Thursday’s Sampler: The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

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In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Thursday’s Sampler features an excerpt from The Outliers, a riveting suspense thriller by Kimberly McCreight.

As one reviewer said: The Outliers starts off with a thriller chase plot, then turns into a conspiracy – all of which was coupled with great visual scenes and an overall aura of urgency.

The Story

From the New York Times bestselling author of Reconstructing Amelia comes a fast-paced teen series where one girl learns that in a world of intrigue, betrayal, and deeply buried secrets, it is vital to trust your instincts.

It all starts with a text: Please, Wylie, I need your help. Wylie hasn’t heard from Cassie in over a week, not since their last fight. But that doesn’t matter. Cassie’s in trouble, so Wylie decides to do what she has done so many times before: save her best friend from herself.

This time it’s different, though. Instead of telling Wylie where she is, Cassie sends cryptic clues. And instead of having Wylie come by herself, Jasper shows up saying Cassie sent him to help. Trusting the guy who sent Cassie off the rails doesn’t feel right, but Wylie has no choice but to ignore her gut instinct and go with him.

But figuring out where Cassie is goes from difficult to dangerous, fast. As Wylie and Jasper head farther and farther north into the dense woods of Maine, Wylie struggles to control her growing sense that something is really wrong. What isn’t Cassie telling them? And could finding her be only the beginning?

In this breakneck tale, New York Times bestselling author Kimberly McCreight brilliantly chronicles a fateful journey that begins with a single decision—and ends up changing everything.

The Sampler

Kimberly McCreight
Kimberly McCreight

I’m still staring down at my phone, willing a response from Cassie, when there’s a knock at our front door. Or did I imagine it? I’m hoping I might have when it comes again. Cassie? But the knock is harder and louder even than before with Karen. A bigger fist maybe, a heavier hand? Keep the doors locked. But I have to at least check to make sure it’s not Cassie.

I make my way over carefully to the foyer. I can hear the shower upstairs. Gideon can’t hear a thing. Not even if I scream. I suck in some air, tucking myself to the side so I can peek out the window without being seen.

There on our porch, with his hands shoved deep in his pock- ets, huge shoulders hiked up toward his perfect ears, is the very last person I want to see: Jasper Salt. He has on one of his trade- mark skintight T-shirts—short-sleeved, despite the cold—and slouched-just-right jeans. He’s staring down at his black Nikes, rocking back and forth like he’s freezing, but pretending it’s all good, man. Because that’s the way Jasper talks. Even though no one talks like that, not even in Long Beach, California, where Jasper’s from.

Jasper was already a sophomore when we started at Newton Regional High School, and he stood out from the start. There was the inhuman way he looked, of course, like he just walked out of a Gap ad, with glowing skin, bright-green eyes, and six- pack abs that you could detect even when he was wearing one of his baggy football or ice hockey jerseys.

The first time Cassie and I saw him was in the cafeteria at his usual table with all the other football players, all wearing their stupid jerseys for the first game. They were huge and loud, deliberately trying to draw attention to themselves. All except Jasper, their starting quarterback even as a sophomore, who never moved fast or raised his voice. He didn’t make threats, or hassle anyone. He was the calm and quiet sun around which the rest of them revolved.

But there was this energy underneath all that calm, tight and wound. Like inside he was a coiled spring no one wanted to see snap. Or snap again. Because Jasper had exploded at least once already. With that one legendary punch.

All the freshman girls couldn’t have cared less about Jasper’s supposed assault and battery, though. Actually, I think it might have made them love him even more. “He’s from L.A.,” they said. “I heard he has a movie agent.” “I heard his whole family moved here so he could play ice hockey.” “I heard he slept with twelve girls last yearAll of them seniors.”

Twelve girls. One punch. What an ass. That’s what I’m thinking as I step over to the door. Because I already know that Jasper showing up on my doorstep isn’t some kind of accident. It’s proof enough for me that he had something to do with what’s going on with Cassie. Where she is. What she’s up to. Or maybe why she left.

But I hesitate once my hand is on the doorknob. Maybe he’s here fishing for what other people know. I should play dumb. See what Jasper says first, let him dig himself a hole deep enough I can kick him into it later.

“Oh, hi.” Jasper looks surprised when I finally open the door. And, annoyingly, up close he is even better-looking than I remembered. He’s not my type, too pretty and too perfectly imperfect. And thinking about it now, I can only imagine how Cassie must feel with his attention fixed on her: special. The way she always wanted to feel. “I didn’t, um, think that anybody was home.”

Jasper’s eyes flick up to my hacked hair then. They snap right back down. He’s pretending not to notice the disaster that is the top of my head, which, I guess, is one tiny point in his favor.

“Well, here I am,” I say. I force myself to loosen my grip on the doorknob, hoping it might help relax the rest of me. “What’s up?”

“Can I come in?” Jasper asks, looking around behind him like there might be someone out there in the dark, watching him. “I’d rather explain inside.”

No. But I can’t say that while pretending I don’t know why he’s here.

“All right.” I step to the side but keep him blocked into the foyer. “What?”

I don’t want him any farther in the house, or my life. I just want him to tell me what he knows about Cassie and then be on his way. Because the longer Jasper stays, and the more it seems like he’s stalling, the tighter my chest is getting. And I am really not interested in having one of my episodes in front of him.

Jasper crosses and uncrosses his arms, lifts his shoulders even closer to his ears. Now he officially looks guilty. I press my lips together and swallow hard. He didn’t do something to Cas- sie, did he? I am not a member of the Jasper Salt fan club. I think he is a bad influence with a mean streak that everyone, for some reason, pretends doesn’t exist. But when I told Cassie’s mom that I didn’t think he would hurt her, I meant it.

“Cassie’s missing,” he begins finally. “And I, um, got a call a couple hours ago from her mom asking if I’d talked to her. But I haven’t since yesterday.” Well, there’s lie number one: Jasper told Karen that he’d texted with Cassie this morning. “Oh, wait, I mean, I guess we texted this morning.” Okay, fine. Back to zero lies, that I know of. But we are just getting started.

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