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Secrets and Lies

By:Jacqueline Green

Secrets and Lies - Jacqueline Green

PROLOGUE


Footsteps.

They thrummed behind her—relentless, insidious. Her legs pumped harder. Sweat coated her face, mingling with her tears. Around her, the woods were a kaleidoscope of shadows, shapes twisting and flickering. Her homecoming crown tumbled off her head. Glitter speckled the mud, trailing flecks of gold in her wake. And still she heard them. Pounding. Closing the gap.

If she got caught, it would be over. She would be over.

Just like Caitlin.

She had to hide. She threw herself into a clump of bushes. Branches tore at her dress, but she ignored them, crouching low. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t breathe. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing the darkness to erase her, turn her invisible. The note crumpled in her grip. She could almost feel its typewriter letters against her skin. They were poison, seeping into her blood. I’m invisible, she chanted silently. I’m nothing.

And then she heard it: rustling.

Fear surged through her. She wanted to sob, to scream, but instead she felt her heart slow down, as if it were already giving up.

A flashlight jabbed roughly through the bushes. Her eyes shot open against her command. The beam was bright, blinding. Spots danced in her vision as a cruel wisp of laughter floated down to her. “There you are,” a voice said.

Then the blinding light went out.





CHAPTER ONE


Monday, 8 PM


The ocean was a beast. It was what Emerson’s mom always said, as she carefully steered clear of the water’s edge. As Emerson walked across the beach, her bare feet sinking into the cold, damp sand, she could see it: how the waves roared as they rose mercilessly into the air, jaws snapping and teeth flashing.

Soon the beach would be filled with revelers for the party that Abby Wilkins had planned in honor of Tricia Sutton’s birthday. But for now, Emerson was all alone. She sank down onto the sand with heavy limbs. In the distance, moonlight glinted off the tip of the Phantom Rock, a rock visible only during low tide. The silvery light made it look bright and glossy, like something out of a postcard. It had been a whole month since Caitlin and Tricia had died out there, a whole month since her best friend—and her best friend’s murderer—had been minted the town’s newest Lost Girls. That meant there were five Lost Girls in Echo Bay over the last ten years—five beautiful, young women all lost to the ocean in tragic accidents.

But of course, Emerson knew the truth: Caitlin Thomas’s death was no accident.

It all started with a party Tenley Reed, Caitlin’s childhood best friend, threw to celebrate her move back to Echo Bay, Massachusetts. She got everyone to play truth or dare that night, and the very next day the notes began. Caitlin, Tenley, and Sydney Morgan, Winslow Academy’s resident artsy loner, all started receiving them. They were anonymous, and they dared the girls to do terrible things. Each dare grew more disturbing—and dangerous—than the last. And if Caitlin, Tenley, and Sydney didn’t do exactly as the notes commanded, the darer promised to reveal each of their darkest secrets.

All along, the darer had been Tricia Sutton, a girl they’d gone to school with forever, a girl who’d been Caitlin and Emerson’s friend. Tricia lured Caitlin, Sydney, and Tenley onto the Justice, Tenley’s stepfather’s yacht, so she could take them to the Phantom Rock and kill them—turn them into Lost Girls.

After setting a fire in the cabin that forced everyone onto the deck, Tricia attacked Tenley. Caitlin threw herself at Tricia just in time, pushing her overboard. She saved Tenley’s life, but in doing so, she lost her balance and tumbled into the ocean. The darer was dead—but so was Caitlin.

Days later, at Caitlin’s memorial service, Tenley received another note while she was with Emerson, warning her that the game wasn’t over. It made no sense; Tricia was buried six feet underground! Still, Tenley, Sydney, and Emerson had been on edge ever since, waiting for a new message. But a month had passed now, and nothing. Tenley was convinced the whole thing had been a fluke—a note Tricia had set up before she died—and Emerson was starting to believe her. Still, she had to admit: She’d never been so happy to be left out of something in her life.

“Emerson?” The voice sliced through the air like a knife. Emerson shrieked, jumping to her feet. She whirled around to find Tenley walking toward her, her long chestnut waves lifting on the breeze. She had on a dark cashmere sweater over jeans, and her flat boots, which made her appear even tinier than usual. As always, Emerson towered over her.

“Tenley,” Emerson said, relieved. “I didn’t hear you drive up.” She and Tenley had planned to meet early so they could show up for Abby’s sham of a party together. A month ago Emerson would have chosen a math test over spending time alone with bitchy Tenley Reed. She might not have become a friend, exactly, in the Tricia aftermath, but she’d definitely become less of an enemy.

“I didn’t,” Tenley replied. “I decided to walk here on the beach.”

Emerson’s breathing returned to normal. “I am so not looking forward to tonight,” she said, slipping into the beach-proof rain boots she’d brought with her. She’d considered skipping the party altogether. She had zero desire to celebrate the birth of a murderer. But she and Tenley had agreed: They had to keep up appearances when it came to Tricia. They knew the truth about her, but to everyone else, she was just an innocent Lost Girl.

Sometimes Emerson wished that Tenley and Sydney had just gone to the police after the tragedy on the Justice. But she understood why they hadn’t. Tricia had taunted them with notes about their deepest secrets. If they exposed her, they exposed her notes—and all of their secrets. And not just theirs, but Caitlin’s, too: that she’d been abusing antianxiety medicine. The last thing any of them wanted was to smear Caitlin’s dirt around town postmortem. So they’d agreed: no cops. Besides, what was the point, anyway? Tricia was dead. It was over.

Now, if only this night were over, too.

“I tried to talk Sydney into coming tonight,” Tenley said. “But, apparently, she’s never been to a Winslow party before, and she’s not about to start now. I think it’s possible that girl has an allergy to human interaction.”

Emerson managed a weak laugh. Sydney Morgan wasn’t exactly her favorite topic of conversation. A pair of headlights swung into the parking lot, drawing Emerson’s attention away from Tenley. For a second everything turned daytime-bright, making the asphalt shimmer. Then the driver turned off the car and darkness settled back in. Abby Wilkins, Winslow’s Purity Club cofounder and newly appointed student-body president, climbed out. She was wearing a total mom outfit: a white blouse tucked into khakis, with her beloved blue Hermès scarf wound through the belt loops. Her stick-straight brown hair fell loose over her shoulders, and there was a thin smile on her long face. Immediately Emerson began to edit Abby’s outfit in her mind, a habit she’d had for as long as she could remember. Swap the khakis for skinny jeans, the scarf for a wide leather belt, and those blindingly white sneakers for slouchy boots. Then she might look somewhere close to eighteen, rather than eighty.

Abby gave them a wide smile as they approached the parking lot, making Emerson tense. She’d never been a fan of Puritan Abby, but watching her seamlessly take over Cait’s role as student-body president had brought her hatred to a whole new level.

“I’m so glad you girls could make it tonight,” Abby chirped.

Tenley narrowed her eyes at her. “I still don’t understand why we’re bringing our whole grade out, at night, to the beach where Tricia died—where all the Lost Girls died.”

“I never pegged you for a wimp, Tenley,” Abby said lightly. She was obviously joking, but Tenley didn’t break a smile. Tenley Reed had a killer poker face when she wanted to. Emerson should know; she’d been on the receiving end of it many times. Abby cleared her throat, fiddling with her scarf belt. “I just wanted to bring things full circle,” she explained. “Honor Tricia’s birth instead of staying focused on her death.”

They were interrupted by two more cars whipping into the lot. Delancey Crane, Abby’s best friend and Purity Club cofounder, climbed out of one. She looked like the kid to Abby’s soccer mom: wildly curly hair barely tamed by a hair tie, a heart-shaped face with big, wide-set blue eyes, and a sweater whose color would best be described as bubble gum. She always reminded Emerson of the porcelain dolls displayed in the window of the antiques store downtown.

Several other girls from their grade spilled out of the car alongside her. Emerson blew out a sigh of relief when she saw Marta Lazarus’s familiar head of red hair emerge from the second car. She was wearing a short, flowy green dress that showed off her curves, with a cropped jean jacket. Marta’s style was exactly like her personality: effervescent and fun.

“Em!” Marta exclaimed. “Tenley! You guys came.” She wrapped her arms around Emerson, hugging her tightly. “Everyone’s going to be so happy to see you.”

Emerson felt a wave of guilt wash over her. She knew she’d been a little M.I.A. lately when it came to social events. No one could blame her; Caitlin had been her best friend. But she could tell Marta missed her. “I decided it was time for a night out,” she said, forcing a smile.

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