Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Missing Heiress chapter 1

CONTENTS

  1. Nerves
  2. Confrontation
  3. The Diamond
  4. A Test
  5. Daniel Gannon
  6. Secret Code
  7. WHERE HOTTY?
  8. The Principal’s Office
  9. ACE
  10. Decoding the Secret Message
  11. “You’re ditching?”
  12. Totally Annoyed and Completely Attracted
  13. A Trap Door in the Library
  14. Secret Passageway
  15. Horrible Mural
  16. In the Black Light’s Glow
  17. A Clue in an Article
  18. 3 Palms at 10
  19. Threatened
  20. A Map in the Door Handle
  21. Secret Weapon
  22. PMS
  23. Partners
  24. Jealousy
  25. A Fake, Pretend Member
  26. Daniel’s Challenge
  27. 7 x 17 x 37
  28. No Time to Run
  29. Inside Daniel Gannon’s House
  30. Xandra’s Diary
  31. Broken
  32. Coded Clues
  33. The Hidden Message
  34. A Mysterious Key
  35. AFX
  36. Clues in the Diary
  37. Rage
  38. Honesty
  39. The Pier
  40. Seven Rocks by Seven Rocks
  41. The Locked Box
  42. A Shocking Call
  43. The Kiss
  44. Registered Letter
  45. A Limousine Ride to a Secret Location
  46. Solving the Case
  47. Broadcast
  48. The Curse of Koma Island

 

 

www.Pacific_Chicks.com

7:05 a.m. Ruthcat:

Welcome back Pacific middle school Tigers!

7:06 a.m. Double D:

Tigers rule! Undefeated in hoops—Yeah Baby 😉

7:08 a.m. Madpat:

Check yourself. Did U get the diamond? Don’t be a left-out.

7:10 a.m. Trishbliss:

What Diamond?

7:11 a.m. Anonymous:

What dinomd? Duh—THE dinomd.

7:15 a.m. Ruthcat:

TB, ignore Anonymous. Hey Dummy—we all know who can’t spell.

7:16 a.m. Double D:

True dat.

7:22 a.m. Madpat:

Anonymous: Watch ur back.

7:24 a.m. Anonymous:

O now Im scraed.

7:25 a.m. Madpat:

U shd b. It’s on.

7:35 a.m.  Anonymous:

Yeah, right. LOL. Bring it.

 

Chapter 1: Nerves

The first day of school always makes me nervous. I worry that I won’t find my classrooms on time and I’ll walk in late while everyone laughs. To make things worse, on the first day of the Spring semester of seventh grade, it was pouring. I mean really pouring. I’d looked forward to going back to school all through Christmas vacation, hoping I would have some cute boys in my classes. Specifically, the one I’d been crushing on for three years: Dustin Coles. Plus, nice teachers and as few mean girls as possible. But a horrid thought was rattling around in my brain. Would I be stuck with the bully crew in my core subjects—or worse, gym class? Seeing them online on our school’s underground website was bad enough. Sharing classrooms with those girls would be my worst nightmare. I couldn’t wait to get back to Pacific to see who I’d be spending the semester with: friends, or enemies?

Outside, the rain pounded down, bouncing up off of puddles in the yard and sheeting down our kitchen windows. While I ate a bowl of cereal, I worried about what would happen when I walked onto campus. Ever since I solved my last case, my mom, dad, students at my school—basically everybody has given me a bit of a hard time. Reporters call me everything from “the teen sleuth” to “the 13-year-old genius.” How embarrassing.

Truthfully, I think they’re all a little jealous. The adults: because I decoded a bunch of clues and dug up a hidden jewelry box that they should have been able to find, but couldn’t. Everyone else: because I got attention, was interviewed on TV, and got to keep the jewels. Not that I could sell them or anything until I turned eighteen. They were locked up in a safe, and I was still just regular Skylar Robbins, teen detective. To be honest, I wished everyone would just forget about it. Unlike some of the girls at Pacific, I didn’t enjoy all the attention. Except maybe from one particular extremely cute boy.

“Ready?” My mom trotted down the last few stairs. Her briefcase was in one hand and she smoothed down her shoulder-length, brown hair with the other. Mine was darker and much longer, and I twisted it around one hand impatiently while I waited for her. “Have everything you need, like an umbrella?” she asked me.

“Yes. Umbrella, laptop for lessons, spiral notebooks for taking notes, pens, bus money for the ride home.” My Porta-detective kit was shoved in the bottom of my backpack in case I discovered clues to a new mystery, but she didn’t need to know that.

Made of metal and covered in pink leopard spots, my Porta-detective kit contained smaller versions of my most important spy tools. Mini-mag glass, and tiny binoculars. A round mirror disguised as a compact was perfect for spying on people behind me. And my Uniprinter. This was a one-inch square stamp pad with black ink and a tiny tablet of paper attached to the back, useful for taking a single fingerprint.

Porta-Detective Kit

I glanced at my watch. “Mom. We need to leave, like right now.”

While we headed for the garage, I thought about my detective agency. I’d always figured my first big case as a professional sleuth would be an easy one. Finding a missing pet, solving a petty theft, or spying on someone’s boyfriend to see if he were cheating. Nothing that would get me in trouble, put me in danger, or change my life forever. Well, I was wrong. Way wrong. And as soon as I’d located the hidden jewels, a much more challenging mystery fell into my hands.

Three years ago, the famous heiress who’d owned and hidden the jewelry box mysteriously disappeared. The only child of an oil tycoon, Xandra—pronounced Zandra—had inherited millions. She donated huge amounts of money to charity, and she had dated more than one celebrity bad boy. Then suddenly, she went missing. The media loved her, and they reported that she hadn’t left a single clue behind. The police reports agreed that Xandra Collins had disappeared without a trace. Her hundred-year-old mansion was abandoned. Three years later, my parents bought it.

Well, I know one thing from the detective skills my Grandfather taught me: It is almost impossible to disappear without leaving a trace. And if anyone could find a shred of evidence, it was going to be me.

I would end up risking my life trying to solve the mystery of the missing heiress. And worse than that, without meaning to, I’d put my friends in mortal danger too.

Keep on the lookout for this new Skylar Robbins mystery, coming soon in paperback on Amazon.

 

 

 

Chapter 1 Free! Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVERdownload

Thank you to all of you who voted Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels as Readers’ Choice for Book-of-the-Month. Here is Chapter one free as a thank you.

1: Xandra Collins Mysteriously Disappeared

I didn’t know this when I climbed into the backseat of the black Cadillac, but what was about to happen in the next half hour would change my life forever. And I’m not talking about a little change, either. This one was a monster. It wasn’t just that we were moving out of the house I’d lived in since I was born, or that I was finally about to start middle school. Both of those things were huge, but they seemed like tiny details compared to what came next. The mystery I got tangled up in involved the disappearance of a famous heiress, a million dollars’ worth of hidden jewels, and a threatening gang of bikers who were determined to find them before I did.

Could a skinny thirteen-year-old detective beat them to it?

You bet I could.

Well, I really hoped I could. I was so glad my BFF Alexa had my back, because I was in much more danger than I realized. Going to a new school turned out to be almost as perilous as hunting for the hidden jewels. By the time this case was solved, I’d challenged the biggest bully in the entire seventh grade, kissed my first boy, and news of my detective agency had gone viral. Not to mention I risked my life to solve a mystery.

Again.

It all started when my parents decided they wanted to buy a bigger house. They were standing in the driveway of a home we’d just looked at, talking with a woman named Victoria Knight while I sat in the car. My dad’s over six feet tall, but in her high heels Ms. Knight stood eye-to-eye with him, looking like a fashion model. Her jet-black hair was pinned up in a shiny twist, and her pointy hipbones poked forward from under her slinky skirt. I pretended to read something on my iPad while I leaned toward the open window and eavesdropped.

“This next house is a classic. It was built in 1908.” Ms. Knight was a realtor trying hard to sell us a house, and my parents thought that the one she just showed us had stunk.

My mom made a note on her clipboard and shook wavy brown hair away from her pretty face. She has a “widow’s peak,” which I think is a pretty gross name for that little point her hairline comes to in the middle of her forehead. My mom has high cheekbones and a narrow chin, so her face reminds me of a heart. Right now that heart was frowning. “That’s really old,” she commented.

“That just makes it better,” my dad said. He loves old. “A fixer-upper is fine with me. We’ll remodel,” he suggested, looking at my mom with his hands spread wide.

“It’s got six bedrooms, five baths, a ballroom, a library, and more!” Ms. Knight exclaimed.

My mom’s forehead continued to wrinkle. “Six bedrooms when there’s only Skylar and us? Isn’t that overkill?” she asked, glancing at the realtor.

My dad pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and considered this. “So, it’s big. I like big. And it’s in the same school district as our current house, so Skylar can still go to Pacific Middle School with her friends.”

Yes! I thought, squeezing my iPad while I waited for my mom’s reply. It was as if my dad had read my mind: like he knew I couldn’t wait to get to Pacific to see all my friends again, and Dustin Coles: the smartest, cutest, most popular boy going into seventh grade.

“That’s very important to girls her age,” the realtor said.

It sure is. Score one for you, Ms. Knight. I peeked out the window and noticed she had a weird look on her face. Like she wasn’t telling us everything. After the dangerous summer I’d just spent in Shadow Hills, my radar was on high alert for liars.

My mom frowned. “But the place is so old it must be falling apart.”

“It’s not—falling apart,” Ms. Knight said.

“Samantha. 1908.” My dad rolled the date off his tongue as if it tasted good. “Let’s give it a shot, Honey. I’ll bet it has a heck of a history.”

Ms. Knight’s cheeks turned pink. She made her shiny maroon lips into a circle and blew out a slow breath. Then she scratched at a spot on the pavement with the toe of her high-heeled shoe. “Oh, the house has a history, that’s for sure.”

I’ll bet it does, I thought, opening the note-taking app and jotting down some ideas on my iPad:

Ms. K is worried abt nxt house. Posing. Won’t look m & d in the eye.

I watched her for a minute and added another note:

? wrong w/ nxt house?

My mom obviously hadn’t noticed Ms. Knight’s strange reaction, because when she looked at my dad, she smiled. She was an American history professor at UCLA and loved anything “with a history”. My dad loved anything classic, antique, or just plain old. He’s a chemist and an inventor, but with his short, light brown hair and his wire-rimmed glasses my dad looked like he could be a college professor himself.

No one would suspect the laboratory he worked in looked like a mad scientist’s and that he’d almost blown off his eyebrows when I was in first grade. Faint pink scars still speckle his forehead from when one of his concoctions exploded. If he hadn’t been wearing his goggles he could have ended up blind. Whenever I want permission to do something my mom thinks is dangerous she brings up my dad’s accident and asks me if I want to “follow in the risk-taker’s footsteps,” or “think it through more carefully first,” like she would.

I usually end up taking the risks.

After finishing my detective notes I looked out the window trying to catch my mom’s eye, hoping they’d hurry up and get in the car so we could get this over with. I didn’t want to move in the first place.

The house I grew up in is in Santa Monica, real close to the beach. I’ve investigated every square inch of our neighborhood, and I know its woodsy streets by heart. My best friend Alexa O’Reilly lives right around the corner. We’ve been BFFs since second grade when she moved here from Texas. She still has a tiny bit of a Southern accent. Like she calls cement, “SEA-ment.” Then I’ll say, “Sea-ment?” and Alexa’s green eyes look surprised. Then her freckled cheeks will bunch up and she’ll laugh at herself.

I’ve never had a friend as good as Alexa. Her excitement always makes everything fun and she cracks me up. This summer I got stuck at my cousin Gwendolyn’s house in Malibu for eight weeks while my parents toured Europe. That’s when I realized the meaning of true friendship. I went to summer school in Shadow Hills, and met a girl in art class named Kat who claimed to be a witch. She passed me notes in backward writing and thought up all these cool art projects we could do together. After casting dangerous spells with Kat in an abandoned garden and getting to know her better, I wondered if she just liked to trick everyone for her own benefit. Hanging out with Kat made me realize what a good friend Alexa really was. What real friends would do for each other, and wouldn’t do to each other.

When my parents got back from Europe they had huge news. My dad finally sold the formula for a non-alcoholic cough syrup he’d invented, and while they were in Paris a major drug company paid him a huge fee. Suddenly we were in the market for a much bigger house, and my mom couldn’t wait to move out of our small one. I didn’t care that we suddenly had more money than we used to have. The only thing that mattered to me was that my family was about to move. If my parents buy a home very far away, Alexa and I won’t be able to go to the same middle school, and we’ve been looking forward to going to Pacific together forever.

My mom climbed into the backseat beside me and I quietly closed the cover on my iPad. Ms. Knight turned around and gave us a big smile. “I’m excited about the next house.” She sounded like she was acting. “I can’t wait to see how you like it,” she told my dad. He was sitting next to her in front because he was too tall for the back seat. We drove for a couple of blocks and I watched the ocean while we waited for the light to turn green so we could turn onto Pacific Coast Highway.

The white water rushing toward the sand churned messily, like each swirling bit couldn’t decide in which direction to go. The dark blue water near the horizon looked calm, but between the deep water and the shore there was a threatening, shifting movement. It made me nervous. Like something was welling up and heading toward us. Something dangerous that couldn’t be stopped. One wave after another loomed slowly in the distance, rising higher and building power before rolling steadily forward. Then each one crashed down onto the sand, exploding into bubbly white froth.

We’d lived a few minutes away from the Santa Monica pier since I was born, so I know its roller coaster and game booths like I know my backyard. Looking out the window, I imagined the smell of buttered popcorn and corndogs as we drove up the coast with the windows rolled up. I remembered how good it felt to ride the Ferris wheel, like I was soaring over the sea. My favorite car was the pink one. I didn’t mind its rusty sides or the cracked leather seat. When you rode that Ferris wheel up into the sky and looked out over the sparkling ocean it felt like you were on top of the world.

“We’re not going to move far from here, are we?” I asked my mom for the tenth time. “I’ll die if I can’t go to Pacific with Alexa.” Not to mention Dustin, I thought, but didn’t say. Dustin Coles was president of student council, got almost straight A’s, and his huge hazel eyes and dimples were off the charts. I’d only admitted this to Alexa and to my own diary, but I’d been crushing on him for two years. And over the summer something amazing happened: Alexa told me that while I was away she saw Dustin at a party I’d missed. She said it like she was about to spill a delicious secret.

And then she did.

“He asked where you were.”

“He did? No way.” I snuggled into the cushion, eager to hear more.

“Swear. I told him you went to summer school in Malibu and he thought that was really cool.”

“He really said that? Did he say, ‘that’s cool,’ or, ‘that’s really cool’?”

Alexa laughed. “I’m pretty sure he said, ‘Malibu? Wow. That’s cool.’”

“Awesome,” I said, hugging my pillow and smiling.

Why had Dustin asked where I was? Was he just curious why I wasn’t with Alexa as usual? Or maybe he was worried that I was off having fun with some other guy. Wondering if I’d met a cute surfer in Malibu and had forgotten all about him. I wished he was worrying about me. Then I came to my senses. As if Dustin Coles would actually get jealous thinking about me, right? But he did ask about me. That had to mean something.

If I couldn’t go to Pacific Middle School with Dustin, Alexa, and all of my other friends, it would absolutely destroy me. Not to mention what it would do to my BFF. She’s carrying around a big, embarrassing secret. And I’m trying to help her keep it.

My mom grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “We’ll have to see which house is the best fit for us, Sweetheart. It may be in a different neighborhood. If it is, you’ll adapt, and we’ll come back and visit the pier.” This made my stomach knot up.

A few black-bellied clouds edged across the mountains toward us. Their reflections were the color of pencil lead on the green-blue part of the water. Then the wind kicked up, and the treetops on the hillside started to dance. “Rain’s coming,” my dad said, squinting up at the sky.

“There’s supposed to be an unusually strong summer storm on its way,” Ms. Knight agreed, her dark eyes catching mine in the rearview mirror. “Hopefully we’ll make it to the top of the hill before it hits.” She glanced at my dad. “This house is the last one in the area that is in your price range, and it’s quite a bargain, considering the breathtaking views and its size.

I didn’t care how big our next house was, I just didn’t want to move far away from Alexa. Our house had already sold, so we needed to find a new one to move into very soon. We had looked at homes all day last Saturday and Sunday and I was sick of it.

“So what else can you tell us about the house?” my mom asked.

“Well, the woman who owned it was Xandra Collins.” Victoria Knight said the name like she was letting us in on a juicy secret. She pronounced it Zandra, not EX-andra.

“Why does her name sound familiar? Did I read about her somewhere?” my dad asked.

“I’m sure you saw stories about her in the tabloids.”

My mom let out a little snort and smiled. “We don’t read gossip magazines.”

Victoria Knight raised one eyebrow. “Well she was all over the regular news too. The Collins family was rich. Really rich. When her parents died, Xandra Collins inherited millions. Many millions. She gave tons of money to various charities. That’s one of the reasons she kept making the news. Xandra Collins was wealthy and beautiful, but also quite—unusual.” She looked sideways at my dad. “Three years ago she mysteriously disappeared. Her mansion has been vacant ever since.”

“What happened to her?” I leaned toward the front seat, eager to hear more.

“Skylar,” my mother warned.

“What? I’m just curious.” I’m going to become an undercover detective like my grandfather, so I love anything mysterious. I looked out the window as a jagged bolt of lightning streaked across the windshield and lit up the gloomy sky. Moments later, thunder boomed above us like an exploding cannon. Ms. Knight didn’t answer my question.

“Xandra Collins’s jewelry collection was legendary too. Every magazine showed her dripping in diamonds. The house is incredible. Wait ‘til you see it.”

“I definitely remember hearing about her,” my father said as we turned off Pacific Coast Highway and headed up into Santa Monica Canyon.

“I’m sure you did. There was quite a scandal concerning her disappearance.” Ms. Knight steered onto a winding street that was so narrow we had to pull partway into someone’s driveway so a car on the other side could get around us. The wind gusted and a bunch of dead leaves splatted against the windshield. She edged carefully back onto the road.

“What was the scandal about?” I asked, my fingers on my iPad, ready to take notes.

“It doesn’t matter,” my father said, turning around to look at me. My dad has light blue eyes that crinkle around the edges when he smiles. But right now he wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t remember all the details.” Ms. Knight played with her earring as she glanced at my dad again. I could tell this was a lie. She definitely remembered the details. But for some reason she didn’t want to give them up.

“Oh, go ahead and tell her,” he said. “She’ll figure it out anyway.”

Ms. Knight took a deep breath. “Rumor was, Xandra Collins was being stalked. Then she disappeared without a trace. So people thought maybe…someone killed her.”

My mom started flicking the metal clamp on her clipboard. Someone murdered the woman whose house we might buy? She didn’t like the sound of that at all. Ms. Knight looked at her in the rearview mirror. “But it might not be true. They never found her body.”

“I’ll bet she was kidnapped,” I suggested.

My dad looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Maybe she ran off with a mystery man,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Maybe she went on a secret cruise around the world looking for more diamonds,” I suggested, “Or—”

My mom laughed. “All right, you two.”

Tapping my iPad, I continued my notes, hoping my mom wouldn’t look over and read them.

3 yrs ago X.C. disappeared, “without a trace.” Everyone leaves a trace.

“Xandra Collins’s heirs finally stopped fighting over the house and decided to sell it,” Ms. Knight continued. “The place just went on the market this morning so I haven’t had a chance to preview it yet. I think it may need some work since it’s been vacant for three years,” she admitted.

A fistful of raindrops hit the windshield. “Are we almost there?” I asked.

“Just about,” Ms. Knight said. Right after that it started to pour. She took her eyes off the road for a second to glance at the address while the rain drummed on the roof of the car.

“Careful!” my mother warned as we swerved around a wet bend. She grabbed the door with one hand and the front seat with the other. Her clipboard slid off her lap onto the seat between us. I looked down the side of the hill and realized how high up we’d climbed. Now the ocean looked like a cold, gray sheet of steel as it reflected the cloud-filled sky.

The street ended in a cul-de-sac. This was good. I remembered something Grandpa used to say: Criminals don’t bother with houses in cul-de-sacs. They don’t want to get trapped with no way out. I found out later that not every criminal knew the rule about cul-de-sacs. Ms. Knight steered up a driveway that curved into the hill and I stared at the house that loomed above us, perched on the edge of the hillside like it was growing there. A steel gate with pointed spikes guarded the house, as if it were warning us to keep out. Or maybe it was keeping something in.

“Well folks, we’re here.”

Framed in the wet windshield, dark storm clouds hung over the abandoned mansion, their bottoms bulging like they were about to burst. The front of the house was covered in multi-colored stone. Behind cracked windows and torn screens, tattered curtains fluttered into the house, billowing inside on the damp breeze. The roof had several different levels and was missing a bunch of shingles. A round tower with a tip like an upside-down ice-cream cone stretched up the front of the mansion, pointing at the sky. Ms. Knight called it a turret, and sounded like she was proud the place had one. There was a tiny room at the top of the turret that was higher than any other part of the house. It seemed to be calling my name. Skylar Robbins, it whispered. Come explore.

We got out of the car into the wind and rain and hurried toward the house. Crumbling stepping-stones led us through a lawn that was overgrown with knee-high weeds. Dead trees sported black branches that ended in grasping claws. As Victoria Knight fumbled with the key, I saw that the curtains were stained with something that looked like blood.

“Here we go,” she said, opening the tall front door. She let out a loud shriek and ducked.

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels is available now on Amazon.

Sneak Preview: Mystery of the Hidden Jewels Chapter One

MYSTERY OF THE HIDDEN JEWELS FRONT COVER

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels

by Carrie Cross

 

 

For my dad

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

 

A huge thank you to Skylar Robbins fans and her secret agents. At the end of my first novel, Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills, Skylar recruited agents to help solve her next case. Several of them are taking part in this interactive story by helping decode the clues Skylar shares on her website: www.skylarrobbins.com. Prospective agents can sign up and dive into this dangerous new adventure with Skylar Robbins and her BFF, Alexa. Just fill out the Secret Agent Application Form (S.A.A.F.) on the website to get your code name and Identikit.

Skylar would like to personally thank the following secret agents for their assistance in finding the hidden jewels: Kelsey G: Dragon Fire, Edmond W: Shining Onyx, Kalyn M: Hidden Shadow, Miriam W: Water Nymph, Madison R: Hunting Lion, Jared W: Thunder Cloud, Destiny M: Star Dancer, Nathanya W: Fire Princess, Samuel W: Roaring River, and Ella M: Sea Princess.

And a heartfelt thank you also goes out to Elayne Angel, Jim Cross, and Ed Ward for their excellent editorial advice and creative input.

 

CONTENTS

  1. Xandra Collins Mysteriously Disappeared
  2. Find the Dumbwaiter
  3. Abandoned Mansion
  4. Teen Detective’s Office
  5. Nerves
  6. The First Day of Middle School
  7. My Detective Kit
  8. Invisible Ink
  9. A Tattered, Yellowed Envelope
  10. Not Exactly a Kiss
  11. The Third Clue
  12. Just Us Girls
  13. Finding the Hidden Floor
  14. Trapped
  15. Escape
  16. Dusting for Fingerprints
  17. The Map with the Missing Footsteps
  18. The Threat
  19. Bird’s Nest Clue
  20. Could Dustin Coles Actually Like Me?
  21. “He’s off the scale!”
  22. Treasure Map
  23. A Rusty Metal Box
  24. UN-invite
  25. The Thief in the Mirror
  26. Punishment
  27. Busted
  28. The Setup
  29. Porta-Detective Kit
  30. The Final Clue
  31. Xandra Collins’s Jewels
  32. The Skylar Robbins Detective Agency
  33. Fame
  34. Friday Night
  35. The Backwards Dance
  36. Skylar Robbins: Teen Detective

 

 

Skylar Robbins:

The Mystery of the Hidden Jewels

 

CHAPTER 1:

Xandra Collins Mysteriously Disappeared

I didn’t know this when I climbed into the backseat of the black Cadillac, but what was about to happen in the next half hour would change my life forever. And I’m not talking about a little change, either. This one was a monster. It wasn’t just that we were moving out of the house I’d lived in since I was born, or that I was finally about to start middle school. Both of those things were huge, but they seemed like tiny details compared to what came next. The mystery I got tangled up in involved the disappearance of a famous heiress, a million dollars’ worth of hidden jewels, and a threatening gang of bikers who were determined to find them before I did.

Could a skinny thirteen-year-old detective beat them to it?

You bet I could.

Well, I really hoped I could. I was so glad my BFF Alexa had my back, because I was in much more danger than I realized. Going to a new school turned out to be almost as perilous as hunting for the hidden jewels. By the time this case was solved, I’d challenged the biggest bully in the entire seventh grade, kissed my first boy, and news of my detective agency had gone viral. Not to mention I risked my life to solve a mystery.

Again.

It all started when my parents decided they wanted to buy a bigger house. They were standing in the driveway of a home we’d just looked at, talking with a woman named Victoria Knight while I sat in the car. My dad’s over six feet tall, but in her high heels Ms. Knight stood eye-to-eye with him, looking like a fashion model. Her jet-black hair was pinned up in a shiny twist, and her pointy hipbones poked forward from under her slinky skirt. I pretended to read something on my iPad while I leaned toward the open window and eavesdropped.

“This next house is a classic. It was built in 1908.” Ms. Knight was a realtor trying hard to sell us a house, and my parents thought that the one she just showed us had stunk.

My mom made a note on her clipboard and shook wavy brown hair away from her pretty face. She has a “widow’s peak,” which I think is a pretty gross name for that little point her hairline comes to in the middle of her forehead. My mom has high cheekbones and a narrow chin, so her face reminds me of a heart. Right now that heart was frowning. “That’s really old,” she commented.

“That just makes it better,” my dad said. He loves old. “A fixer-upper is fine with me. We’ll remodel,” he suggested, looking at my mom with his hands spread wide.

“It’s got six bedrooms, five baths, a ballroom, a library, and more!” Ms. Knight exclaimed.

My mom’s forehead continued to wrinkle. “Six bedrooms when there’s only Skylar and us? Isn’t that overkill?” she asked, glancing at the realtor.

My dad pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and considered this. “So, it’s big. I like big. And it’s in the same school district as our current house, so Skylar can still go to Pacific Middle School with her friends.”

Yes! I thought, squeezing my iPad while I waited for my mom’s reply. It was as if my dad had read my mind: like he knew I couldn’t wait to get to Pacific to see all my friends again, and Dustin Coles: the smartest, cutest, most popular boy going into seventh grade.

“That’s very important to girls her age,” the realtor said.

It sure is. Score one for you, Ms. Knight. I peeked out the window and noticed she had a weird look on her face. Like she wasn’t telling us everything. After the dangerous summer I’d just spent in Shadow Hills, my radar was on high alert for liars.

My mom frowned. “But the place is so old it must be falling apart.”

“It’s not—falling apart,” Ms. Knight said.

“Samantha. 1908.” My dad rolled the date off his tongue as if it tasted good. “Let’s give it a shot, Honey. I’ll bet it has a heck of a history.”

Ms. Knight’s cheeks turned pink. She made her shiny maroon lips into a circle and blew out a slow breath. Then she scratched at a spot on the pavement with the toe of her high-heeled shoe. “Oh, the house has a history, that’s for sure.”

I’ll bet it does, I thought, opening the note-taking app and jotting down some ideas on my iPad:

Ms. K is worried abt nxt house. Posing. Won’t look m & d in the eye.

I watched her for a minute and added another note:

? wrong w/ nxt house?

My mom obviously hadn’t noticed Ms. Knight’s strange reaction, because when she looked at my dad, she smiled. She was an American history professor at UCLA and loved anything “with a history”. My dad loved anything classic, antique, or just plain old. He’s a chemist and an inventor, but with his short, light brown hair and his wire-rimmed glasses my dad looked like he could be a college professor himself.

No one would suspect the laboratory he worked in looked like a mad scientist’s and that he’d almost blown off his eyebrows when I was in first grade. Faint pink scars still speckle his forehead from when one of his concoctions exploded. If he hadn’t been wearing his goggles he could have ended up blind. Whenever I want permission to do something my mom thinks is dangerous she brings up my dad’s accident and asks me if I want to “follow in the risk-taker’s footsteps,” or “think it through more carefully first,” like she would.

I usually end up taking the risks.

After finishing my detective notes I looked out the window trying to catch my mom’s eye, hoping they’d hurry up and get in the car so we could get this over with. I didn’t want to move in the first place.

The house I grew up in is in Santa Monica, real close to the beach. I’ve investigated every square inch of our neighborhood, and I know its woodsy streets by heart. My best friend Alexa O’Reilly lives right around the corner. We’ve been BFFs since second grade when she moved here from Texas. She still has a tiny bit of a Southern accent. Like she calls cement, “SEA-ment.” Then I’ll say, “Sea-ment?” and Alexa’s green eyes look surprised. Then her freckled cheeks will bunch up and she’ll laugh at herself.

I’ve never had a friend as good as Alexa. Her excitement always makes everything fun and she cracks me up. This summer I got stuck at my cousin Gwendolyn’s house in Malibu for eight weeks while my parents toured Europe. That’s when I realized the meaning of true friendship. I went to summer school in Shadow Hills, and met a girl in art class named Kat who claimed to be a witch. She passed me notes in backward writing and thought up all these cool art projects we could do together. After casting dangerous spells with Kat in an abandoned garden and getting to know her better, I wondered if she just liked to trick everyone for her own benefit. Hanging out with Kat made me realize what a good friend Alexa really was. What real friends would do for each other, and wouldn’t do to each other.

When my parents got back from Europe they had huge news. My dad finally sold the formula for a non-alcoholic cough syrup he’d invented, and while they were in Paris a major drug company paid him a huge fee. Suddenly we were in the market for a much bigger house, and my mom couldn’t wait to move out of our small one. I didn’t care that we suddenly had more money than we used to have. The only thing that mattered to me was that my family was about to move. If my parents buy a home very far away, Alexa and I won’t be able to go to the same middle school, and we’ve been looking forward to going to Pacific together forever.

My mom climbed into the backseat beside me and I quietly closed the cover on my iPad. Ms. Knight turned around and gave us a big smile. “I’m excited about the next house.” She sounded like she was acting. “I can’t wait to see how you like it,” she told my dad. He was sitting next to her in front because he was too tall for the back seat. We drove for a couple of blocks and I watched the ocean while we waited for the light to turn green so we could turn onto Pacific Coast Highway.

The white water rushing toward the sand churned messily, like each swirling bit couldn’t decide in which direction to go. The dark blue water near the horizon looked calm, but between the deep water and the shore there was a threatening, shifting movement. It made me nervous. Like something was welling up and heading toward us. Something dangerous that couldn’t be stopped. One wave after another loomed slowly in the distance, rising higher and building power before rolling steadily forward. Then each one crashed down onto the sand, exploding into bubbly white froth.

We’d lived a few minutes away from the Santa Monica pier since I was born, so I know its roller coaster and game booths like I know my backyard. Looking out the window, I imagined the smell of buttered popcorn and corndogs as we drove up the coast with the windows rolled up. I remembered how good it felt to ride the Ferris wheel, like I was soaring over the sea. My favorite car was the pink one. I didn’t mind its rusty sides or the cracked leather seat. When you rode that Ferris wheel up into the sky and looked out over the sparkling ocean it felt like you were on top of the world.

“We’re not going to move far from here, are we?” I asked my mom for the tenth time. “I’ll die if I can’t go to Pacific with Alexa.” Not to mention Dustin, I thought, but didn’t say. Dustin Coles was president of student council, got almost straight A’s, and his huge hazel eyes and dimples were off the charts. I’d only admitted this to Alexa and to my own diary, but I’d been crushing on him for two years. And over the summer something amazing happened: Alexa told me that while I was away she saw Dustin at a party I’d missed. She said it like she was about to spill a delicious secret.

And then she did.

“He asked where you were.”

“He did? No way.” I snuggled into the cushion, eager to hear more.

“Swear. I told him you went to summer school in Malibu and he thought that was really cool.”

“He really said that? Did he say, ‘that’s cool,’ or, ‘that’s really cool’?”

Alexa laughed. “I’m pretty sure he said, ‘Malibu? Wow. That’s cool.’”

“Awesome,” I said, hugging my pillow and smiling.

Why had Dustin asked where I was? Was he just curious why I wasn’t with Alexa as usual? Or maybe he was worried that I was off having fun with some other guy. Wondering if I’d met a cute surfer in Malibu and had forgotten all about him. I wished he was worrying about me. Then I came to my senses. As if Dustin Coles would actually get jealous thinking about me, right? But he did ask about me. That had to mean something.

If I couldn’t go to Pacific Middle School with Dustin, Alexa, and all of my other friends, it would absolutely destroy me. Not to mention what it would do to my BFF. She’s carrying around a big, embarrassing secret. And I’m trying to help her keep it.

My mom grabbed my hand and squeezed it. “We’ll have to see which house is the best fit for us, Sweetheart. It may be in a different neighborhood. If it is, you’ll adapt, and we’ll come back and visit the pier.” This made my stomach knot up.

A few black-bellied clouds edged across the mountains toward us. Their reflections were the color of pencil lead on the green-blue part of the water. Then the wind kicked up, and the treetops on the hillside started to dance. “Rain’s coming,” my dad said, squinting up at the sky.

“There’s supposed to be an unusually strong summer storm on its way,” Ms. Knight agreed, her dark eyes catching mine in the rearview mirror. “Hopefully we’ll make it to the top of the hill before it hits.” She glanced at my dad. “This house is the last one in the area that is in your price range, and it’s quite a bargain, considering the breathtaking views and its size.”

I didn’t care how big our next house was, I just didn’t want to move far away from Alexa. Our house had already sold, so we needed to find a new one to move into very soon. We had looked at homes all day last Saturday and Sunday and I was sick of it.

“So what else can you tell us about the house?” my mom asked.

“Well, the woman who owned it was Xandra Collins.” Victoria Knight said the name like she was letting us in on a juicy secret. She pronounced it Zandra, not EX-andra.

“Why does her name sound familiar? Did I read about her somewhere?” my dad asked.

“I’m sure you saw stories about her in the tabloids.”

My mom let out a little snort and smiled. “We don’t read gossip magazines.”

Victoria Knight raised one eyebrow. “Well she was all over the regular news too. The Collins family was rich. Really rich. When her parents died, Xandra Collins inherited millions. Many millions. She gave tons of money to various charities. That’s one of the reasons she kept making the news. Xandra Collins was wealthy and beautiful, but also quite—unusual.” She looked sideways at my dad. “Three years ago she mysteriously disappeared. Her mansion has been vacant ever since.”

“What happened to her?” I leaned toward the front seat, eager to hear more.

“Skylar,” my mother warned.

“What? I’m just curious.” I’m going to become an undercover detective like my grandfather, so I love anything mysterious. I looked out the window as a jagged bolt of lightning streaked across the windshield and lit up the gloomy sky. Moments later, thunder boomed above us like an exploding cannon. Ms. Knight didn’t answer my question.

“Xandra Collins’s jewelry collection was legendary too. Every magazine showed her dripping in diamonds. The house is incredible. Wait ‘til you see it.”

“I definitely remember hearing about her,” my father said as we turned off Pacific Coast Highway and headed up into Santa Monica Canyon.

“I’m sure you did. There was quite a scandal concerning her disappearance.” Ms. Knight steered onto a winding street that was so narrow we had to pull partway into someone’s driveway so a car on the other side could get around us. The wind gusted and a bunch of dead leaves splatted against the windshield. She edged carefully back onto the road.

“What was the scandal about?” I asked, my fingers on my iPad, ready to take notes.

“It doesn’t matter,” my father said, turning around to look at me. My dad has light blue eyes that crinkle around the edges when he smiles. But right now he wasn’t smiling.

“I don’t remember all the details.” Ms. Knight played with her earring as she glanced at my dad again. I could tell this was a lie. She definitely remembered the details. But for some reason she didn’t want to give them up.

“Oh, go ahead and tell her,” he said. “She’ll figure it out anyway.”

Ms. Knight took a deep breath. “Rumor was, Xandra Collins was being stalked. Then she disappeared without a trace. So people thought maybe…someone killed her.”

My mom started flicking the metal clamp on her clipboard. Someone murdered the woman whose house we might buy? She didn’t like the sound of that at all. Ms. Knight looked at her in the rearview mirror. “But it might not be true. They never found her body.”

“I’ll bet she was kidnapped,” I suggested.

My dad looked over his shoulder and smiled. “Maybe she ran off with a mystery man,” he said, wiggling his eyebrows.

“Maybe she went on a secret cruise around the world looking for more diamonds,” I suggested, “Or—”

My mom laughed. “All right, you two.”

Tapping my iPad, I continued my notes, hoping my mom wouldn’t look over and read them.

3 yrs ago X.C. disappeared, “without a trace.” Everyone leaves a trace.

“Xandra Collins’s heirs finally stopped fighting over the house and decided to sell it,” Ms. Knight continued. “The place just went on the market this morning so I haven’t had a chance to preview it yet. I think it may need some work since it’s been vacant for three years,” she admitted.

A fistful of raindrops hit the windshield. “Are we almost there?” I asked.

“Just about,” Ms. Knight said. Right after that it started to pour. She took her eyes off the road for a second to glance at the address while the rain drummed on the roof of the car.

“Careful!” my mother warned as we swerved around a wet bend. She grabbed the door with one hand and the front seat with the other. Her clipboard slid off her lap onto the seat between us. I looked down the side of the hill and realized how high up we’d climbed. Now the ocean looked like a cold, gray sheet of steel as it reflected the cloud-filled sky.

The street ended in a cul-de-sac. This was good. I remembered something Grandpa used to say: Criminals don’t bother with houses in cul-de-sacs. They don’t want to get trapped with no way out. I found out later that not every criminal knew the rule about cul-de-sacs. Ms. Knight steered up a driveway that curved into the hill and I stared at the house that loomed above us, perched on the edge of the hillside like it was growing there. A steel gate with pointed spikes guarded the house, as if it were warning us to keep out. Or maybe it was keeping something in.

“Well folks, we’re here.”

Framed in the wet windshield, dark storm clouds hung over the abandoned mansion, their bottoms bulging like they were about to burst. The front of the house was covered in multi-colored stone. Behind cracked windows and torn screens, tattered curtains fluttered into the house, billowing inside on the damp breeze. The roof had several different levels and was missing a bunch of shingles. A round tower with a tip like an upside-down ice-cream cone stretched up the front of the mansion, pointing at the sky. Ms. Knight called it a turret, and sounded like she was proud the place had one. There was a tiny room at the top of the turret that was higher than any other part of the house. It seemed to be calling my name. Skylar Robbins, it whispered. Come explore.

We got out of the car into the wind and rain and hurried toward the house. Crumbling stepping-stones led us through a lawn that was overgrown with knee-high weeds. Dead trees sported black branches that ended in grasping claws. As Victoria Knight fumbled with the key, I saw that the curtains were stained with something that looked like blood.

“Here we go,” she said, opening the tall front door. She let out a loud shriek and ducked.

Coming to Amazon December 9, Read Tuesday!

 

Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills Chapter 1

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CHAPTER 1: My Detective Kit

Heading for Malibu on a sunny Saturday in June would normally have been a good thing. I could have spent the day bodysurfing with my BFF, Alexa, and playing games in the arcade on the Santa Monica pier. If I was totally lucky I might have shared a bumper car with Dustin Coles, the cutest boy going into Pacific Middle School. Alexa and I liked to lie in the sun and watch surfers ride the waves on Zuma beach. If there were pinball and corndogs ahead of me instead of what I was in for, I would have begged my dad for a ride down the coast. But today? Not so much.

If I’d gotten out of the car right then and spread out my beach towel, everything might have turned out fine. But my dad kept right on driving.

We stopped at a red light before heading down the incline to Pacific Coast Highway. Comforted a little by the weight pressing against my leg, I stared out the window and watched the ocean. The faraway water was navy blue where it met the sky. A frosting of whitecaps drifted sideways, winked, and disappeared. The sea was teal-blue in the middle, and the shallow water glowed bright green as if it were lit from below. Small waves welled up, and then the whitewater bubbled forward and sizzled flat on the sand.

Thin sunlight shimmered on the ocean while I tapped my fingers on the detective kit leaning against my leg. I’d always wanted to become a private detective like my grandfather, and used his old leather briefcase to hold my tools. Back when he was a policeman, Grandpa’s case used to be a rich tan color. But after decades of visiting crime scenes, sitting outside in the sun, and baking in a hot cop car, it had faded to grayish beige. There was a burn mark on the bottom from when he’d policed an arson scene. The handle was stained with dark smudges from dusting robbery sites with fingerprinting powder. After he went undercover, the corners got battered from years of being tossed into the trunk of his unmarked car.

I had been adding to my detective kit slowly over the last two years by using my allowance and asking for pieces of equipment for my birthday. The first pocket hid a thin penlight that I used for searching through boxes, suitcases, or suspicious people’s belongings in the dark. Another one held a laser pointer that shot a red beam of light up to a hundred yards. My mom always worried that I would blind myself or someone else with it, but I kept it in case I was ever chased by robbers or someone I needed to blind to save my life. My pink Super-Zoom binoculars, perfect for long-distance spying, rested inside the biggest pocket. A heavy-duty flashlight for nighttime investigations was snug under a strap.

Zipped inside another compartment there was a measuring tape, wax for taking impressions, and a box of chalk in case I had to outline a dead body. I had a pen and sketchpad for describing crime scenes, a magnifying glass, and tweezers and evidence envelopes for picking up and storing clues. There were latex gloves like doctors use, and safety goggles. Pepper spray for self-defense. Best of all was my fingerprinting kit and Case Solution cards for mounting the prints.

I loved my detective kit and everything it stood for. Where I was headed, there was no way I was leaving it behind. Uh-uh. Not today.

The light changed, and we turned onto Pacific Coast Highway and passed the Santa Monica pier. The Ferris wheel spun lazily around, carrying happy people toward the sky. The pink chair at the top of the wheel swung back and forth, empty. I always felt lucky when it was my turn to get on the ride and a pink car stopped in front of me. I didn’t feel lucky today. Wishing I were waiting in line for that ride right now, I looked out the back window and watched the Ferris wheel turn until I couldn’t see it any longer.

A few miles farther up the coast, my mom pointed at a mansion built high up on a cliff. “Look, Honey,” she said to me. The huge house had a wall of windows that faced the ocean. A black Ferrari was parked in the driveway, and a modern metal sculpture dominated the yard. “I bet a movie star lives there. Or a rock star.” She smiled at me over her shoulder. “Maybe that’s Justin Bieber’s house.”

My mom didn’t watch Extra, read People magazine, or download music from iTunes. If it wasn’t in a textbook, she usually didn’t have a clue. “He’s gross, Mom.” My detective kit tipped over when we stopped for a light and I bent sideways to grab the handle and straighten it back up.

“Just because someone can afford a house like that doesn’t mean he’s famous,” my dad said. “Maybe a chemist owns it, for example.” He winked at me in the rear-view mirror and his blue eyes crinkled behind his glasses. Ha ha. My dad’s a chemist. As if we could ever afford a huge beach house. “What do you think, Skylar? Who lives there?” he asked, trying to start one of our old car games like I was a fussy six-year-old.

“Mickey and his roommate Donald?” I stared out the window at the roiling ocean. “I still can’t believe I have to spend the whole summer with Gwendolyn. You know how she is,” I complained, picking at a thread on the seat belt. My cousin and I did not get along. And that was the understatement of the century.

“Gwendolyn acts out because she has low self-esteem,” my mom told me for the millionth time. Like that made it OK.

My dad sped up when we hit a straight part of the coastline. “Just ignore her. If she doesn’t get a reaction she’ll get bored and leave you alone.” His shoulders bunched up and he tapped his fingers quickly against the steering wheel.

“I try to ignore her. It doesn’t do any good. She just gets in my face and asks me if I went deaf.” I flicked the seat belt buckle as we passed a long row of unevenly spaced palm trees.

“Gwendolyn got suspended for a week last semester for bullying that boy in her class, remember?” my dad asked. “I’m sure she’ll be on her best behavior.”

Gwendolyn doesn’t have any best behavior, I thought.

My cousin had picked on me since we were kids. She made fun of me because I was skinny and got good grades. My mom said it just showed that my cousin wished she were thinner and did better in school. But that didn’t make it feel any better when I was at the end of her pointing finger. I remembered what happened two weeks ago on report card day. I got mostly A’s and Gwendolyn barely made C’s. “Gee Skylar, no wonder you don’t have a boyfriend with your nose always stuck in those big, boring books,” Gwendolyn said. “I don’t know how you can stand to be so bo-oh-oh-ring.”

After she’d said that I pulled out a small notepad that I always carry with me. I jotted a note to myself while staring at Gwendolyn with a little smile on my face: I’m not as boring as you think.

So then Gwendolyn whined, “What are you writing?”

I’d won that time. But she got me back after dinner.

“Hey Skylar, are you sure you’re a girl?” Gwendolyn asked, bending over to stare at my flat chest. “You look like a scarecrow.” She walked away, laughing and stuffing cookies into her face.

It seemed like my cousin only smiled when she was laughing at someone else. She had short, frizzy hair and a round face, and she didn’t shower very often. Sometimes she would stand right next to where I was sitting and fart on purpose. Then she’d hold her nose and look at me like I did it.

“It’s not all about Gwendolyn,” I said. “Staying at her house also means I can’t hang out with Alexa for like, forever.” I couldn’t spend the whole summer without my BFF. No way. And it would be impossible for her, too. Especially if she had to go to summer school and I wasn’t there to help her.

“Maybe one Saturday Caroline can give you a ride and you can meet Alexa and her mom halfway. For lunch.” My mom ran a hand through her hair, which was dark brown like mine, except hers was short and wavy while mine was long and straight.

“I don’t want to ‘do lunch’ with Alexa, Mom. I want to be able to ride my bike over to her house and be there in five minutes. Or go swimming, or go to the mall.” Or what if we just want to hang out and spy on boys? I thought, but didn’t say. Wouldn’t have helped my case.

“You’ll meet all sorts of new friends at Malibu Middle School this summer,” my dad said helpfully. He was trying to make me feel better, but the thought of starting a new school just made me nervous. My situation was like the next wave. It was coming whether I liked it or not, and there was nothing I could do to stop it.

My mom craned her neck around and looked at me sympathetically. “I’m sorry we couldn’t take you with us, Honey, but the trip is for the professors and their spouses only. No children are coming. Plus you’d be bored silly. We’re going to visit all the historical monuments I teach about in class. The Berlin Wall—” she laughed, shaking the hair away from her heart-shaped face. “Well actually where the Berlin Wall was….”

“It’s OK, Mom,” I said. Visiting the remains of the Berlin Wall sounded as exciting as a triple helping of detention. But it was still so not OK. “I just don’t see why I couldn’t have stayed at our house.”

“We can’t let you stay home alone for eight weeks, Kiddo,” my dad said, scratching his head through his thin light brown hair. “You’re too young.”

“I’m thirteen, Dad.” I fingered one of the locks on my detective kit, spinning the digits around.

“Exactly.” He put his hand firmly back on the wheel. “Case closed.”

I stared out the window to my right. The rocky hillside was covered with dry tumbleweeds and dead bushes, some still black from last year’s fires. It happened every year when everything was all dried out and the Santa Ana winds blew hot air through the hills. Sometimes a homeless person cooking outside would start a fire by accident, or some crazy person would start one on purpose.

Other times the hillside seemed to burst into flames all by itself. Whenever it got windy and we were at my cousin’s house, Aunt Caroline’s eyes would pinch up at the corners as she squinted out the back window. She’d twist her fingers around as she listened for fire engine sirens, sniffing the air every five seconds to see if she smelled smoke.

The mountain looped and snaked with the coastline, and now there were no plants or trees on the hillside. It was just a wall of striped rock that looked impossible to climb. My parents kept trying to convince me how great my summer would be as we got closer to Gwendolyn’s, which was up in the Malibu hills past Point Dume. Behind her house, a rocky mountain range stretched toward the sky. The face was covered with low bushes and big rocks, creating pockets of light and dark. Each time you looked up at the hillside it looked different. The shadows seemed to move and dance, darting and disappearing with the setting sun. They looked like caves where people or animals could hide.

The locals had nicknamed those mountains, “Shadow Hills.”

Excerpt From: Carrie Cross. “Skylar Robbins: The Mystery of Shadow Hills.” iBooks. https://itunes.apple.com/WebObjects/MZStore.woa/wa/viewBook?id=3484045733971AE645ABB6A57571342A

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