Vincent calls his friend, Bobby. He knows the casting is mostly done for the Trinity movie and he’s moved on to his next job, but he’s hoping he’s heard some gossip.
But Bobby knows nothing.
He shuffles through the papers, ignoring the numerous articles about how Abby is going to win an Oscar, and focuses his attention on the ones his assistant marked.
Search For The Next Abby Johnston Falls Short
A Breath Behind You Films CEO Vincent Sharpe has been touring the country, looking for the next Abby Johnston to star in their remake of her cult classic, A Day at the Lake. Sources from inside the company say that the search has not gone as planned, and that they will soon have to start looking at more seasoned actresses. Only three roles have yet to be cast. Sources say that Luke Sander, former child star who just wrapped the lead of Danny Zuko in the remake of Grease was rumored to be in the running to play the boyfriend. His publicist says he has withdrawn his name from consideration due to a conflict with another project. No word yet on who might play the killer.
He already knows that answer to that question.
He finishes his day then goes home and prepares for Hawaii.
In Hawaii, he can’t get close to Matt. His plan was to somehow get close to him, drug him, stuff him into a large case that could contain multiple surfboards, and take him home for filming.
If he’s in place, he knows Lacy will come willingly.
He finds that Matt has security around him at all times.
And the last thing he wants to do is end up in jail. Not when Lacy is waiting for him.
But that doesn’t mean he can’t send him a message.
I’m brushing my teeth when my phone rings with a call from B.
“Hey! Happy birthday!”
“Thanks,” he says. “And thanks for the presents. The skateboard is wicked sweet.”
He’s saying the right things, but there’s something in his voice. Something’s off.
“What’s wrong, B?”
“There was something weird delivered today. Before I opened it, I thought it was from you.”
“What was it? Was it from Vincent?”
“A Malibu Ken doll. It had a noose around its neck like it had been hanged.”
“That doesn’t seem like something Vincent would send.”
“I don’t think it was. I’m neck and neck with a real asshole in this weekend’s competition. We have a saying, like when we screw up, that we hung ourselves. I think maybe he’s trying to psyche me out. I’m getting ready to go out there. Look, I’m sorry I couldn’t help you on the takeover. Um, and, well, there’s something else.”
“I’m pretty sure I’m being followed.”
“Did you tell Garrett?”
“Well, the security dudes. They’ve seen him too. It’s just all messing with my head.”
“B,” I say softly, “do you remember when we were in Biarritz? When those local guys were giving you shit about how big the waves were? Do you remember what you told me before you went out there?”
“That I’d find control in the chaos.”
“Exactly. The waves were crashing. The guys were saying you couldn’t do it. But you went out there and found a wave you could control. That’s what you need to do today.”
“Keats, you inspire me in a way no one else can.”
“You know in your heart that you can do it. Sometimes you just need to hear someone say it.”
I hear his name announced over a loudspeaker.
I hear him mutter, “Control in the chaos,” before he hangs up.
I get into bed, grabbing my laptop and plugging in my headphones so I don’t wake Katie, and do something I’ve yet to do.
I log into the live feed of the surf tournament and watch.
The swells are huge. The sky looks dark, like it could storm.
The announcer is loud. I turn the volume off, watch B paddle out, and quickly pop up on his board.
The wave he chose loves him.
He moves like he’s part of a symphony of water, waves, and wind.
He shreds the wave. Owning it. Flipping in the air.
I can’t even believe how much he’s improved.
He comes out of the water with a huge grin, looking like the Brooklyn I loved for so long.
He gets a great score from the judges and throws his fist into the air.
Then a skinny, leggy blonde excitedly hugs him.
I didn’t realize while I was watching him that tears were falling down my face.
And in this moment, I finally get the quote, A thing of beauty is a joy forever.
What B just did—minus the blonde—was truly a thing of beauty.
I send him a text.
Me: For the first time, I allowed myself to watch you surf. You were amazing, B. I’ve never seen you do some of the things you did. Congrats. And I wish I was there to share some cake with you.
Something Vincent was wishing, too.
I get Cooper to let me leave soccer a few minutes early, sneak into his office, and call Damian.
I need to know something.
When he answers, I say, “Damian, in St. Croix you were going to tell me something.”
“Was it that B is seeing someone?”
“Are they serious?”
“You know B. He doesn’t really do serious. I met her in Japan.”
“What was she like?”
“She works for one of his sponsors—selling t-shirts and modeling bikinis in their tent—so she travels around with the tour. She’s blonde, cute. Honestly, she reminds me of you. But . . .”
“Don’t take this the wrong way, but she reminds me of the old you.”
“The old me?”
“She does whatever Brook tells her to do. When you guys were touring with us, when he was complaining, all that mattered to you was keeping him happy. Even if it didn’t make you happy. It wasn’t until that last night in London that you stood up to him.”
“So you don’t think it will work out if we got a second chance?”
“I’m not saying that. He’s changed too. He’s not high all the time. He’s more driven and focused. And, for god’s sake, he has a Vuitton duffel bag. I about fell out of my chair when I saw that. All I could think about was your argument about good luggage.”
“That makes me laugh, Damian.”
“Remember what I told you on beach?”
“About living now?”
“Yep. And, selfishly, I’d like you to marry Aiden, so we can be in-laws.”
“I saw you on the cover of the new Teen Beat.”
“And page twelve of People magazine.”
“Please make sure no one photographs you and Peyton together.”
“They won’t. It’s going to be a long, lonely week. Video chatting just isn’t doing it for me. Well, it sorta does it for me. Last night she was wearing a hot little nightie.”
“Do you and B talk much?”
“I talked to him on his birthday, but we’re both busy and, honestly, what we’ve always had in common is you. So, not to change the subject, but I wrote a song for Peyton.”
“The one we worked on at The Crab?”
“No, that’s not finished. This is a new one. I was thinking about singing it to her this weekend, but I don’t want her to think it’s dumb. If I play if for you, will you tell me if it’s lame?”
“Tommy says you know who your true friends are if they’ll tell you the truth.”
“And I know you will. Hang on, let me grab my guitar.”
I wait for a second, then Damian says, “I’m putting you on speaker. Here goes.”
“When the stars come out at night,
It’s like when you walked in my life.
Burning so bright,
You became my light.
Burning so bright.
We’ll light up the sky,
Like a meteorite.
With our hearts full of fire,
We’re pulsing inside.
Sparked by the flames
Of a burning desire.
Burning so bright.
We’ll light up the sky,
Like a meteorite.
The day we said goodbye
Nearly broke me inside.
And the light won’t return
Until you’re in my arms, girl.
Burning so bright.
We’ll light up the sky,
Like a meteorite.
He stops strumming his guitar.
“Damian, I’m in tears. The part about saying goodbye. It’s beautiful. And I love the long oohs. Your voice is just so damn dreamy. You seriously amaze me. I don’t think I could ever write something so beautiful.”
“You wouldn’t change anything? Nothing sounds dumb?”
“I wouldn’t change a word. Just know that she’s totally going to cry. She’s a lucky girl, Damian.”
“I think I’m the lucky one. I’m glad you like it. Do you think it’s good enough for me to share with the band?”
“Hell, yes. Is it harder for you to share the ones about her?”
“Yeah, they’re so personal that I lose my ability to be objective.”
“You shouldn’t. You sang that with so much emotion it gave me goose bumps. Hey, random thought, but make sure there are no pics of our families together lying around when she comes to your house.”
“I’m one step ahead of you. All right, I gotta get to the studio.”
I lean back in Cooper’s chair, replaying Damian’s song in my head and thinking about B. I know that the day we said goodbye broke me inside.
But I don’t really feel broken anymore.
I just need to figure out a way to keep him safe.
And I think I know how.
Me: I’ve been thinking about your safety. You should take the photos of me off your Facebook page and start putting up photos of you and her. Maybe if Vincent thinks you’ve moved on, he won’t feel the need to follow you.
B: I’m sorry about everything. I think it’s good we’re seeing other people.
Me: You’re not jealous?
B: I’m trying not to be. It’s kind of like when I told you I was going on tour. You said you were happy for me, just not happy for you. That’s kind of how I feel.
Me: That’s kinda how I feel too. I saw her hug you after you surfed. I couldn’t help but wonder if Vincent hadn’t happened if that would’ve been me. Or if you’d have been with her anyway.
B: Remember what I told you? That it doesn’t matter where you’ve been, Keats, only where you end up.
Me: I remember.
B: It’s where we END UP THAT MATTERS.
Me: I want to be back on our beach.
B: We will be. And we’ll figure it all out then. Damian told me what you did. How you danced at a club in front of Vincent. Part of me thinks you’re crazy. Part of me thinks you’re really brave.
A few days later, Keatyn is sitting in class watching a movie.
And somehow it’s triggered . . . something.
Caused it to gnaw at the corners of my brain.
It’s a thought.
Or a memory.
Trying to get through.
I close my eyes for a second, shutting out my surroundings, and I’m quickly back at the Undertow.
Vincent’s strong arms are around me. He’s wearing a charming smile.
I relive a series of fragmented moments.
The ashes and his loss.
The brush of a hand across my knee.
Words filled with innuendo.
Kisses that lingered on my cheeks.
Standing at the railing of a deck.
A twirl. A hug.
A toast from across the pool.
An offer to go to his room.
Cartwheels in the sand.
His buff chest.
Blowing a kiss.
Then Garrett. Asking me why I never went with Vincent when he offered.
Was I honest when I answered that question?
I’m not even sure.
Besides, I have to look at it from his perspective.
He idolized Mom, but was always sweet.
Never once was there even a hint of animosity.
He sees the photo of me.
The original girl of his dreams.
He sets out to meet me in person, finding me on the beach.
I remember when he looked into my eyes like he knew me.
Because, to him, I was familiar.
The first photo he took was of Cush and me.
The question is, why?
Did he really already own the film rights?
And, if so, when did he buy them?
Before or after he saw the picture?
Riley knocks my elbow, causing my head to drop and almost hit the desk.
“Wake up, sleepyhead.”
“I wasn’t sleeping. I was thinking.”
“Sure you were. Probably daydreaming about Aiden on the rug.”
I close my eyes again.
Was it all just a mistake?
But then I remember the van.
Him calling Mom a whore.
The bell rings to end class, and I’m thinking about ropes as I gather up my books.
Gives a whole new meaning to the term tied up in contract negotiations, I think with a laugh.
On Thursday, December 7th, Keatyn gets a message from her grandpa. It’s good news.
-All is well. We have representatives meeting with two of the investors this week. Both seem eager to sell.
And that same day, she gets more good news.
My mom calls me as I’m getting settled in my hotel room. Maggie went to get downstairs to get some snacks, so she couldn’t have called at a better time.
“Mom! Hi! How are you? Are you all settled?”
“We are. Besides Malibu, this is my favorite place in the world. Plenty of room for the girls to play and no cameras anywhere. We’ve been to the beach, the market, everywhere, and no one even notices us. And the food is to die for. I’ve had croissants and coffee every morning and not once thought about the calories.”
I want to cry, I’m so happy.
“I’m so glad, Mom.”
“How are you?”
“Remember that game we used to play at dinner after your dad died. We were both so sad, but we tried to find something good that happened each day?”
“The sweet and the suck?”
“Yeah. If I was there with you now, what would you tell me?”
“The sweet is that Aiden asked me to Winter Formal. The suck is that I’m lying to him, and I feel bad about it.”
“Sweetie, you can’t help it.”
“I trust him. I would tell him in a heartbeat. I’m just afraid of putting him in danger. Did you hear about what B got?”
“Yes. It sounds just like the photo I got of Tommy. It was horrific.”
“Mom, when you met Tommy, how was your personal life?”
“Hmm. My career was great. You and I were doing well. But . . . I missed being with someone. Having someone take care of me sometimes. Being a single parent isn’t easy.”
“I was kind of a brat, wasn’t I?”
“You were never a brat. You’ve just always known exactly what you want.”
“What happened to me?”
“What do you mean?”
“I think it was high school. I got sucked into fitting in.”
“When you were used to standing out.”
“Yeah. I’m doing better with all that. I feel like I’m me again, if that makes sense. Oh, and guess what? Grandpa is helping me with the hostile takeover.”
“He told me. He’s pretty excited about it.”
“Me too. I can’t wait to walk into Vincent’s board room and fire him.”
“You’re not going to do that, Keatyn Elizabeth.”
“Oooh, pulling out the middle name,” I laugh. “I don’t mean me. I just can’t wait for someone to do it.” Actually, that’s I lie. I totally want to be the one to do it.
I hear Gracie yell, “Mommy!”
Mom says, “Gracie, do you want to talk to Kiki?”
Gracie screams, “Yes!”
She does a little cough then says, “Ruff ruff. Has Kiki been a naughty puppy for Daddy?”
“Gracie, it’s Keatyn, not Bad Kiki.”
“Oh! Good Kiki! We got a tree for Santa and made cookies! Is Kiki going to open presents with us?”
“I can’t. I have to stay at school.”
“School dumb. I hate school.”
“I’m going to send you a lot of presents.”
“Can Kiki open presents on the ’puter?”
“That’s a great idea, Gracie. We’ll open presents together over the computer. Can I talk to Mommy now?”
“No! My Kiki!”
Mom says to Gracie, “Give Mommy her phone if you want to go to the beach tomorrow.” That must have worked because then she says to me. “I think you should come to France for Christmas. We have a lot of security.”
“I’ll have to think about it. I don’t want to put you at risk.”
“You can fly from New York with Tommy.”
“That sounds good, Mom. I’ll talk to Garrett about it,” I lie again. I’m not going anywhere near them.
Due to her dance competition and movie tryout this weekend, Keatyn isn’t able to go back to the club this Thursday night. But Vincent does.
He sits in his prime seat overlooking the dance floor, and he’s waiting for the cages to drop. In one is a young blonde. Tall, thin, tan, great ass.
Begging for him to rescue her from the cage.
He’s focused on the chaos tattoo on her abdomen that has been highlighted with glow in the dark paint—just like last time—shimmying in front of him. He’s remembering how it felt when their tattoos were joined.
But when the dancer faces him, his excitement turns to rage.
It’s definitely not her.
He’s been following the buzz about the whore’s movie. He knows this movie has changed Abby.
That it’s ruining her life.
Of that, he’s glad, because in a way it’s ruined both their lives. It’s turned his love for her to hate. While he used to wish her the best, have her best interests at heart, he now wants her to feel the pain she’s caused him.
He knows that Karma is drawing them closer.
That they are on a collision course of fate.
They say Karma is a bitch. And they’re right.
Abby is finding that out now.
Her husband is leaving her.
The humiliation she caused him has ruined their marriage.
He looks at the girl in the cage again and realizes something.
The girl in the cage is a decoy.
Her chaos tattoo purposefully mocking him.
It’s clear that the whore is trying to mess with him.
And he’s going to fight back.
He’ll take her dog.
And, then, her life.
But since she’s not here, the girl in the cage will suffice.
As well as send her a message.
As he often does, he gives the bouncer his business card and asks it be given to the new girl. A little piece of insurance should anyone suspect him of doing what he’s about to do.
He goes home early and works through every single detail.
Then he goes back to the club at closing. She’s walking home when he offers her a ride. The area she is in is dark. There are no cameras. Not even streetlights. Not a place a young girl should be walking by herself. But he’s driving his Porsche, and young girls like her are impressed by it.
When he rolls down his window, she recognizes him as a club VIP.
“It’s not safe for you to be walking by yourself. Let me give you a ride,” he says, pretending to be concerned for her well being.
“Thanks,” she says—which are the last words she’ll ever speak.
He has no intention to cause her pain. He sticks a needle in her arm, knocking her out quickly. It’s not her fault that Abby is a whore—a whore he does want to feel pain.
He takes the girl to a remote area where he has a stolen van stashed, helps her into the back and strangles her—quickly ending her life.
Then he takes her to the beach.
To a stretch in front of the restaurant where he and Lacy shared their first meal together.
He checks to make sure the girl is indeed dead, that the beach is definitely deserted, and only then allows his rage to flow uninhibited—stabbing the girl’s body over and over again with a large pair of scissors—and imagining it’s her.
But he stops, pulling the scissors back quickly when he gets close to the chaos tattoo. The tattoo of his beloved. He can’t bear to mar its beauty—so he leaves it intact.
His anger slightly subsided, he goes home, showers, and has sweet Lacy dreams.
On Tuesday, December 11th, Keatyn gets a text from Cooper while she’s in class.
Cooper: You need to get a really bad cramp now. Go to the nurse. Make her call me out of class.
I do as he says, make my way in fake pain to the nurse’s office, and talk her into calling Mr. Steele.
I know by the look on his face when he walks into the nurse’s office that something is wrong.
Is Vincent on his way here? Is he already here?
No. If that were the case, he wouldn’t care about pretending to be a teacher anymore.
Which means he has news.
“Is my family okay?” I ask him as I pretend limp down to the Field House.
“Yes,” is all he says.
Once we’re safely in the training room, he says, “The guy who talked to Vincent’s assistant is a cop friend of mine. He just sent me something.”
“Did he talk to her again? Get something good on Vincent?”
“No, he’s a detective. A homicide detective.”
“Is Vincent dead?!”
“Is his assistant dead?”
“No, um . . .”
“Just say it, Cooper.”
“One of the dancers from the club is dead. She was reported missing by her roommates when she didn’t come home from work Thursday night. They found her body on the beach in Malibu.” Cooper glances back at his phone. “In front of a restaurant called Moon Beams.”
My heart stops beating.
“That’s the restaurant Vincent and I had dinner at. We sat on the deck overlooking the water. Which girl was it?”
“She’s new. Only been working there for about two weeks. She was off the night we were there.”
“So, she was murdered?”
“Yes. Her place of employment caught his attention, so he texted me earlier. Then he sent me this.” He holds up his phone, showing me a photo of a thin, tan waist with a glow-in-the-dark chaos tattoo just below the hip.
“I sent a bunch of custom glow-in-the-dark chaos tattoos to Marla. She liked mine because she thinks if they ever name the club it should be called Utter Chaos. Tell me this is just a coincidence.”
“You know what Garrett says.”
“He doesn’t believe in them.”
“Is it my fault she’s dead?” Cooper is being very careful with his words, and I realize there’s something he hasn’t said. “How did she die?”
“It’s not your fault, Keatyn.”
“How did she die, Cooper?”
He sighs then says, “Cause of death was asphyxiation.”
“She was strangled?”
I swallow hard. “Was she raped?”
“Cooper, what are you not telling me?!”
“After her death, she was stabbed numerous times. This type of stabbing is unusual to see on a woman.”
“Typically when a body is mutilated after death it is for one of two reasons. Usually, it’s out of rage. Like what you would see when a jealous ex commits the crime. In this case, the victim doesn’t have a jealous ex. Her boyfriend is devastated and has a solid alibi.”
“What’s the other reason someone would do it?”
“To send a message to the living. Like when a drug dealer wants to remind people not to cheat him, for example. The choice of weapon was also unusual. It’s a weapon usually used by women, but the depth of the stab wounds suggest a male killer. And the picture I showed you, with the tattoo, was of the only part of the victim that was not stabbed.”
“What was she stabbed with?”
My vision blurs.
My face feels hot.
A wave of nausea hits me.
My legs feel weak, causing me to sway.
Cooper grabs my arm and keeps me from falling, setting me down in a chair.
I put my hand across my forehead.
“You look like you’re going to faint. Look at me.”
I look up at him.
“Tell me,” he says.
“Vincent is sending me a message.”
“After he chased me in New York City, a picture of me was delivered to my mom’s hotel room. The picture had been stabbed with scissors. Have you told Garrett about any of this?”
“No, I just found out.”
“Call him. I have to go.”
“Where are you going?”
“I just have to get out of here,” I say. The training room suddenly feels very claustrophobic. “Get some fresh air.”
“Don’t leave campus,” he says then tries to give me a hug.
“Don’t, okay? I’m fine. It’s fine. Everything will be fine.”
Except it’s not.
It’s not fine.
I run out of the Field House, the cold air hitting my lungs and forcing me to suck in a big breath.
I wander aimlessly across campus, feeling numb.
Thinking about that poor girl.
About her poor family.
And, mostly, that she’s dead because of me.
I find myself standing in the chapel.
No one is here, so I walk straight to the front, drop to my knees, and pray.
Pray for forgiveness.
Pray that it was a mistake.
That it had nothing to do with me.
That she didn’t suffer.
I pray for her family.
For my guilt.
Then I go sit in the back.
I should be crying.
But I have no tears.
I pull my feet up on the pew, wrap my arms tightly around my legs, and rock back and forth.
My phone buzzes.
I robotically take it out of my coat pocket and look at it.
Hottie God: Heard you went to the nurse’s office with a hamstring cramp. You need me to help you stretch?
My hands shake as I text him back.
I put my phone down and hug my legs.
There is nothing.
I hear my name softly spoken, the noise breaking into my thoughts, but sounding very far away.
I remain motionless, only moving my eyes toward the noise.
Aiden shakes my shoulder. “Keatyn!”
I don’t move.
Instead, I start sobbing.
Aiden puts his arm around me and rubs my back. “What’s wrong? Are you in pain?”
I sob some more.
“I went to the field house first, but Coach Steele said you left. I texted you to find out where you were, but you didn’t reply. I checked everywhere.”
I can’t speak.
I just keep crying.
A deep, emotional, guilty cry.
Aiden grabs my chin, roughly turning my head and forcing me to look at him.
“She’s dead,” I whisper.
“Girl . . . Club . . . Stalker . . . Friend.”
“Keatyn, look at me! You need to tell me what happened!”
He presses his lips into my temple and whispers, “It’s okay, baby. Shhh. I’m here. It’s okay.”
His words calm me. I shudder again, but the sobs slow down.
“Tell me what happened,” he says quietly, his lips still against my face.
“Girl . . . Murdered . . . L. A.”
“Did you know her?”
“No . . . She danced at the club . . . The birthday party . . . Almost kidnapped.”
“Is this about your friend? Is she okay? Is she still safe from the stalker?”
“Yes, but. But . . .”
I sob again, unable to say it.
“Shhh,” he whispers again. He gently pushes my hair off my face, his lips never leaving my temple. “But what, baby?”
“After my friend left . . . Accidentally saw mom. Both shopping. New York City. Stalker was following Mom. Chased.”
“Chased your friend?”
“Yes. Cabs. Streets. Fast. Got away. Later. Mom. Package. Photo of friend. Stabbed with scissors.”
I nod, completely agreeing with him. “The girl who . . . was killed. Like my friend.”
“My friend did something.”
“What’d she do?”
“She went back. To the club. Knew stalker would be there. Danced. For him.”
“Why would she do that?”
“Tired of hiding. Trying to push. Get him to make a mistake.”
“I still don’t understand why your friend thinks it’s her fault a girl was killed. Sadly, murders happen in big cities like L. A. all the time.”
“Girl . . . stabbed with scissors.”
“Oh my god. That’s awful.”
“And . . . and . . . and.” I start crying again. “And . . . it was all my idea.”
“Take my hand,” he says, reaching out to me.
I’m still on autopilot, but my hand moves into his and he squeezes it tightly.
Somehow his squeezing my hand does make me feel like everything will be okay.
“I’m supposed to be somewhere. Class? Dance?”
“You’re in no shape for it.”
Aiden takes me to his room, where I lie on his bed and snuggle into his pillow, which smells just like his neck.
A few minutes later, Riley is sitting on the edge of the bed. “Cooper asked me where you are. He seemed worried.”
“I was with him—getting my hamstring stretched—when I . . .”
“I told him all about it,” Aiden tells me. “I have to get to basketball practice. Riley is going to stay with you until I get back, okay?”
He kisses my forehead and is heading toward his door when Riley squints at me. “Wait? So both you and your friend were stalked?”
Aiden freezes, turning around quickly. “What do you mean?”
My lies are unraveling before my very eyes.
“When we were in Miami, there was a guy who tried to grab Keatyn,” Riley says to Aiden.
I get tears in my eyes. Now, not only do I have to lie, but I have to lie about my lies.
“Riley, I lied.”
I put my hands in my face trying to figure out a new story, but my brain is fried.
Thankfully, Aiden sits back on the bed and starts telling Riley what I told him.
About my friend.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Riley asks, pushing my chin up so I have to look at him.
It’s easy to tell the truth to that question.
“I was shocked. I mean, it all happened so fast, and I was told—no, warned, sworn to secrecy—that if I told anyone about the stalker then he could find her.”
“So, where is she?” Riley asks.
I close my eyes again. “She’s lost,” I say, simply stating how I feel.
“No one knows where she is?”
“They put her in witness protection, but she didn’t feel safe anymore, so she left. She can’t tell me where, but she’s tired of being away from everyone she loves. Her family. Her friends. She wants her life back.”
“But what does that have to do with you?”
“It’s sort of another reason why I didn’t get to stay at my old school. She has this personal security firm that helped. They were worried that all her close friends could be in danger too. That he might hurt us to find her. It just worked out that Damian was away on tour and Brooklyn was leaving to surf. I had the option of coming here or going with my family. I chose here because I was worried about my sisters. She and I were really close. I’d be the natural target if he couldn’t find her. And, now, I’m responsible for a girl being dead because I told her it was time to stop running and fight back. My friend told me about the girl. Says she can’t handle it. The guilt. The fear.”
“Keatyn, you didn’t do anything wrong,” Riley says. “You’re just stronger than she is.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, if it were you, you’d fight back. You wouldn’t just sit around and wait for something to happen. You’d make what you want to happen, well, happen. It’s like what we just learned in history. How you never know what people will do when faced with danger. How they react like animals. Fight or flight.”
“Fight or flight?”
“He’s right,” Aiden says. “Your friend chose flight, but not you. You’d fight. You wouldn’t let this stop you.” He wraps his hands around my fists and squeezes.
I smile at him. “You’re right. And you just gave me an idea.”
“Instead of her going to dance this week, I will.”
Aiden and Riley share a worried glance.
Aiden kisses me. “Stay here with Riley until I get back.”
The second Aiden closes the door, Riley narrows his eyes at me and says, “So, which one of us are you telling the truth to?”
“What do you mean?”
“Your story. It’s full of holes.”
“I know. I don’t want to lie to you. I just had to lie about this. I’m sorry.”
“That’s all you’re lying about?”
“Yes. I hate to lie. But I promised. And the lies are only for protection, so I hope you understand.”
“I understand. Now, move over. If you’re going to do something dangerous, I’m going to help you script it.”
I move over and lean against his arm while we brainstorm.
What we end up with is a scene straight out of a movie.
Which is pretty fitting, if you ask me.
Later that night, as soon as Katie is asleep, I go into the stairwell, call Troy, and tell him what I think happened.
“Oh, wow,” he says slowly. “I didn’t even put that together. Do you really think it was him?”
I tell him about the picture.
“Wow,” he says again.
“So, I need to know. Did he get one of the bouncers to bring him back there? Give her a card? Anything?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Let me check and I’ll call you right back.”
Ten minutes later, he calls me back.
“Yes. He asked one of the bouncers to give her his business card. Said he was a producer and would be interested in doing a screen test with her. From what I understand, this isn’t unusual for him. A lot of the girls admitted to doing screen tests and many have hooked up with him. They say he’s charming and a perfect gentleman.”
“Is the bouncer willing to tell all this to the police?”
“He will. He feels responsible because he helped her get the job.”
“Troy, if he isn’t arrested this week, I’m coming back Thursday to dance again. I want to honor her in a big way. Do you think the club and the girls would be willing to help?”
“Absolutely. We’re all still reeling. And we’ve been trying to figure out something to do for Leighton.”
“Leighton was her name?”
“Yeah, Leighton Wall.”
I close my eyes. Somehow knowing her name makes it even worse.
“I’m going to have a bunch of packages delivered to the club with your name on them. What time does the club open?”
“Can you have all the employees there at nine?”
“Don’t tell Damian. I want to keep him as far away from this mess as possible.”
I know Cooper will probably have a fit about this, but I don’t care.
I toss and turn in bed, trying to sleep, but visions of Vincent, cages, and scissors haunt me every time I close my eyes.
I know there’s a very good chance that I might not come back from this trip.
That my fate might be the same as Leighton’s.
Aiden sneaks in my window sometime after curfew and pulls me into his arms.
I still don’t sleep, but I do realize there’s something important I need to do before I go back to face Vincent.
Just in case I don’t come back.
I slip out of bed, grab my phone, sneak into the bathroom, and send Sam an email with a very specific set of instructions to be carried out in a very short amount of time.
I end the email with a directive to meet me on Thursday afternoon.
Then I use the notes function on my phone and start writing.
After practice the next day, Cooper meets me in the training room.
“So what were the calls about?”
“We’re going back to Malibu on Thursday.”
Cooper’s face turns a shade of pissed-off red. “Are you fucking nuts?”
“Calm down!” I whisper softly, but firmly. “I have to do something. I can’t let what happened stop my plan. I also need to go back to honor her.”
“You’re not going to the funeral.”
“No, that wouldn’t be right, since I didn’t know her. We’ll be honoring her at the club.”
“No. No fucking way are you going back there. I’ll quit before I’ll allow that.”
“Fine. Then I accept your resignation.”
Cooper bangs his fist on the table. “Oh, you are so damn stubborn.”
“I know. I’m sorry, Cooper. I have to do something. I can’t let him get away with it.”
“He might not get away with it. The police are going to question him.”
“That’s awesome news. He deserves to go to jail. But knowing him, he’ll get off. And knowing him, he’ll be back at the club on Thursday to see if I have the balls to show up.”
“I want to know your entire plan now. We can’t go out the back again. We have to have a different plan. Something . . .” Cooper says.
“More dramatic?” I laugh, knowing my plan is just that.
“No, I was thinking safe.”
“We’re going out the front door, Cooper. I just need you to make sure I get there and then to . . .”
I tell him my escape plan.
Cooper slaps his forehead. “You seriously have a flair for the dramatic.”
“Think it will work?”
“It’s not like he’ll be able to follow us. But you told me that when you were in Miami he had a gun. The photos he’s sent to your mom and Brooklyn involved shooting. What if he decides to start shooting? Creates a distraction to get you out. Or, worse, to clear a path to you.”
“I think—well, hope—that he’ll be too shocked to do anything. And by the time he realizes what’s happening, we’ll be gone.”
“Let me think this through, okay.”
I nod, shutting up.
“It sounds more like a movie than real life,” he finally states.
“That’s why it’s perfect. He’ll never expect it. And if you can get your friends to help, I’ll stay safe.”
Cooper shakes his head at me. “I’ll see what I can do.”
Cooper texts Keatyn as she’s en route to the airport.
Cooper: I don’t like this. I should be going with you.
Me: I’m meeting Sam. Just have to sign papers dealing with this takeover. He has power of attorney, but it’s limited and doesn’t cover this.
Okay, so I’m lying to him, but only about why I’m meeting Sam.
But why I’m meeting him is too personal to share with Cooper.
He’d say I’m admitting defeat.
But I want to be prepared.
Just in case.
Cooper: Still . . .
Me: Your flight lands in L.A. before mine does. I’m wearing the wig and the flight is booked under your name. I’ll see you when I get there.
Cooper: You swear to me you’re going to see Sam?
Me: I swear. Plus, I don’t think it would be smart to both miss school on the same day.
Cooper: True. All right. See you tonight.
On the plane, I look at a magazine that Peyton gave me last night at dinner. On page eight is a spread about Damian, including two pictures of him and Peyton. In one they are coming out of a trendy restaurant and in the other coming out of a club. Obviously, he didn’t keep her busy in the bedroom the whole time.
But then I look at the caption and realize that you can’t clearly see her face in either photo.
Damian Moran, lead singer of the hottest new band on the planet, Twisted Dreams, was seen this past weekend with another blonde on his arm. And this blonde apparently held his attention for the entire weekend. Who is this gorgeous mystery girl? Can she tie down the playboy? And, come on, Damian, how about some equal opportunity for us brunettes?
I’m really thankful they’re spending the holiday in St. Croix, where there are no photographers.
And I pray Damian will keep their relationship a secret until March.
I roll the magazine up and carefully put it in my backpack next to the brunette wig.
I’m not wearing the wig for this part of the journey.
I’m just me.
I have to be.
I close my eyes and listen to music during the long flight, arrive on schedule, and hop in Sam’s rental car.
We drive for about thirty minutes through what I think is one of the most beautiful parts of the country.
Hilly. Lush. Green. Blue sky.
Sam turns onto a dirt road, winds up a hill, and says, “This is the spot.”
I nod, understanding and taking it in.
He stops the car on a large flat area. “Is this what you were envisioning?”
I get out of the car and walk toward the view of the ocean.
“You did good, Sam. It’s perfectly perfect.”
“I got lucky,” Sam chuckles.
“No,” I say. “It was fate.”
I spin around, taking in the beautiful view in every direction.
“You’ve done everything exactly the way I requested, right?”
“I followed your instructions to the letter.”
“And you’ll do whatever it takes from a price and timing standpoint? We don’t have much time.”
“The current owners are aware of your timeline and if the offer is what they expect, we’ll have the deal closed on Monday.” He looks at me closely. “Are you sure this is what you want? To be cremated? To have your ashes spread here?”
“Yes. I’m positive.”
He shakes his head, but all he says is, “Then I just need your signature.” He holds out a clipboard, hands me a pen, and points to the places I should sign.
“Thank you so much, Sam. I love it.” I pull an envelope out of my purse and say, “And here’s this.”
He takes it from me and places it safely in his briefcase.
I look back at the ocean, smile again, and feel an overwhelming sense of peace.
I close my eyes.
Say a prayer.
Then get driven back to the airport.
On Thursday, Vincent is in his office when he gets a visit from the police.
“We’d like to ask where you were last week. Thursday night.”
“May I ask what this is about?”
“Just answer the question.”
“I had a business dinner with a colleague and then went to a club I frequent.”
“What’s the club’s name?”
“It doesn’t have a name.”
“What do you mean?”
“It’s in an industrial area, and it has no name.”
The officer scrunches up his nose like something smells. Vincent knows they found the girl. He saw it on the news. Thought it was really sad. He can surmise that the authorities questioned those employed at the club and were given his name. Just as he planned they would. The cop pulls out a photo and shoves it across Vincent’s desk. “You recognize her?”
Vincent studies the photo, recalling the girl’s beauty. Shame what he was forced to do to her.
“I think so. She looks different in this picture, but I think she works at the club I just mentioned.”
“She does. Why do you thinks she looks different?”
“Well, in this photo she looks sweet and innocent. If it is the girl I’m thinking of, she was a new employee and danced in one of the cages.”
“I assume you went to the club and questioned their employees, had a look around. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be here. And that means you know exactly the cages I’m referring to.” The officer starts to speak, but Vincent continues. “I can also assume that the bouncer told you that I gave the new cage dancer one of my business cards. Is that a problem?”
“Normally, no,” he replies in a smart-ass tone. “Except that she’s dead.”
Vincent studies the photos again, shaking his head. “Tragic. Such a pretty girl. Drugs?”
“What?” Vincent says, feigning surprise. “How?”
“I can’t answer that question while the case is still under investigation.”
“Am I being investigated? Is that why you’re here?” Vincent asks, standing up quickly, pretending to be shocked and outraged.
“We’re trying to piece together a timeline of the last few hours of her life.”
“I saw her dancing. Thought she had a certain look. My company is currently casting a movie. I sent her my card, suggested she get in touch with me this week.”
“Just what kind of movie is it?”
“A remake of A Day at the Lake.”
The policeman grins. “That’s when I fell in love with Abby Johnston,” he says, causing Vincent to tense up. “Have you seen the trailers for her new movie? H. O. T. When I looked you up on the Internet it said you were searching for the next Abby.” He nods at the photo. “You think this girl could have been it?”
Vincent shakes his head. “No, I was thinking of her for a minor role. Something like Bikini Girl #4.” Vincent sits back down. “Look, I left the club early that night, not long after leaving my card. Went home. My doorman can vouch for me. I’m going to be very frank with you. My company is spending a lot of money on this movie and for my stockholders’ sakes, I can not have my name associated with a murder investigation in any shape or form.” He holds out his hands, gesturing to his posh office. “I have an alibi and am happy to take a lie detector test if that would remove my name from this.”
The cop gets up and says, “I’ve already checked with your doorman, and he’s already verified your story, but why don’t you come downtown with me. We’ll do the lie detector test and, if you pass, we won’t mention your name.”
Once downtown, Vincent recalls his grandmother’s poignant words. Fake it ‘til you make it. Words he learned to live by when he was trying to fit in at his new high school. For awhile, he wasn’t sure he believed he could do it. But lying came as naturally to him as breathing.
During the test, his thoughts were on both Lacy and his grandmother. The two women in his life—one of whom was with him during the test. He could feel her calming presence. And recalling what he once told Lacy didn’t hurt either.
A smile breaks out across her face. The smile that will light up the screen. “I suck at poker,” she says. “I always smile when I get a good hand. I can usually do a joke straight-faced, but I’ll be honest. I’m not that good of a liar.”
“The key to lying is to convince yourself it’s the truth.”
She tilts her head and thinks about that. “So you have to lie to yourself first. That’s interesting.”
Yes, it is, Lacy. It’s also the key to passing a lie detector test.
Cooper texts Keatyn.
Cooper: The police questioned Vincent today. He admitted to giving her a business card. When they asked if he knew she was dead, he acted surprised. He asked if they thought he had anything to do with it. They said they were just trying to piece together a timeline of her last hours alive. He said that he only saw her in the club and had hoped to hear from her this week. He even offered to take a lie detector test because, he said, for business reasons, he didn’t want his name to be associated with a murder investigation. He had an alibi and passed the lie detector test.
Me: He once told me that the key to lying is to convince yourself it’s the truth.
Cooper: That’s also the key to passing a lie detector test.
Vincent is back in his office going through his company’s financial reports.
He’s been down the last two quarters, and he knows the board will give him shit about it. They seem to forget how rich he’s made them. Well, richer. They were all rich to begin with. Which is the problem. All they care about is what he’s done for them lately. He knows things will turn around once he gets this movie made and out there. Then they will be begging him to do more remakes after he lines their pockets once again.
He pushes the papers aside, rubbing his eyes and taking a deep breath to calm himself. He knows what’s riding on this movie. He knows he’s risking it all.
But he knows the reward will be worth it.
“Mr. Sharpe,” his assistant says over his intercom. “There’s a delivery man here. Says you need to sign for it.”
“Send him in,” he says as visions of Lacy blowing him a kiss fade away.
When the delivery guy leaves, he studies the envelope he was handed. It’s plain white, nondescript, much like the letters he sends to the whore. There is no return address, just a label with what he assumes is a company name—albeit, an odd one. Back At Ya.
He opens the letter and starts reading.
The purpose of the Letter of Intent is to set forth certain non-binding understandings and certain binding commitments . . .
His heart starts racing. He can barely speak. Barely think. This can’t be happening.
Keatyn log’s into the airplane’s Wi-Fi and get a message from her grandpa.
Grandpa: Been digging into the history of this company. Here’s an interesting fact. Vincent inherited a decent chunk of money when his mother and stepfather were killed, which he then immediately used to buy out a small production company. Guess which one it was?
Me: I have no idea.
Grandpa: The one that made A Day at the Lake. Remember, when it was first made it was pretty low budget. So in buying it, he automatically had the ability to do a remake. But based on what I’ve been told by the investors we’ve bought out, his decision to do the remake came this spring. I’m assuming that coincides with when he met you.
Me: Wow. How many investors do you have deals with?
Grandpa: Four out of the six. Those four were pretty eager to sell. They believe this movie has become an obsession. They were also worried because he’s not investing in as many movie futures as he used to. He’s well-known in the industry for being golden in selecting them.
Me: When will he find out that his investors have sold?
Grandpa: He found out today when we delivered a letter of intent to take control of his company. I wish I could’ve been a fly on the wall for that.
Me: Me too. Thanks, Grandpa. I love you.
Me: And Grandma. Please tell her I love her. Like, in case something should ever happen to me. You know?
Grandpa: If something happens to you, I’m killing the bastard myself. You have my promise. He won’t get the luxury of jail time. But I’m definitely glad you’re hidden away at school while this is all taking place. He’s going to be madder than a wet hen.
Me: A wet hen?
Grandpa: If you’d ever seen one, you wouldn’t have to ask.
Me: Believe it or not, that makes me feel better. At least I won’t worry about him getting out of jail someday and hurting my sisters.
Grandpa: Exactly. And I love you too, Hotshot.
Grandpa: Wait. Sam just messaged me and said he met you in California today.
Grandpa: Says it was confidential.
Grandpa: Damian called me yesterday.
Me: That’s nice of him.
Grandpa: Are you going back to the club tonight? After that girl was killed?
Grandpa: There’s a reason you wear camouflage when you’re hunting, Keatyn.
Me: I’ll be wearing it tonight. And I’ll be in a duck blind.
Grandpa: I don’t want to end up owning some stupid movie company because you went out and got yourself killed. You understand me?
Me: Yes, sir.
Grandpa: I admire your courage, Hotshot. Text me when it’s over and you’re safe. I’ll stay up.
Me: Grandpa, thanks for understanding that I have to do this.
Grandpa: We’re cut from the same cloth. And don’t worry, I WILL NOT be mentioning this to your grandmother.
Me: Thank goodness.
Cooper meets me at my plane and introduces me to two of his friends. Both are cops who will be joining us tonight. They’ll be following Vincent when they’re off duty to make sure nothing like what happened to the girl from the club happens again.
Before we go into the club, I tell Cooper, “If something goes wrong—like if he takes me—promise me you’ll come and get me.”
“I’m going to do more than promise.” He points out my locket to his friends. “Tracking device number one.” Then he clamps a surprisingly stylish thick bangle bracelet around my wrist and says, “Tracking device number two. It operates in a different way, but if he scans you, he will find that and your locket easily.”
“Do you think he would?”
“Hard to say, but we want to be prepared. And this little beauty,” he says, holding up what looks like a little blister pad, “is the best one. Top dollar, espionage kind of stuff. Bend at the waist and flip your hair over.”
I follow his instructions and feel him stick it right by my hairline.
“Okay, flip back over. Guys, did you bring the scanner?”
One of the guys nods and hands him a small scanner. He runs it across me and quickly finds both my necklace and bracelet, but when he runs it across my shoulders it doesn’t go off. The guys all nod.
We get to the club and meet up with the staff. They all know that we’re planning to have a memorial for Leighton tonight.
“We just want to give a big Fuck you to whoever did this to her,” Marla, the woman in charge of the dancers, says. “Also, ladies, do not go out with anyone you meet here. Even if they are a VIP. Not until her killer is caught.”
The girls all nod. Some are crying.
Marla speaks to the doormen. “Every person who walks through the door tonight will get stamped with the chaos symbol. For those of you who don’t know, Leighton was wearing a temporary tattoo on her hip and it was one of the few places she wasn’t stabbed. I think you all know my pet name for this place is Utter Chaos, even though I can’t get the boss man to give it an official name. So, we’re going to celebrate that. Now, let’s have a silent moment for Leighton.”
Everyone lowers their heads for a few moments.
Then Marla claps her hands and says, “All right, everyone to work.”
Once I’m dressed and ready, I talk to Troy, who won’t go in the DJ booth tonight until the program starts.
“This is going to be like New Year’s Eve on steroids.”
“I hope so.”
“You look very hot.”
I’m wearing a neon pink push-up bra, which is peeking out from my teeny black dance top. And, with it, an ass-skimmingly short flirty black skirt. “All the girls are dressed this way.”
“I sure hope he shows up.”
“Me too. Although, if he does, he’s going to be pissed. He was notified today that four of his six investors have been bought out and that he’s probably going to lose control of his company.”
“That your doing, too?”
I smile. “Shhh.”
“Keats, do you ever do anything small?”
“Not anymore. Wait until you see the ending.”
“Well, the big finale, so to speak. Provided all goes as planned.”
“That’s the part I’m worried about. What if it doesn’t go as planned?”
I pat him on the back. “Do me a favor and think positive. Also, I have a big favor to ask you.”
“Another one?” Troy laughs.
“Yeah. Do you know someone who either works for a delivery service or would be willing to pretend to?”
“One of the valets does.”
I get a package out of my bag. It’s addressed to Vincent Sharpe at his office. “Do you think he could deliver this tomorrow? At, say, four?”
“Sure. What’s in it?”
“Just a photo.”
Vincent is on his way to the club. He spent the entire rest of the day on the phone with his investors. The good news is, he has a chance of fighting off the hostile takeover attempt. The bad news is he can’t figure out who in the world is behind it. His gut tells him it’s the whore, but he has no proof—not to mention the fact that it doesn’t make any sense. He knows what she earns. Even with good investments, she couldn’t have pulled this together. It’s something else.
“Hondo,” he says, greeting the mafia boss he just called. “I could use your help again.”
“Tell me what you need.”
And he does. He needs to know without a doubt who is behind this takeover.
Then he’ll make sure there’s nothing left of them.
While Hondo is using his connections, Vincent is planning on getting drunk.
Troy is getting ready to ask more questions when Cooper comes backstage and tells us it’s time.
Which means Vincent is here.
“Oh, good. I was afraid he wasn’t going to show up.”
“All right, girls. Take your spots. Cage girls, get loaded up,” Marla instructs.
I get in the cage as it is hoisted into the air and swung out over the dance floor. The eight cage dancers sprinkle a few black rose petals over the dance floor.
I watch as a few people dancing look up to see where they’re coming from.
Vincent takes his place in his favorite VIP section. As he relaxes on the leather banquette, his waitress pours him a generous double shot of whiskey then finishes setting up his favorite mixers. She asks if he wants his usual bottle of champagne as well, but he waves her off. His VIP security guy has already given three beautiful women access to his section. Vincent is considering taking the trio home with him when the music stops, and the lights go out.
The DJ speaks. “A few days ago, one of our dancers was brutally murdered. She left work and never made it home. Everyone, please be vigilant when you leave any club and never go home with a stranger. Tonight, we’re going to honor her life, starting with a moment of silence for our friend, Leighton Wall.”
Vincent realizes the DJ is talking about the girl he killed. He hadn’t learned her name that night. Hadn’t learned it until he heard it on the news.
The place goes completely silent.
After a few moments, the DJ yells, “Leighton, girl, R.I.P. This utter chaos is for you!”
Vincent blinks and takes another drink, wondering what the club has planned to honor this girl. As the cages hit the platforms, and the bases light up, pink beams of light shine down spotlighting each cage. Vincent chuckles and looks around. Does anyone else not see the comedy in this moment? They are honoring her with a dance in a cage? Don’t they realize if she hadn’t danced in the cage, she’d still be alive?
The alcohol is finally starting to blur the edges of his day. What a clusterfuck today was. Although, he guesses it could have been worse. If he had failed the lie detector test, he’d be sitting behind bars.
The trio of girls is sipping his expensive whiskey, not one of them appreciating its rich taste. Maybe he’ll kill them after he plays with them—these girls would deserve it. Then he notices that they are pointing at one of the dancers. The one who is in the same cage Leighton had danced in. She’s covered in pink neon body paint and there are glow-in-the-dark tattoos all over her body.
He moves closer to the cage.
The dancer looks like . .
The song is upbeat and sassy, about a trouble-making girl.
Partway through the beginning of song, I notice Vincent near my cage trying to get a closer look at me.
When he gets close enough, I bend down, grab a handful of black rose petals, and throw them out of the cage directly at him.
Then I grab more and let them fly out of my fingers as I spin around.
Vincent plucks one out of the air and studies it.
Yeah, asshole, those are for you. A black rose petal warning, because you and your company are going down.
When the song gets to the part about flipping off the world, I raise both my middle fingers into the air and salute Vincent, which gets the crowd cheering.
I dance more.
I love this song.
Suddenly, nets in the ceiling open up and thousands of black rose petals fall like confetti over the dance floor.
Once all eyes in the vicinity are back on me—particularly Vincent’s—I blow the crowd a kiss, then bend over, flip up my skirt, and reveal the big block letters running across my naughty Santa underwear.
When the crowd reads the slutty FUCK ME message on my shaking ass, the guys jump up and down, scream, whistle, and cheer.
And make some very naughty comments.
And, finally, I see the response I was hoping for: pure rage in Vincent’s eyes.
. . . It’s her. It’s Lacy. He needs to get her out of that cage or he’s going to kill every guy standing around it with his bare hands. They need to get away from her. Stop that incessant hooting.
She blows him a kiss, causing him to smile, but then she bends over, flips up the back of her skirt, and shows the crowd her underwear, which has a vulgar saying on it.
Why is Lacy dancing like this? She’s acting like a whore!
Like her mother.
Not Lacy. Keatyn.
He rubs his hand down his face, needing to focus. He stops, takes the cigar holder out of his jacket pocket, and palms the syringe.
That’s right, be mad at me. Just me. No one else. I’m going to be way more than trouble, Vincent. I’m going to be your worst nightmare.
A hurricane of problems.
When the song finishes, a hush spreads through the crowd, except for a little murmuring as they try to figure out what’s happening next.
The spotlights leave the dancers and a single pink light shines on six men dressed in black, who are now filing into the club.
You hear gasps and cries from girls as they walk by, and everyone else is straining their necks to see what’s going on.
The men work their way through the crowd, carrying a coffin, and come to a stop in front of my cage.
He’s furiously pushing his way through the crowd and desperately trying to get near her. He’s almost to the cage when the lights flash yet again. He knows it’s his chance. While everyone is looking the other way, he’ll give her the shot. She’ll collapse. He’ll pull her out of the cage and rescue her, taking her out back for some air.
What happens next, causes him to pause. Keatyn’s fallen to the bottom of the cage. He looks down at the syringe still in his hand, knowing he hasn’t drugged her yet.
It’s another sign. She’s pretending to have passed out, so he will come rescue her. She’s calling out to him. As he takes another step toward the cage, the spotlight shines directly on them, and with horror he sees that her eyes are shut and her body still.
All eyes turn toward him.
And men, who he hadn’t noticed before, are standing next to the door of the cage, then pulling her out and into a coffin.
Vincent can barely breathe.
I hear the cage open and feel Cooper’s strong arms pull me into the coffin.
I lie motionless as he makes the sign of a cross, folds my arms over my chest, whispers “All’s good” to me, and then shuts the coffin lid.
If things go as planned, they will lead a processional of bouncers, waitresses, and clubgoers out the front door.
I lie still in the coffin, trying not to be creeped out.
This was the perfect exit for me. There’s only one way Vincent could get close to me tonight.
And that’s to start shooting people, which was Cooper’s worse-case scenario.
I’m just praying I don’t hear any shots.
I would never forgive myself if a gun fight started in a crowded place like this.
The sound I do hear is a big relief.
The beating of helicopter blades slicing through the air.
I finally let out the breath I’ve been holding as I feel the casket being loaded into the chopper.
Vincent follows the crowd out of the club, sees the helicopter set down, and the casket rolled onto it. As the helicopter hovers into the air, fireworks start going off.
It looks like something out of a movie.
He smirks. Gotta give it to the girl. She does have a flair for the dramatic.
He carefully puts the syringe back into its holder and fishes a receipt out of his wallet, giving it to the nearest valet. If he can get his car fast enough, there’s a chance he could follow the helicopter to wherever she is going.
He’s getting more irritated by the second as he watches the helicopter fly away. “Where’s my car?” he yells at one of the valets.
“Um, Mr. Sharpe,” the kid who he always tips well says to him. “We can’t exactly find it.”
“What do you mean, you can’t find it?!” He points to the spot where his car is always parked, right up front. But his car isn’t there.
The valet holds up the keys. “We think maybe it was stolen.”
Which is the final straw today. He goes ballistic, grabbing the kid by the neck, before an off-duty policeman pulls him off.
“Sucks,” the cop says. “Was it a nice car?”
“It was a goddamn Porsche!”
“Oh those are pretty. Was it red? I used to work nights as a valet at one of those trendy restaurants. Abby Johnston used to come there for dinner once a week, and she had the hottest little red one. Always wanted one after that.”
“Or maybe you just wanted the hottie in it,” the valet chuckles, elbowing the cop.
Vincent stomps his feet, pushes his fists down to his sides, and let’s out a cry of rage.
“Dude, you need to calm down,” the cop says, putting his hand on Vincent’s shoulder. “I’m sure it was insured. Tell you what, I’ll drive you down to the station myself and help you fill out a stolen vehicle report.”
There’s no way Vincent is going back to the police station.
Once the door shuts, Cooper opens the lid, so I can roll out of the coffin. I stay on my knees and sneak a peek out of the window, quickly spotting Vincent in the crowd.
As the helicopter lifts into the air, pink, red, and gold fireworks shoot into the sky.
The combination of the cheers, the fireworks, and the helicopter is deafening.
I watch the fireworks and pray that Leighton knows how sorry I am.
“That was freaking nuts!” Cooper says. “And safe. He didn’t even have a chance to touch you.”
“He looked mildly irritated when I threw the black roses at him, mad when I flipped him off, and completely pissed when the guys started cheering at the message on my underwear.”
“Message on your underwear?”
“Yeah. I didn’t mention that to you.”
Cooper narrows his eyes. “What’d they say?”
“Oh, Keatyn. Jeez. We want to make him uncomfortable, not homicidal.”
“He’s already homicidal.”
“Yeah, you’re right. It was a good plan.”
“And honored her, I hope.”
The cop says, “I heard there was a very large anonymous donation made to the family’s fund today.”
“I heard that too.” I smile. “Oh, Cooper! Do you have my phone? I did something else,” I say, while firing off a quick text to let both Aiden and Grandpa know I’m okay.
“How long do you think it will be before he’ll want to leave?”
“If I were him, I’d be getting the hell out of there and never coming back,” Cooper states.
“You should have seen his face when Cooper closed the lid on the casket,” the cops says. “If I weren’t armed, I would have been scared.”
My phone dings with a text from Billy the valet.
I read his message and laugh. “It seems that Mr. Sharpe’s Porsche is somehow missing from the club’s parking lot. He just about blew a gasket.”
Cooper and the cop both start laughing hysterically, part of which is probably just a release from the stress of tonight.
I giggle too. “Gosh, that felt good. To finally feel in control. I’m still worried he’s going to hurt someone, though. Are you sure they’re watching him 24/7?”
“Yes, a two-man team. Off duty cops.”
“Do the cops know there’s also a two-man team from Garrett’s company watching all of them?”
“Naw,” Cooper says, “I didn’t think they needed to know.”
A few minutes later, the helicopter sets down on the roof of the Moran Movies headquarters and lets us off.
Damian is waiting for us at the rooftop door.
He sighs with relief, gives me a big hug, and I introduce him to Cooper.
He looks at Cooper and squints. “You’ve got to be the hot soccer coach.”
Cooper and I both laugh.
“It all went well. And his Porsche went missing for good measure. I mean, just in case the coffin and all wasn’t enough for him.”
Damian shakes his head. “I’m glad I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t have been able to watch you get put into a coffin.”
“If it weren’t for all the adrenaline,” Cooper says, “I wouldn’t have been able to either.”
Vincent goes home, strips off his clothes, and showers off the stench of the day. Then he lies in his king-sized bed, using the remote to close the wall of curtains showcasing a gorgeous city view, and turns on the television.
“You’ve gotta be shitting me,” he says, upon seeing that A Day at the Lake is airing.
He tosses his remote across the room in a fit of anger.
Then watches the movie, knowing that this time it will end differently.
It has to.
On the flight back home, Cooper and I are both too pumped up to sleep.
“Let’s watch the rest of the movie.”
“Maybe we should just fast forward to the end. I mean, more people are gonna die and all that will be left is Matt, Lacy, and Vince.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
We watch in fast motion as the dead bodies pile up, Cooper stopping on a scene where Lacy and Matt are in a storage shed.
“It’s Vince that’s killing everyone. He wants you to go with Egypt with him, doesn’t he?”
Lacy sobs into his chest. “I think so.”
He pushes her away, holding her at arm’s length. “We’re leaving now. Running. We’ll find someone somewhere.”
“He said there isn’t anyone for ten miles.”
“He’s been killing everyone, Lacy. Wake up. He’s a liar. I’ll keep you safe, baby. I promise. And if you want, I’ll go to Egypt with you.”
Lacy smiles through her tears and leans in to kiss him.
Vince hits Matt in the back of the head with a shovel.
Matt falls to the ground.
Lacy screams as Vince starts moving toward her.
“It’s just you and me now,” Vince says creepily.
Lacy takes a step back, picks a life jacket up off a counter, and tosses it at him.
Vince moves sideways, avoiding the jacket and taking another step toward her. “When you first told me you might not go, I asked you if you wanted this as badly as I do. You told me yes.”
“Wait, stop!” I shout.
“What?” Cooper says, almost jumping out of his seat.
I place my fingertips on my forehead, like it will help me remember. “Play that again.”
“When you first told me you might not go, I asked if you wanted this as badly as I do.”
“He said that exact line to me. About making his movie. You want this as badly as I do, don’t you?”
“That’s creepy,” Cooper says as he rewinds and presses play.
“. . . You told me yes.”
Lacy screams, “Well, I changed my mind!”
She takes another step backwards.
“No! Don’t give me that bullshit. Matt changed your mind! You came crying to me about it! I told you to figure it out.”
Lacy has a flashback of telling Vince she didn’t think she was going to study abroad and indicating that Matt wasn’t very supportive. Vince offers to take her for a walk to discuss it.
Lacy laughs. “I don’t think you can solve my boyfriend troubles, Vince, but thanks.”
Vince says, “Maybe you need to solve them yourself.”
And I have a flashback of my own.
I’m standing on the deck at a party, turning down a walk on the beach. “Thanks for the offer, Vincent. It’s sweet of you, but I don’t think anyone can solve my boy problems.”
“Maybe you need to solve them yourself.”
The movie keeps playing.
Vince is yelling at her, taking another step toward her, backing her into a corner. “But you didn’t fucking listen to me. You listened to him.”
Realizing she’s trapped, she pleads, “Don’t do this, Vincey. Tell me what you want and I’ll do it.”
He doesn’t stop moving toward her.
And he doesn’t reply.
He grabs her by the neck and starts dragging her out of the shed. “I want you, and I’m going to have you. All to myself.”
“Holy shit,” I mutter, another scene flashing in front of my eyes.
Vincent is dragging me and I plead, “Stop. Please, Vincent. Just tell me what you want, and I’ll do it. I promise I’ll make the movie with you. Just please don’t do this. Please.”
He doesn’t stop.
And he doesn’t reply.
He just keeps dragging me, closer and closer to the door.
When we’re almost to the door, he says, “I want you, and I’m going to have you. All to myself.”
“He did the same thing, said the same thing, as he was dragging me out the door. That he was going to have me all to himself.”
Cooper takes his jacket off and lays it across the top of me. “You’re shaking. Stop thinking about it.”
“I’m glad you’re here, Cooper. Thank you for everything. For going along with my crazy schemes.”
“Somehow I doubt Garrett would have gone for the cage dancing.” He smiles at me and pats the top of my hand. “I’m really proud of you.”
“Thanks, Cooper. Let’s keep watching.”
Just when you think Vince is about to take her out the door, Matt stands up and staggers toward him.
Matt is holding a boat anchor that he swings up into the air and then slams into Vince’s head.
Vince drops to the ground, bleeding profusely.
But he’s not dead yet.
He says, “We’re still going to Egypt together, Lacy.” His voice starts to fade as he nears death. “And it will be perfection.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me! Did he memorize the whole damn movie?”
“Did he say that to you?”
“At some point, yeah. Actually, no, I think it was in the note with the photos.”
Lacy helps Matt stagger outside.
She suggests they try the boat again.
It still doesn’t start, so Lacy lifts the motor cover. “Just the battery cable.” She pops it back on and starts the boat. “Let’s get out of here!”
“Before we do, Lacy. I’m sorry. If you really want to go to Africa, we’ll figure out a way to stay together. I don’t want to lose you, and I don’t want to stand in the way of your dreams.”
“You are my dreams, Matty.” Lacy throws her arms around him, smothers him with kisses, and then they drive off in the boat as the sun is rising on a new day.
Cooper shuts my laptop. “So, in this, Vince is the bad guy who dies. Do you think he changed that in the new script?”
“He said he was changing a lot of it. Special effects, stunt scenes. He made it sound like the new Lacy was supposed to be some badass heroine, but if she were, she’d save all her friends. And if she saved them, there’d be no story. No plot. I remember him saying something about getting someone ugly to play my boyfriend and not having any kissing scenes. I suppose young Vincent was jealous of Matt.”
“Because he wants Lacy for himself.”
“I think we need to get a copy of that script.”
“How are we going to do that?”
“That’s another thing agents are for.”
Vincent falls asleep before the movie is over. And he dreams of the ending he and Lacy deserve. One where Matt is forever out of the way, either dead or in jail.
Lacy’s family is dead.
The dream he had was brilliant. Something straight out of a huge blockbuster movie.
He knows the special effects will be costly, but well worth the effort.
This is the ending that no one will see coming.
Back at school the next day, Keatyn sends a message to her mom’s agent at the Warren Taylor Agency.
-Is there a way you could discreetly get a script for The Day at the Lake remake? I might know someone interested in it.
I’m shocked to get a quick response, especially since it’s 4:30 in the morning on the West coast.
-Any chance that someone might be you? I’d be surprised, honestly, if Vincent Sharpe hadn’t asked you yet.
I reply with:
-You’re up awfully early! And, no, it’s for Luke Sander. Apparently, they are interested in him for the boyfriend role, but he’s worried because he heard the production company is having some financial difficulties. He’s also maybe looking to switch agents and I thought of you.
Yes, that’s sort of a lie. The part about the agent. But I could probably talk Sander into it, if necessary. He’s told me on more than one occasion that he felt like he’d outgrown his current agent.
-I’m in New York this week meeting with Tommy about your mother’s sudden leave of absence. Is she doing okay? I haven’t heard about the company’s finances. What did Sander hear?
-She’s fine. Just needs a break. And he heard that someone is buying out the company’s investors and a hostile takeover is imminent.
-Really? Interesting. I did hear the investors were rumbling about the amount of capital he’s sunk into that movie. If that’s the case, Luke Sander should stay far away from the project.
-Can you get me the script anyway?
-Of course, darling.
-Thank you. And give Tommy a hug for me.
-We should have lunch when I’m back in town. Tommy told me last spring that he expected you to follow in your mother’s footsteps. I could get you some roles very easily.
-Thank you. I’ll think about it. Either way, lunch would be great.
Then I text Cooper, realizing I forgot to tell him this part of my plan.
Me: I forgot to tell you part of my plan last night.
Cooper: Forgot? Or purposely didn’t tell me?
Me: Forgot. I’m having something delivered to Vincent’s office today at 4. I thought maybe your friend who met up with his assistant might text her and ask her out for Happy Hour. Like if he got her number.
Cooper: He has her number. What did you send?
Me: A photo I found of him from when he was doing the national search for the next Abby Johnston. I photoshopped the special effect of B’s head being blown off onto his head, put it in a picture frame, and boxed it up with some black rose petals.
Cooper: And purposely didn’t tell me because I would have told you not to?
Me: Really? No, I thought you’d love the idea. And I was going to ask your friend myself last night, but forgot with the excitement. I’d really like to know how he reacts.
Cooper: I think it’s important we know how he reacts. I’ll call him later today.
Me: Be sure to have him wait to text her until after it’s delivered.
Cooper: Will do.
Me: Have you heard anything from them? Like what he did last night?
Cooper: He was furious about his car. Went home. Stayed there.
Me: Thank goodness. I don’t want anyone else to die because of me.
Vincent’s day is filled with meetings and calls to his investors, trying to get them to back out of their deals. He pleads, something he loathes to do.
But the good news is, most of them agree.
It’s looking possible that his company will continue with him at the helm, especially if his dinner goes well tonight.
He goes to work out mid-afternoon and when he comes back, his assistant holds up a package. “This gift was delivered for you.”
Vincent takes it into his office, an idea hitting him. The one piece of the script he hadn’t figured out every detail for comes into focus. He holds up the present and smiles.
Oh, yes, this will be perfection.
He hesitates before opening it, knowing his plan, but then shaking his head and realizing he’s being ridiculous.
Inside the box are black petals, like the ones Keatyn threw at him last night. He slides the tissue out of the way and finds a photo.
With his head blown off, just like the ones he made of the whore’s husband and of Matt.
He lets out a strangled scream and hurls the photo against the wall, causing the glass to shatter and his assistant to bolt though the door to see what’s wrong.
That same day, Damian asks Keatyn if she’s really ready to star in Twisted Dreams’ upcoming video.
Me: If my name wasn’t listed anywhere, in theory, the people who know me as Keatyn Douglas, would know it’s me and wouldn’t be surprised since we’re friends. The people that know Keatyn Monroe, I’d just tell them that I did it. It’s not like anyone is going to talk about me that much, right?
Damian: I think they will talk about you. But I think you’re right. And would it sort of fit into your plan of letting Vincent see you some? Are you planning more trips back home or to the club?
Me: I don’t know yet. But probably. Let me think through it and I’ll let you know.
Damian: So do you think Riley would be interested?
Me: I think Riley would be thrilled.
Damian: We got invited to play during the MTV New Year’s Eve party overlooking Times Square. I have a bunch of tickets that I could sort of repay you both with.
Me: You don’t have to repay us, but the party sounds like fun. I’d love to.
Damian: I heard you’re not coming to St. Croix for Christmas.
Me: I can’t. I sort of lied myself into a corner. I told Aiden I have to be with my family. But I can’t actually be with my family. And I can’t think up a good reason why I wouldn’t go see them, since all I’ve done is complain about how much I miss them. I’m filming with Tommy and your dad next week, so I’ll get to see them. I’ll stay at my loft. Aiden bought me a tree. And you’ll all be back the next week!
Damian: Still, it’s Christmas. I don’t want you to be alone.
Me: I have to be, Damian. I’m a big girl. I’ll be fine. I promise.
Keatyn has been packing up to leave school for Christmas break. She finds Cooper standing outside.
“I just texted you,” he says. “My friend texted Vincent’s assistant. She said she couldn’t leave early. That her boss had just gotten a horrible threatening photo and had thrown it against the wall, then made her clean up all the glass.”
“So he was mad. Then what did he do?”
“Left his office and had dinner with two of his investors. Trying to hang onto his company.”
“We need to plan what we’re going to do next. I’d like to go back next Thursday but with filming, I can’t.”
“I think the company takeover stuff is enough for now. Your mom’s movie is still getting a ton of buzz. So, you’re going to the dance tonight, then going to a hotel with Aiden, then going to your loft on Sunday morning?”
“Yeah, he’s staying with me until the twenty-third, then leaving for St. Croix with his family.”
“And what are you going to do after that?”
“Stay at my loft. Everyone thinks I’m going home. I won’t go out, so don’t worry about me.”
“It’s my job to worry about you. What if you came home with me for Christmas? My parents would love it.”
“Really, Cooper?” I blink away tears.
“Yes, really. I don’t want you to be alone and I know you can’t go home.”
“That would be nice. I’ll get to see Tommy but it just isn’t going to be the same.”
“I know. Have fun at the dance tonight.”
“Have fun chaperoning.”
He rolls his eyes at me. “Yeah, right.”
After months of covering up who she is, Keatyn’s world changes in an instant at Winter Formal. What she thought was a well-orchestrated plan of revenge against Vincent immediately in jeopardy.
Because of Whitney.
Well, really, because of herself. And although Vincent isn’t in this scene and never finds out where she is because of it, it’s only through her quick thinking and years of watching her mother deal with the press that he doesn’t.
Whitney was only nice to us because she was planning to destroy Peyton the way Vanessa destroyed Mandy.
Peyton is nothing like Mandy. She didn’t do anything mean and calculating. She was hurt and needed comfort when she turned to him.
I look out into the crowd and see the boys’ soccer coach and remember how Whitney specifically asked him and his wife, who is now five months pregnant, to chaperone.
She wants to destroy them both.
Right here, in front of everyone.
I can’t let it happen.
I can’t let intimate sexual photos of an underage Peyton be flashed across a screen in front of the whole school.
Not to mention what it would do to Coach Kline’s life and his wife’s.
Just as Whitney is ready to start the slideshow, I move quickly, dropping Peyton’s hand and grabbing the remote out of Whitney’s.
And it’s at that moment that I know what I have to do.
Even though I shouldn’t.
Even though it will ruin everything for me.
I have to do this for my friend.
I turn to a stunned Peyton. “Why don’t you take Whitney’s computer and put it somewhere safe? Photos aren’t necessary. I’ll tell everyone the truth.”
Peyton gives me a confused look, then takes a shaky step, grabs the laptop, and walks offstage.
I’m left with a crowd of students wondering what I lied about.
Whitney opens her mouth in protest, so I take the microphone from her too.
I notice a small group of reporters have moved in front of the stage.
Not only was Whitney going to tell the school, she brought in the local press.
I start telling every lie I’ve told since I got here.
I look at Riley and confess. “My name isn’t Keatyn Monroe.”
Then I find Aiden’s eyes in the crowd. “I did recognize you as the goalie that day when you asked.”
Then Dawson. “I didn’t leave my Mercedes at home because of the snow.”
Then Maggie and Annie. “My parents didn’t move to France or delete my social media. I didn’t get in trouble at home, and my photos didn’t get lost when I synced my new phone.”
I speak directly to Annie. “I have seen every one of Abby Johnston’s movies. We do have the same mannerisms, and our voices are so similar even Tommy can’t tell them apart. And that’s because I’m her daughter.”
Cameras start flashing, so I hold my hand strategically in front of my face.
“I came here because . . .”
I want to tell them why. But I realize I can’t.
I can’t put them in danger.
I know that I don’t have until March with Aiden anymore.
That his time bomb app just went off.
My biggest problem is the reporters, not my friends.
Because if they announce that I’m here, Vincent will come.
And I can’t do that to Eastbrooke.
To the place I love so much.
I’ve been stalked and kissed and dated and loved, but now I can see it clearly on their faces.
I hear the big metal doors behind me close and know that Peyton has made it safely out of the ballroom with the laptop.
I hate to do it, but I need to tell my friends one more lie.
Just one more lie.
And in order to do it, I’m going to have to give the performance of my life.
But I’ll do it because I love them.
I stand up straighter, jut my chin out, and become the cold, uncaring bitch who takes whatever she wants from whomever she wants because she thinks she’s entitled to it.
I peek through my fingers, finding Aiden.
He’s the one I have to convince more than anyone.
I smirk, looking at him like he’s a piece of trash, not worthy of my time, then shrug. “I came to Eastbrooke because I wanted to see if I could act. To see if I could pretend to be someone else. I lied because . . . Well, because I could. Because I’m a good actress.”
Aiden darts off the dance floor.
I turn around, my eyes following him.
Wanting to talk to him.
To tell him I’m sorry.
To tell him this isn’t how I wanted him to find out.
My hand reaches out toward him.
He shakes his head at me, puts his hand up in the halt position, pushes his back against the exit door, and walks straight out of my life.
Tears spring to my eyes as Whitney grabs my elbow, pulling me close to her.
“Very slick,” she says. “And very interesting. But don’t worry, I have backups of the photos. Peyton’s not getting out of this.”
I hold my head high, still in bitch mode. “Yeah, she is. Because it just so happens, I have a few photos of my own.”
I reach down, take my phone out of my clutch, click a few buttons, and send her the photo where she’s lying across Coach Steele’s desk.
When the picture pops up, the smug look slides off her face.
I wrench my arm away from her.
“If you ever try to hurt Peyton or any one of my friends again. If any of those photos ever show up anywhere, I will show these photos to the whole school. I’ll tell them how you couldn’t get Camden by sleeping with him, so you settled for his brother. I’ll tell them that your relationship was a sham.”
“What do I care? I’m going to college.”
I give her a smug, bitchy smile. “Because I’ll also send them to every Ivy League school you applied to. Camden kept everything. And there are hundreds of pictures and screenshots for me to choose from. I could release one a week for the rest of your life. If you wait until we’re older, then I’ll send them to your boss. Your parents. Your friends. Your husband. Because you can bet on this. If those photos ever see the light of day, I will destroy you.”
For the first time since I’ve known her, Whitney looks scared.
She nods at me in understanding, puts her head down, and slinks off the stage.
Still shielding my face, I head off the stage toward Cooper.
I can tell he’s pissed.
“What the fuck was that? What the hell were you thinking? There are reporters here. We’ve got to get you out of here now.”
“I said no, Cooper. I’m not going anywhere. Help me out by rounding up those reporters. I need to talk to them.”
As he goes off to speak to the reporters, Annie walks up to me and says, “I thought you were different. You made me believe that nice girls could be popular. I’ve mentioned your resemblance to Abby Johnston quite a few times. We saw her in New York! It would’ve been so easy for you to tell me the truth. Which means it was all just a mean game to you.” She grabs Katie and pulls her into the conversation. “Katie and I are in agreement on this. We’re not friends anymore. Although I doubt we ever were.”
Her and Katie march away as I recoil slightly.
I wasn’t expecting that from them.
I want to go after them and say I’m sorry.
But I can’t.
I turn around and stare at the door Aiden just walked out of.
I want to chase him.
Beg him for forgiveness.
Tell him the rest of the truth.
But as I see Cooper and the dean herding the reporters into a room, I know that I can’t do that either.
I remember Grandpa once telling me, Sometimes you can’t find yourself until you’re lost.
I thought it was just another silly Southern saying.
But I get it now.
I was lost.
And, somehow, throughout this whole ordeal, I found myself.
I know exactly who I am.
And if Aiden is the boy of my dreams . . .
If he really is my moon boy . . .
Then he’ll understand.