Winterborne Home for Vengeance and ValorAlly Carter
* * *
Will the Real Gabriel Winterborne Please Stand Up?
A Night at the Museum
How to Trust a Person with No Stains on Their White Pants
When the Bite Is Worse Than the Bark
The House at the Edge of the Earth
The Midnight Mission
The Calm After the Storm
The Future Mrs. Winterborne
The SadieMatic Seven!
How to Catch an Urban Legend
A Different Kind of Problem
The Butler Totally Didn’t Do It
You Can Catch More Ghosts with Honey
Because Billionaire Rhymes with Lair
A Knife as Sharp as Lightning
The Weight of What’s Not There
What You Don’t Want in a Knife-Wielding Madman
The Mini Mansion
Spat out by the Sea. Again.
Gabriel Winterborne Returns
The Other Mr. Winterborne
The Short Con (Artist)
Ms. Nelson’s Secret(s)
Dead Men Do Tell Tales
The Forgotten Room
How to Stop an Evil Uncle in Three Easy Steps
Prepwork Makes Perfect
The Last Winterborne Standing
Before the Dawn
Winterborne Home Alone
The Legacy of the Winterbornes
About the Author
Connect with HMH on Social Media
Copyright © 2020 by Ally Carter
All rights reserved. For information about permission to reproduce selections from this book, write to [email protected] or to Permissions, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 3 Park Avenue, 19th Floor, New York, New York 10016.
Cover illustration © 2020 by Lissy Marlin
Cover design by Jessica Handelman
The Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is available.
ISBN: 978-0-358-39370-2 (special ed.)
who always had more faith in me than I had in myself.
Everybody knows what happened to the Winterbornes—that one day, twenty years ago, two perfect parents took their five perfect children out on their perfect boat for a day upon the water.
Everybody knows that, twelve hours later, only one Winterborne returned—bloody and bruised and clinging to the smoldering rubble, with absolutely no memory of that anything-but-perfect day.
Everybody knows that the lone surviving Winterborne grew up with the finest chefs and governesses. That he had only the best tutors and wore only the nicest clothes and was a charming boy, with his mother’s quick wit and his father’s kind eyes.
Everybody knows that the young Winterborne heir was destined for greatness—that, despite his tragic past, he had been born a prince and would, surely, someday become a king.
Until the day when Gabriel Winterborne simply walked away from his perfect life, never to return again.
Nobody knows the truth.
“And on the right we have young Gabriel Winterborne!” April looked to her right, but it was just another painting. In a whole room full of paintings, none of which were all that impressive to April. After all, you can’t eat oil-covered canvases. Or, well, you could. But April strongly suspected you probably shouldn’t. You could burn them for firewood, of course. Maybe sell them down on Front Street to the old woman with the long white braids and the dog that looks like a fox. But there was no point in wondering what a painting like that might be worth. No one like April was ever going to own one.
But that didn’t stop the young woman in the burgundy blazer from looking up at the painting like it was the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen.
“Note how Gabriel clings to his father’s hand? He was ten when it was painted, and it’s the last known portrait of the Winterborne family. A month after it was finished, his whole family would be dead and young Gabriel would be orphaned. Can you imagine?” the docent said, but then she seemed to remember who she was talking to. She looked at the kids who filled the room.
Some ran a little too fast. Some stood a little too still. All wore clothes that didn’t quite fit, and they looked at those paintings as if they too were wondering how many meals one of them might buy. But Blazer Lady just threw her shoulders back and raised her voice, shouting over the Johnson twins, who were arguing about which superhero’s farts would smell the worst.
Because they were at a fancy museum.
They were on their best behavior.
“Follow me, children! Follow me!”
The museum was super pretty, April had to admit. Nicer than the group home. Cleaner than the school that was only open four days a week because they couldn’t afford to run the buses on the fifth day. Which meant on the fifth day, there was no free lunch, which meant on the fifth day, April usually had to be “creative,” but that was okay. Being creative kept April sharp. And, besides, it wasn’t going to last forever. As soon as her mom came back, everything would be okay.
So April decided to enjoy the bright, clean rooms with the shiny wood floors and tall windows. Even the air smelled fancy (fart debates aside). They were close to the ocean, and the breeze was clean and fresh. April felt like maybe she’d climbed onto a spaceship that morning instead of a rusty school bus. It felt a lot like it had brought her to another world.
For reasons April couldn’t quite pinpoint, she turned around and took one last look at the steel gray eyes of the Winterbornes.
“Hey, April!” Girl Taylor whispered. Boy Taylor was on the other side of the room, joining in the fart discussion. “I dare you to touch it.” Girl Taylor pointed at the painting, crossed her arms, and tried to look tough. But April was very good at a number of things; ignoring foolish dares happened to be one of them.
“What’s wrong?” Caitlyn with a C asked.
“Are you too chicken?” Kaitlyn with a K said, chiming in.
“Nope,” April told them. “Too smart.”
April shouldn’t have said it. She was always doing that—letting her inside thoughts become her outside words. It was one of the things she wasn’t good at, and it made people like Girl Taylor and the C/Kaitlyns hate her even more than they already did. But April couldn’t help the fact that she was different—that foster care was temporary for her. That her mother was coming back—probably any day now.
“You think you’re so much better than us.” Girl Taylor’s hands were still crossed over her chest, and she was sticking out her lower lip. It was her tough-girl stance, and April knew she was supposed to be intimidated.
She just wasn’t very good at that either.
“No,” April said, trying to sound nice and sweet. It wasn’t her fault she had the kind of face that looked mad unless it was smiling. And smiling for no reason made April’s head hurt.
“I just know what that is.” April pointed to the tiny sensor that was sticking out from behind the painting. “Laser,” she whispered, like that single word should be explanation enough. But judging from their expressions, it wasn’t. “It’ll cut off any finger that touches it.”
“No, it won’t.” C
aitlyn with a C’s voice sounded sure, but her eyes lacked conviction.
“Of course it will. That particular kind of laser burns at fifteen hundred degrees. It has to cauterize the wound as it slices because the museum can’t risk getting blood all over everything.”
“Yeah,” Girl Taylor said. “That’s true.” (It wasn’t true.) “I knew that.” (She totally didn’t know that.)
April forced a smile. “Of course you did. You probably saw the guards, too.”
“Uh . . . guard.” Kaitlyn wasn’t that impressed, and she made sure April knew it.
But April pointed to the other side of the room. “Yeah. One uniform. But that janitor has been cleaning whatever room we happen to be in since we got here. And she’s wearing an earpiece identical to the guard’s.”
That part really was true. April didn’t know how she noticed these things. Or why. Sometimes she thought it must be because her mother was a world-famous art thief. Or spy. Or thriller writer. But whatever made April think the way she did must have come from nature. Her mother hadn’t been around long enough for nurture to have had much effect.
After all, her mother was coming back. Soon.
“Yeah, well, maybe she’s not a guard,” Girl Taylor said. “Maybe she’s April’s mother.”
And just like that, everyone remembered the pecking order. April wasn’t the alpha female. She wasn’t the beta either. In fact, April wasn’t even part of the pack, and that was very much the way she liked it.
“No. I think that’s April’s mother.” Kaitlyn pointed to a painting by Picasso of a woman who was shaped like a Barbie doll that someone had put in the microwave.
“No,” Caitlyn said, catching on to the game. She found a painting of Medusa’s severed head being held aloft by a dude with a sword. “That’s April’s mother.”
The three of them laughed like they were super funny, and April laughed too. It was easier that way, she’d learned three group homes ago. Better to fake laugh some of the time than fake smile all of the time. That was just math.
Besides, the docent was looking at them and yelling, “Girls! Keep up!”
April didn’t know when—or why—the museum had gotten so crowded. Suddenly, it was like the bell had just rung, and there wasn’t enough room in the hall as April pushed against the current of people that was flowing in the opposite direction. She might have been lost if she hadn’t seen the docent in the center of the big atrium, looking up at a man who stood a little too tall and a little too still to be human. Which he wasn’t, April realized once she got a little closer.
“Now, who can tell me who this is?” the woman asked the kids.
And they all yelled, “The Sentinel!”
The docent laughed. “I guess that was an easy one.”
“Go, Sentinels!” Boy Taylor yelled, and the beta boys whooped.
“Yes. Most people know about the mascot, but who can tell me about the legend?” the docent asked. For the first time that day, April felt the kids go quiet. Still. They leaned closer, and the woman dropped her voice as she said, “Two hundred years ago, a ship was crossing the sea when a terrible storm began to brew. The crew knew they had to lower the sails or risk being blown off course, but the sails were stuck, and they wouldn’t come down. Lightning struck. The wind roared. And while the captain shouted and the crew panicked, the ship’s lookout began to slowly climb the mast, higher and higher, a long knife held between his teeth, and a sword in his belt. He wasn’t much more than a boy, but he kept climbing and climbing and then—”
“He cut the sail?” one of the beta boys asked.
“No,” the docent said simply. “He fell into the ocean and died.”
It was like the air went out of the group—like they’d been holding their breaths and hadn’t even realized it.
“But then a great big wave tossed him back onto the ship, and when the crew looked up again, the lookout was high on the mast, cutting the sail free, and saving their lives.”
“So he didn’t die?” a Johnson twin asked.
The docent raised her hands and shook her head. “No one knows. They say that, in the next moment, the wind blew and lightning struck, and the captain was never seen again. Eventually, the ship reached land, but for weeks—months—years later, there were reports of a young man wielding a sword and long knife, wandering the city, always there to help when evil was about to strike! Always wearing black. Always disappearing into shadows, like the mist rolling off the sea.”
For a long time a hush descended over the group, but then the kids began to mumble and whisper amongst themselves.
“The Sentinel’s not a legend!”
“Yeah. My grandpa said the Sentinel is real.”
“The Sentinel lives in my old neighborhood.”
“Man, you’re crazy. There ain’t no Sentinel.”
“Then how do you explain . . .”
The individual arguments bled together until it was just like the fart discussion, but with a far less obvious answer. (The Hulk. The Hulk’s farts smell the worst.)
April didn’t want to be part of the argument or the crowd. She just wanted to enjoy the sweet-smelling air and the bright, clean room, so she drifted away from the kids, through the exhibit, and into the big, wide hall, where she found herself standing with a group of adults who all seemed to be waiting for . . . something.
But April had never liked waiting.
Will the Real Gabriel Winterborne Please Stand Up?
As April pressed and slipped and weaved and squirmed her way through the crowd, she realized that most of the people were carrying notepads. At least three ladies were holding microphones and wearing too much makeup and standing beside men with big cameras resting on their shoulders.
A silky red ribbon stretched across the doorway—like the finish line of a race—but no one moved toward it, which seemed like a waste to April, but then someone said, “Ladies and gentlemen, thank you for joining us!” and she saw two men approaching from the other side.
One of them was carrying a comically large pair of scissors and had a look in his eye—like he (A) knew his scissors were ridiculous and (B) would have loved to have been anywhere other than there. But he forced a smile as the first man kept talking.
“As the museum’s director, it is my great pleasure to open our newest exhibit—one that I’ve been working on for quite some time, I don’t mind saying.” He laughed and glanced at the man with the supersized scissors and the very sad eyes. “The Winterborne family has been the cornerstone of our community for more than a hundred years. Building industry. Championing the arts. In fact—”
“Mr. Winterborne!” one of the women with the microphones yelled. “Has anyone claimed the reward?”
It took a moment, but eventually, the man with the scissors shook his head and said, “No.”
The director looked angry that someone had dared to interrupt his speech. He was just opening his mouth to speak again when another shout came from the crowd.
“Is it true you’re going to have your nephew declared dead if no one claims the five million dollars?”
April’s eyes went wide. Five million dollars? Surely that wasn’t right?
But Sad Scissor Man didn’t correct them. If anything, he seemed extra sad as he said, “My nephew has been gone for a decade. I had hoped that a reward for information about his whereabouts would help us locate him, but we’ve had no success, and so—”
The voice was low and gravelly but loud enough to make the man stop. The crowd whirled around and parted, clearing the way as the stranger slipped closer to the red ribbon and the man with the giant scissors.
“Uncle Evert, don’t you recognize me? It’s me. Gabriel!” the man said. The crowd gasped. And Evert Winterborne looked like he was going to pass out.
But before anything else could happen, another voice rang out from the other side of the room, shouting, “Imposter!” and the
crowd shifted to take in a different man. This one was scruffy and ragged, wearing expensive clothes that had definitely seen better days. “I am the real Gabriel Winterborne!” the newcomer shouted.
All around April, cameras started to flash. She heard one of the women with the microphones say, “Please tell me you’re getting this.” The cameraman nodded as Gabriel #1 pushed toward Gabriel #2.
“Liar!” Gabriel #1 shouted and the whole room turned like they were watching a tennis match.
“Imposter!” Gabriel #2 yelled, and April suddenly was afraid she might get dizzy.
“Uncle Evert?” Gabriel #1 was inching loward the red ribbon and the man, who was slowly backing away. “Surely you know me? I’m Gabriel. I’m your long-lost—”
“Scum!” Gabriel #2 yelled, and April couldn’t help but notice that he’d suddenly started speaking with a very bad, very fake British accent. “You are no Winterborne, sir! I am the true Winterborne heir!”
Neither of them looked anything like the boy in the paintings. And it was like neither of them had ever heard of DNA. But five million dollars was on the line. April didn’t even have enough money to pay the fines she had at the library.
“Stop!” Sad Scissor Man shouted, and both Gabriels suddenly went quiet. “My nephew is gone. My nephew is, in all likelihood, dead.” He started to turn and leave, but then he remembered the ginormous scissors and the ribbon and the reason everyone but April was standing around.
“Here.” He gave the ribbon a snip. “Consider the Winterborne Exhibit officially open.”
And then he walked away.
April had no idea what happened to the fake Gabriels. They must have given up and skulked away. Regardless, nobody was paying much attention to her as she drifted past the cut edges of the ribbon and into the big room filled with more paintings and statues. But other things too—like mannequins in long ball gowns and sequin-covered dresses with fringe along the hems. There was a uniform from World War II, and a wedding dress made out of the most delicate lace that April had ever seen.