were not quite conventionally handsome, but they were interesting. He had the typical Henrietta prominent cheekbones and deepset eyes, but his version of them was more delicate. It made him seem a little alien. A little impenetrable.

I’m picking this one, Fate , she thought ferociously. Not Richard Gansey

III. You can’t tell me what to do.

Adam’s hand glided over her bare elbow. The touch was a whisper in a language she didn’t speak very well.

“Open it up,” he ordered Ronan. His voice was dubious.

“Doubting Thomas,” Ronan sneered, but without much vitriol. The tiny model plane in his hand spanned the same breadth as his fingers. It was formed of pure white, featureless plastic, almost ludicrously lacking in detail: a plane-shaped thing. He opened the battery hatch on the bottom. It was empty.

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