Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: A Hacker Is Drawn Into the Search for a Missing Influencer In Going Dark

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Exclusive Cover Reveal + Excerpt: A Hacker Is Drawn Into the Search for a Missing Influencer In <i>Going Dark</i>

No matter what genre you read in most often, you’ve probably heard of New York Times bestselling author Melissa de la Cruz. From her popular vampire stories (Blue Bloods) and sweet historical romances (Alex & Eliza, to YA fantasy (The Queen’s Assassin) and fairytale retellings (Cinder & Glass, she’s more than proven she has the range as a writer.

This is why it’s not actually terribly surprising that her latest novel takes a turn into a new sub-genre, telling a story that feels like nothing so much as a ripped-from-the-headlines thriller.

Going Dark is described as a YA version of Gone Girl and follows the story of a popular influencer named Amelia Ashley who goes missing while on a trip with her boyfriend. But when the spotlight on her disappearance begins to suddenly bring attention to another similar case—-one in which a young woman of color disappeared over two years ago to little public notice—more than a few people begin to question Amelia’s motives. Has something really happened to her? Or is she trying to capture the world’s attention for a larger purpose?

Here’s how the publisher describes the story.

#WhereisAmeliaAshley

The Influencer
Amelia Ashley shares everything with her followers – her favorite hole-in-the-wall restaurants, her best fashion tips, and her European trip-of-a-lifetime with her hot boyfriend.

The Boyfriend
Josh has no choice but to return home without Amelia after she abandons him in Rome. He has no clue where she went or how her blood got in his suitcase. Why won’t anyone believe him?

The Hacker
To Harper Delgado, Amelia Ashley is just another missing white girl whipping up a media frenzy. But with each digital knot she untangles about the influencer, Harper wonders: who is Amelia Ashley?

The Other Girl
Two years ago, another girl went missing, one who never made headlines or had a trending hashtag.

The Truth
Amelia’s disappearance has captured the world’s attention. What comes next? Watch this space…

Featuring everything from a morally gray female lead determined to get justice, a sharp examination of influencer culture, and an unfortunately timely exploration of the ways that race, crime, and media intersect, Going Dark looks set to be one of the buzziest YA thrillers of early 2023.

Going Dark won’t hit shelves until January 31, 2023, but we’re thrilled to be able to exclusively reveal the cover to you right now—along with an excerpt from the novel itself to help tide you over until then.

Going Dark full cover.jpg

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WHERE IS AMELIA ASHLEY?

The first time Harper Delgado saw the post, she scrolled past it. It didn’t even register in her brain that it was something worth paying attention to. Among the rest of her feed, it looked like an ad, and the question faded into the background as she continued to scroll while she took the bus to her house in Valencia Park. The man sitting next to her shifted and spread his legs, forcing Harper to wedge herself up closer against the cold metal wall. Her exposed knee touched something sticky, and she regretted wearing shorts today.

It had been a long day at school. She was starting her sophomore year at San Diego State and already she felt the weight of coursework bearing down on her. Scrolling mindlessly through Instagram was the one place where she could shut her brain off and veg for a few moments before, inevitably, she had to get back to reality.

The second time she scrolled past the post, it was shared again but this time from a different person on her feed. The repetition made her pause. This wasn’t an ad. This was different.
This post had been shared by one of her old high school friends. Now Harper’s interest was piqued.

The caption below it said: Spread the word. #whereisamelia

She googled the name Amelia Ashley. Instantly, a bunch of hits came up for the pretty blonde she saw in the post, but there weren’t any recent news articles about her. All Harper understood was that Amelia was some kind of travel and food influencer, but she’d never heard of her. Harper mostly followed pet Instagram accounts and climate activist profiles, often vacillating between climate change anxiety and cute puppy videos like a pendulum. She didn’t have time to do any other research. The bus had reached her stop, and she pocketed her phone and pressed the button to be let off.

***

Even at home, there was no escaping it.

“What’s with this Amelia Ashley girl?” Lucy, her younger sister, asked.

Harper looked up from her coding homework. It took a second for her brain to process thought into English speech again; she’d been working on Python for so long, she almost started thinking in sources and indentations.

“Oh yeah,” she said. “I saw that too. I think she’s some travel influencer. Something to do with food?”

Lucy seemed unhappy with the answer and she leaned on the doorframe of Harper’s bedroom, a clear sign that she wasn’t going anywhere. Lucy was still in high school, so she was always glued to her phone. By the looks of it, she’d just gotten home from after-school practice. She was still in her cross-country gear, her dark hair damp with sweat and pulled back in a high ponytail. Harper hadn’t exercised in years, but Lucy made up for the both of them. She was always running everywhere and didn’t seem to care that Harper was in the middle of working on something. “I’m seeing this girl all over,” she said. “I figured you’d know something.”

“I thought it was an ad for a movie or . . .” Harper didn’t finish her thought. She traced her thumbnail over her lips as she reread her lines of code.

“Me too, but a ton of my friends were talking about it. I figured since you’re the resident techie, always online and stuff, you’d know what it was about.”

Harper made a noise of agreement, not committing to anything in particular, as her eyes went over her code, looking for any errors she might have made. She didn’t find any. She was good at what she did.

She hadn’t thought about Amelia Ashley since the bus. The name had come and gone from her head, as fast as the Santa Ana winds. “Mom home?” she asked.

“Not yet,” said Lucy. “I guess she went missing after going on vacation to Rome with her boyfriend.”

“Who, Mom?”

“No, Amelia. I’m reading about it on Twitter.”

“That’s really sad,” Harper said. Any time a girl went missing was sad, but Harper felt it was particularly typical of everyone to care when the victim was a pretty blond girl who was probably loaded. People with teeth that straight didn’t not come from money. Harper was well aware of how pretty white women enchanted society. Girls with brown skin like hers disappeared every day and people on the internet barely batted an eye. Harper went back to her coding. Classes had just started and already she felt like she was swimming in due dates.

“She was dating this dude who unfollowed all her accounts right after she went missing. Acting super suspicious. Crazy sad. I hope they find her okay.”

“Crazy,” Harper said, only half-listening. “Luce, can’t you see I’m working?”

“Yeah, jeez. Sorry for bothering you!” Lucy threw up her hands and disappeared down the hall.

Harper sighed and tried to focus on the lines of code in front of her, but the universe was hell-bent on causing more distractions. Her own phone buzzed with a text message. This time it was from her client.

Is it ready yet?

Harper sighed. She unlocked her screen and typed back: No, but for an extra 500 I can get it to you by this evening.

The text bubble appeared, then disappeared, then reappeared again as her client figured out what to say. Harper waited.

Fine.

Harper smiled.

She had figured out a way to put her talents to good use. She was good with computers and made a few extra dollars on the side by doing some not-so-legal coding for clients who were willing to pay. This client in particular was asking for her to do his homework for him at San Diego State. She wasn’t above charging him more for her services. If he was willing to cheat, he could pay for it. Harper knew what she was doing was wrong, but it paid the bills and took care of her family.

Harper was about to set her phone down when it started to vibrate. A different number was calling, one she didn’t know. If she wasn’t in the business of doing strangers’ homework for a living, she would have let it go to voice mail, but she answered.

A breathy, high-pitched voice was on the other end. “Hi, is this Harper Delgado?”

Harper spun around in her swivel chair, heart thumping. Had one of her clients snitched? “Who’s calling?” Harper asked, suspicious.

“My name is Tori, Tori Chapman. I got your number from a friend of mine you helped a while back.”

Harper had first started out writing code after one of her friends last year started to suspect that her boyfriend was actually married at the time. Harper made an app that sent copies of his text messages to the friend’s phone, a little tech vigilantism. The friend offered to pay her four hundred dollars for her time. Turns out, her friend’s suspicions were true, she dumped him on the spot and paid Harper in cash. For once Harper wasn’t late on her credit card bill. It snowballed from there.

She developed code and programs to be installed on phones, tracking everything that happened on the screen without the user finding out. Her clients mostly consisted of jilted lovers trying to prove that their significant others were cheating on them. It was a depressing line of work. There were always more desperate people who wanted to know for certain that they were in a toxic relationship, and with a few taps on the screen they would find out the truth. Harper was making more money writing a few lines of code for one client than her mom did working all month at the library. In today’s world, Harper had to get creative. The rent on the family’s two-bedroom apartment in Valencia Park had gone up and the extra income was a much-needed relief, even if Harper wasn’t exactly honest about how she’d been able to chip in. Mom and Lucy would be fine if they kept thinking she was making a lot of money tutoring.

“My friend said you were really good at what you do and I need your help now,” Tori said. She sounded winded, like she was walking briskly while talking. Harper could hear cars rumbling in the background.

“Oh,” Harper said. “Yeah, I’m Harper. What’s this about?” She really did have a soft spot for helping people, even if that help was less than legal. Morally dubious, one might say. But in Harper’s opinion, sometimes it took a little dirty work to shine light on truth.

“One of my best friends is missing, you might have heard by now. Her name is Amelia Ashley.”

Hearing the name again made Harper’s ears burn with interest. Harper tapped her fingers thoughtfully on the desk as she remembered what Lucy had said. Vacation. Rome. Boyfriend. This girl just kept popping up, like the universe was sending Harper a message.

“Ah, yeah,” Harper said, then added, “I’m sorry about what’s going on. It must be really stressful. But what do you think I can do for you?”

Tori paused, as if taking a moment to gather her thoughts. It got quieter, as if she’d stepped indoors. Her breathing was ragged and shallow, and Harper imagined her heart was racing.

“I need your help finding Amelia. I don’t want to believe something terrible happened, but it doesn’t feel right. Her boyfriend, Josh, he’s one of my closest friends too, so I feel guilty even asking for this, but . . . I feel it in my gut. I don’t have proof but something is wrong.”

Harper tugged on her lower lip and winced. This was way beyond her expertise. “I’m not the police,” she said. “I don’t solve crimes.” She didn’t think of herself as a detective. Far from it. She’d be the last person in the world to wield a badge.

“I know you’re good with computers, I know you can track phones and you can get information a lot of people can’t otherwise. You’re a hacker.”

Harper’s eyes darted to the door, in case Lucy had come back, but it remained empty. She didn’t want her sister overhearing. “I’m not a magician,” she said, lowering her voice. “You should call the police.”

“I did, but they’re slow. Please,” Tori said. “I don’t have a lot of money, but I can try to get you whatever you need. I know, it’s a lot to ask, but . . . Amelia could be in trouble or . . .” A small sob escaped her and Harper’s breath hitched. “It’s been days, I’m afraid I’m too late.”

Even if Tori was flush with cash, Harper still wasn’t sure she was up for the job. She could help jilted lovers get proof that they were being cheated on, but finding a missing person half a world away was a lot to ask. Hearing Tori’s panic made her insides go cold.

“I’m sorry,” Harper said. Doing something like investigating a missing person would be exposing herself to law enforcement, potentially attracting attention when it was the absolute last thing she needed to keep providing for her family. “I can’t do anything.”

She could almost hear Tori’s heart breaking on the other end. “Okay,” Tori said after a long moment. “Thanks anyway.”

When she hung up, Harper sat at her computer for a long while, staring at her homework as guilt gnawed at her insides.

Curiosity got the better of her and Harper saved her work and then saved it again, just to be sure. With a few quick keystrokes, she pulled up Amelia’s Instagram profile and opened a picture of her with her boyfriend, Josh, or rather half of his face. He’d ducked out of the frame, as if shy, but he was smiling. The face looked familiar. All she did was stare at a computer all day, but she had a knack for remembering faces. Josh went to school with her at San Diego State.

Something about this Amelia Ashley girl was mysterious and strange. And the fact that Josh Reuter went to school with her felt close enough that she should at least be aware of the case. This wasn’t some stranger; this was in her orbit.

Harper did the bare minimum first. She googled Amelia Ashley’s name again, this time finding more results, the hashtag campaign #wheresAmeliaAshley from Instagram had carried over to Twitter. The news was spreading like a virus. Lucy was right—everyone was talking about it.

Harper got the feeling this was only the start of seeing this Amelia Ashley’s name everywhere. Only one online newspaper had written a story so far.

Amelia Ashley, Beloved YouTube and Instagram Influencer, Missing?

Harper skimmed the article. Food blogger, wannabe Anthony Bourdain, devoted following, blah blah blah. She got the picture. She knew it was none of her business, but she couldn’t help that her curiosity had been put into a stranglehold.

Harper saved her work a third time and put her computer to sleep then padded into the kitchen. She found Lucy making some cinnamon-butter toast in the kitchen, her signature “lazy person churros” as she called them, while the TV was on in the living room.

“Is the dude she dated being questioned? That Josh guy?” Harper asked.

Lucy shrugged, scraping the butter over the toast. “Probably, right? I don’t know.”
Harper went to the fridge and took out a small bottle of orange juice.

“Interested now?” Lucy asked, a spark in her eye.

“Maybe. Not like I can do anything about it though. It’s just weird, is all.”

“Why do you think it’s weird?”

Harper took a swig of orange juice and swished it around in her mouth for a moment before answering. “I go to school with the guy.”

Lucy’s eyebrows shot up. “No way.”

“Yeah, he’s in my Abnormal Psychology class. He sits in the back row, behind me.”

“Six degrees of separation. You’re practically famous,” Lucy said, sarcastically.

Harper swatted the air by Lucy’s arm and Lucy cried, “Hey! Watch my trash churros.”
“It’s not about me,” Harper said. “I’m just saying, it’s weird. I remember seeing him in class today.” She shrugged. “He seemed normal. Like, not even worried.”

“Ooh, creepy. Like, total sociopath vibes?”

“No, more like oblivious vibes. You’d think if someone made their girlfriend disappear, they wouldn’t be acting so normal.”

Lucy took a bite out of the corner of her toast. “That’s the perfect cover though, right? Play the dumb boyfriend who has no idea where his poor, innocent girlfriend went?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Harper said, then took another swig of orange juice. Her conversation with Tori still rang in her head. “Something about it is just weird, that’s all.”

“You keep saying that. Why?”

Harper wasn’t sure how to tell the truth, especially about the call with Tori. “A lot of people are worried about her.”

Lucy screwed up her face, her cheeks full of toast, and she hissed out a laugh. “Is that a crime now?”

“No, but . . .” She trailed off, staring at the magnets on the fridge, lost in thought. Something tugged at her heartstrings. There was a lot of injustice out in the world. Not knowing what happened to a loved one was probably one of the worst feelings in the universe. She stared at Lucy for a long moment as she leaned on the counter, idly watching the TV and nibbling on a corner of her toast.

Without another word, Harper left Lucy in the kitchen and went back to her room. She called Tori who picked up almost immediately.

“I don’t want your money,” Harper said, talking quickly before she could change her mind. “And I can’t promise anything, but I can promise I’ll do some digging. It won’t hurt to look around. Send me everything you have about Amelia.”

Going Dark will hit shelves on January 31, 2023. Mark your calendars!



Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.