A Vault of Sins: A Chaos Theory Novel

A Vault of Sins: A Chaos Theory Novel

by Sarah Harian

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780698152182
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/16/2014
Sold by: Penguin Group
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 254
File size: 927 KB

About the Author

Sarah Harian grew up in the foothills of Yosemite and received her BA and MFA from Fresno State University. When not writing, she is usually hiking in the Sierras, playing video games with her husband, or roughhousing with her dog.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

If our trial had a tagline, it would be The People versus The Department of Judicial Technology: All of this could have been prevented if you kept your mouth shut.

It took a whole two days after our Compass Room briefing—the one where Gemma Branam threatened to throw us in prison forever—for us to be asked to meet with her again. We were under strict orders to come without lawyers, and when we arrived at the Division of Judicial Technology Headquarters in D.C., she told us in her bright, melodic voice to shut up.

The division was taking the blame for the malfunction.

The filed report would state that while the three of us were extracted due to a glitch, the CR already proved that we were the true moral survivors. Which, of course, was not only a big fat lie, but also meant that the division would get away with murdering the people who were supposed to get out.

The next day, as we sat at the conference table in our lawyers’ office, the table scattered with half-drunk coffee cups and numerous tablets, Valerie was the first to state the obvious. “I may be immoral, but I’m not a scumbag. Accepting this deal would be the shittiest thing I’ve ever done.”

“And you’ve done some pretty shitty things.” I took a sip of my coffee, glaring at my tablet screen. The media was currently a cesspool of Compass Room C misinformation. Every news station and article hub was saying something different. No one knew the truth behind why our CR malfunctioned, and every outlet was starving for it.

“Exactly.” Her response came without a flicker of hesitation.

I wanted to bring up Jace. Valerie would rather die than live without trying to avenge what happened to her. The supposed foul-proof technology of the Compass Room cracked beneath us, all because the four of us—Casey, Valerie, Jace, and I—approached the wrong trigger object. Yes, we were trying to make the machine malfunction, but we had no idea it would cost Jace’s life. There should have been a failsafe in place, or something.

From the fevered glint in Valerie’s eye, I could tell she was on the brink of snapping, so I avoided mentioning Jace.

But Jace wasn’t the only reason why we couldn’t accept this deal. There were also Blaise and Stella, two Compass Room inmates that the three of us know should have escaped. And there was the fact that two days before the division made the decision to lie about our morality and the outcome of Compass Room C, Gemma had wanted to bury us.

Something made them change their minds.

“Let me get this straight.” Casey’s lawyer paced back and forth in front of the window, her hands behind her back as she glared at the floor, as if ready to accuse it. “The three of you want to risk putting yourselves back in jail—or worse—in order to bring a governmental department to court? You know that if you don’t keep your mouth shut like Branam asked, she’ll do everything in her power to destroy the three of you.”

I exchanged glances with Casey. His arms were crossed tightly over his chest as he leaned back in his chair, his expression unreadable. I hated when I couldn’t tell what he was thinking. He had a way of halting the reaction on his face when he wanted to, and when he did that, it was easier to read the emotions of a brick wall than those of Casey Hargrove.

“And if we do nothing, how many more good people are going to die because of future Compass Room glitches?” Valerie stood from her chair, walking to the coffeepot at the edge of the room and then back again. She raked her fingers through her hair.

There was freedom or doing the right thing. Given that we’d been defined for so long by doing the wrong thing, it was like we were meant for this trial. It wasn’t that we could right our wrongs, but a trial—a fight—was a way to define ourselves as putting our cause before our well-being. We could be human enough to stand up for what was just, even if it wasn’t in our best personal interest. Our decision had to be unanimous across the table or this wouldn’t work.

Liz, my lawyer, sat at the head of the table, rubbing her chin. “Okay, let’s sort this out verbally. We need to discuss everything Gemma wants you to lie about and everything you believe to be true, and then we’ll go from there. Alright?”

Valerie’s shoulders sagged. I knew she hated the retelling. I was about to open my mouth before Casey interrupted me and began to recap. I zoned out as he spoke. Listening to Casey was somehow more painful than remembering for myself.

For sixteen days, we fought to survive inside of a wilderness prison. We created a community in order to stay safe and sheltered and well-fed, and throughout those sixteen days, objects from our crimes would appear and trigger an illusion that we were capable of interacting with. Based off our internal reaction to revisiting our crimes, the Bot controlling the illusion would either kill us or let us go.

We saw flashes of green light during Blaise’s death and Stella’s death that we believed were a malfunction signal, because if anyone was meant to escape out of a functioning Compass Room C alive, it would have most likely been the two of them.

A few days later, we saw the green light again when a Bot shut down after it produced a mutation of both mine and Casey’s crimes. That’s how we know our assumption had been correct.

Jace, our close friend, died when we attempted to make the CR malfunction more in order to get ourselves out.

If we went along with Gemma’s plan, we’d legally be free. We could never be taken to court again for our crimes or for anything that happened in the Compass Room. But if we took the Division of Judicial Technology to court and won, we’d be revealing to the world that we weren’t supposed to escape. I committed my crime because someone held a gun to my head and ordered me to shoot a random faculty member in order to save my best friend. Because I cared more about the life of Meghan than anyone else who died in the shooting, I still don’t regret my decision. Both Valerie and Casey would also commit their crimes again if given the chance.

If we took the division to court, we’d be shooting ourselves in the foot.

“And if we take them to court and lose . . .” Casey’s voice trailed off.

“Gemma would find a way to ruin you for not accepting her deal in the first place. I’m sure of it.” Liz sighed. “I guess it’ll just depend on how much evidence we can scrounge up proving that what you’re saying is true. Right now, the public doesn’t even know what happens in the Compass Room.” She released a manic laugh. “Hell, all I know is what you’ve told me, and to be honest—”

“It sounds like we’re full of horseshit,” interrupted Valerie.

“But I believe you.” Liz’s eyes shifted between us. “And if the three of you want to see this through, I’ll do my best to find what we need to make a case.”

“Why would you risk your neck?” Val challenged.

“Because if what the three of you are suggesting about the cover-up is true, we could be unearthing one of the biggest scandals in American history. The public thinks the Compass Room is some perfectly functioning lab where criminals are tested and put down humanely if they carry a psychopathic sickness. You’re telling me that the Compass Room is a place where criminals fear for their lives in the woods as they’re haunted by their pasts and their fellow inmates explode around them.”

“Only one explosion,” Casey mumbled.

“If you’re telling me the truth, I’d be damn stupid to turn this down.” Liz looked to both Valerie’s and Casey’s lawyers, and they nodded in agreement. “For now, sit tight. Let me do my job and see if I can find enough of a probable cause for a search warrant.”

Before she dismissed us, I asked the question that had been bothering me since the beginning of this meeting. “If Gemma is willing to give us this deal now, why didn’t she just offer it to us in the first place?”

Liz tapped her pen against the desk as she thought. “Even though we didn’t know what was going on in the Compass Room per se, there were rumors about the criminals manipulating the CR and causing the death of an innocent girl. I always thought these rumors were coming from the Division of Judicial Technology, but that doesn’t make sense if Gemma is suddenly attempting to hide the malfunction. Maybe the information was coming from another source. I’ll dig around and see what I can find.”

We didn’t have to wait long.

A few days later, Liz uncovered a filed digital report on the day Compass Room C was supposed to finish, which disregarded any malfunction at all and stated that Casey, Valerie, and I were survivors and had been proven innocent.

“They were going to sweep everything under the rug,” she told me over the phone. “Everything. That report hadn’t been processed yet, but they filled it out like they were planning to—I don’t know—hold the three of you for the remainder of the month and just pretend like Compass Room C finished its entire cycle without any problem at all.”

“That makes no sense.” I attempted to mask my frustration as I spoke. Anger would get us nowhere. I needed to think through their motivation logically. “So they filed this report and then decided not to release it? What does that mean? I saw the news articles released the day I left the hospital. The media knew that something fishy had happened.”

“There was never an official press release. The CR malfunction had to have been leaked to the media by a third party.”

“Who?”

“I don’t know, Evalyn. And to be honest, it doesn’t matter. What matters is that the division never released any information regarding what actually happened in the Compass Room. But luckily for us, that misfiled report is enough for a search warrant.”

A search warrant. The data feed from Compass Room C would become evidence. All the tapes, all our private moments and conversations, would be on display.

“We still have to contact Valerie and Casey, but are you certain you want to go through with this?”

I was pacing the living room of Mom’s house in Phoenix when she asked this. Mom was making dinner in the kitchen, and Todd was practicing his watercolors at the dining room table. I thought of what I was giving up by saying yes—the chance to reset my life. Keeping quiet would give me a clean break from every way I’d been wronged and every way I’d screwed up. I could start over again. I could go back to school and get my degree and Mom wouldn’t have to worry about me anymore. I wouldn’t go back to prison—or worse.

By keeping quiet, I’d be feeding the lie that the Compass Room found me moral, and that it didn’t really take the lives of the ones who really were.

“Make it happen,” I told her.

She did.

Less than a month later, Casey, Valerie, and I were standing on the steps of the courthouse, a fresh flower in my hair. Protestors screamed and the press swarmed us as we made our way up the steps, aware we were giving up freedom for the sake of justice. Rumors would become fact, and the division would finally have to show the public what really went on inside the Compass Room, and what happened to us.

But we were about to become monsters all over again.

1

At three in the morning I’m curled on the couch, hugging a bowl of cereal between my knees. In my left fist is a beer. It’s warm—not because I’ve been drinking it slow, but because I pulled this one from the box. I forgot to put more in the fridge after I polished off the last twelve-pack.

The feed has been playing all night, my tablet projecting the image onto the wall space between an outdated family portrait and the front door. Watching the endless stream of news clips about me is a bit masochistic, but it’s better than the nightmares. Then again, anything is better than the nightmares.

This has become a nightly ritual. I can’t remember the last time three a.m. passed without me awake on this couch. My butt has created a permanent imprint in Mom’s cushion. If she’s noticed, she hasn’t said anything.

The news round table discussions are my favorite. They allow me to hate the reporters who loathe me and cheer on the ones who find me redeeming, like a game of sports.

“So let me get this straight,” says asshole number one. “The testimonies from the three Compass Room survivors state that the government dropped them off in the middle of the forest, forced them to face projections of the people they wronged or killed, and then brutally murdered off candidates in front of other inmates. Not only that, but then the Compass Room malfunctioned and,” he uses quote fingers, “accidentally killed off inmates who were innocent.”

The other reporters at the table nod.

“Honestly, I don’t even know how they were able to create a case out of this obvious lie.”

“Well, you have to admit, the document misfiled fourteen days early stating that Ibarra, Hargrove, and Crane were the determined innocent does raise suspicion,” says the female reporter. “As does the mysterious leak.”

The mysterious leak. The news stations have been all over this mysterious leak. Word had gotten to the press that a Compass Room malfunction had killed an inmate. There have been entire programs dedicated to tracking down the culprit, but no one has come even close to figuring out who tipped off the media, and why. The division refuses to hold a press conference on the matter until the trial is over.

“The leak means nothing,” says asshole number two. “Whoever contrived the misinformation is clearly working with the three survivors from Compass Room C to . . . to . . .”

“To what? To create a case against the division to get themselves thrown back in jail? That’s what Crane, Hargrove, and Ibarra are doing.” The female reporter glares at the other two like they’re idiots, and I kind of love her. “They’re trying to get the division to admit to a malfunction, which would prove they weren’t supposed to escape the Compass Room alive. Why would they do that?”

“Money!” Asshole number one slaps his hand against the table. “They could get a huge settlement from this.”

“Why would they need money if this would land them in jail?”

“People risk jail for money all of the time!”

“Feed, off,” I order, and the screen goes dark. It isn’t that I can’t handle the dialogue about my supposed greed, but I hear someone shuffling around in the kitchen behind me. It might be Todd. Mom doesn’t want the news on when Todd is in the room.

But it isn’t Todd. Mom sits on the couch and wraps her arms around me. Her hugs have become rather violent lately, like if she squeezes hard enough we’ll both be illuminated into realizing the present isn’t as terrifying as we both think it is.

She rests her chin on my shoulder. “You’ve been having quite a few breakfast beers lately.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” I reply flatly, because I know I can’t fool her.

“I take out the recycling, Ev. I’m not an idiot.”

I wish I could explain to her that cereal and breakfast beers at three in the morning are the happiest part of my day, but it’s too depressing to voice out loud. Instead, I rest my head on her shoulder, and we sit together in the dark. This happens sometimes. Mom and I hug a lot more than we used to, but we still haven’t been able to find strings of words to go along with those hugs. But that’s okay, because somehow the silence says everything.

“Know how early we have to wake up to get you to D.C. on time?”

“An hour. I have to wake up in an hour.”

I start to laugh, and she joins in before sighing and standing up. “I’ll start the coffee.”

This trial is making her old. Every day passes and the lines on her face deepen, another gray lock streaking her hair. My mother is wasting away because of me. I try and piece together the right words to remind her how thankful I am, to spout out anything that will relieve her of the stress today and every day brings. I’m not quick enough; she’s already busying herself in the kitchen.

I get up and head through the narrow hall to my room and flip on the light switch. It’s only been my room for a couple of months. We moved to a quiet apartment in San Antonio after the paparazzi infested my old Phoenix neighborhood like roaches. Not even Todd was safe; Mom caught reporters harassing him at the bus stop and blew a gasket.

That morning made the front page of a popular tabloid: Clara Ibarra: Cracking Under Pressure?

Liz, my lawyer, says that we should keep most of our things packed so we can be prepared to move on a moment’s notice. If the media gets a whiff of our location, we don’t want to stick around any longer than we have to.

I’ve gotten rid of most of my belongings. I’m left with only my linens, my clothes, and my old paintings. I kept my tablet and phone too, but only because Liz insists I must have an easy way to keep in touch with her; not to mention, they hold my only photos of Meghan.

This room is a representation of what my life has been since the trial has started. Bare walls and windowsills, empty, uninspired canvases stacked in the corner. Mom picked up my boring khaki-colored bedspread on sale at a department store. My room in college was splashed with color, so many clothes piled around my bed you couldn’t even see the floor. I remember when Liam stepped on a tube of acrylic paint and yellow exploded all over my favorite jeans. Screaming, I socked him in the shoulder, but before long we were laughing and making out on the bed.

Now, my paints are packed deep within one of the taped-shut boxes. I don’t know which one.

I lay out my blouse and pencil skirt on the bed and sit in front of the closet door mirror. I start my makeup. Everything is a strategy, including the pale pinks of my blush and lipstick. Look as innocent as possible. That’s the goal, although I’m not fooled into thinking that my pink lipstick will do anything to help my relatively shitty situation.

As I’m applying my makeup, my tablet pings, and I groan. I’m notified every time a news article about me pops up on the Internet. That was Liz’s idea too. Always know what people are saying about you, even the rumors.

This one I would have rather been oblivious to.

The photo is of Casey and me outside the courthouse. In the middle of being swarmed by reporters and ushered to a car by guards and our lawyers, someone caught him whispering into my ear.

Criminal Romance: What’s Really Going on Between Evalyn Ibarra and Casey Hargrove?

The tabloids really need to figure out a different way to word article titles.

In the photo, his hand rests on my waist, his lips against my ear. I remember this moment, even though I can’t remember what he was telling me. He probably leaned in just so I could hear him over the screaming reporters. But regardless of what he was saying to me, regardless of whether or not the gesture was actually romantic, the image is poison.

If our romance gets out, we’ll be doomed in the eyes of the public. People will see us together and assume we’re conspiring with each other—two criminals in looovvve trying to take down the division.

I cannot be perceived as being with or screwing or loving Casey Hargrove.

Before I’m finished reading the article, which, lucky for me, consists of mostly speculation, I receive a message from Liz.

No more PDA.

She must have read it already.

I reply: Whispering is hardly PDA.

Liz: Whispering infers you have secrets. Secrets will ruin us.

I grit my teeth and glance away from my tablet, applying my mascara as violently as I can without poking my eye out. Yes, secrets will ruin me.

Not like it matters. People starved for scandal can speculate all they want about my secrets, but today will finally solidify the true image the public has of me. Gemma Branam is taking the stand, and we’ll also be given the final word on the investigation of the CR files. Everything in those files will prove that what Casey, Valerie, and I have been claiming is true.

I may be immoral, but at least I won’t be a liar.

2

I must have imagined thousands of different ways that today’s events would unfold, but none of them involved me chasing Valerie down a courthouse hallway.

I know where she’s headed. There’s a room upstairs where the three of us meet often with our lawyers—a safe room. Hardly anyone ever goes upstairs, so we have the place to ourselves, to collaborate and curse and yell if we have to, or hide out until the press has died down outside. But I don’t think that’s going to happen anytime soon, not with the way court went today.

I scream her name as she takes off up the stairs. She doesn’t wait for me. Casey’s minutes behind us, slowed by his screwed-up hip.

On the second floor, she flings open the door to the meeting room ahead. By the time I’ve reached her, she’s mid–panic attack, leaning against the windowsill on the opposite side of the room.

“Valerie . . .”

“How?!” she screams, spinning toward me, her face flushed red. A tear trickles from the corner of her eye. “How . . . how is this happening to us?”

I want to give her an answer, to find a way to make sense of everything that just happened in the courtroom. Instead, I collapse onto the leather couch, cupping my hands over my face.

Gemma was prepared with diagrams and reports of our time in the Compass Room—a “virtual simulation center” where we underwent a month-long dream. She had enough fake information to convince the court that we were tested with virtual scenarios while we were strapped to comfortable recliners, unconscious, and in a sterile lab. Our reactions to our dream-like experiences were what determined whether we were given a humane lethal injection or survived another day.

Which is complete bullshit.

Not only that, but her forged reports also stated that while our Compass Room glitch resulted in early termination, there were no accidental deaths.

“If we had taken the deal, they would have admitted to Jace’s death.” Valerie paces the floor, and when I don’t respond to her, she slams her fist down on the nearest table. “Fuck!”

I stand and walk to her, grabbing her wrists and pushing her up against the wall. “Val . . . Val, listen to me.”

Her jaw clenches, and her fists are balled so tightly that her knuckles are white, but she doesn’t try to fight me.

“They are trying to hurt you. They are trying to hurt us, to punish us for defying them and fighting to get the truth out. This isn’t your fault that they are getting away with lying.”

The door creaks open, and I know our lawyers have joined us. Casey finally limps in, and I leave Valerie and help him to the couch.

When Liz begins to pace, I know we haven’t heard the end of the bad news.

“Tell me you can prove that those reports have been falsified,” I beg. “Tell me that the investigation dug something up. Anything that can help us.”

“Evalyn . . .”

I sink down onto the couch next to Casey, because the way Liz says my name tells me everything. “Our investigators tore through all of the CR files. Everything mirrored the evidence Gemma brought to court. We have photos of the simulation centers she described. We have nearly infinite data on each one of your so-called virtual cycles.”

Casey squeezes my hand. “So you’re telling me that everything we went through . . .”

“It’s not possible.” Valerie clutches the windowsill tightly. “It wasn’t a virtual simulation. There is no fucking way what we went through was a virtual simulation. Is the entire world stupid enough to believe the obvious evidence? Casey’s hip was shattered, for fuck’s sakes!”

“They’ll find a way to write it off.” My voice cracks, and I lick my dry lips. The division will effortlessly override our testimonies with lies. This is how it’s going to end.

Liz exchanges glances with her team of solemn lawyers. “I . . . I agree with you. But we’re beyond that now. The trial is beyond that. We have to start making some decisions.”

Valerie slides down the wall, her face ghost-white and shining with sweat.

We’ve lost.

Casey holds my hand throughout the entire meeting. When Liz finishes, we’re left waiting for our cars to arrive at the back of the courthouse, granting us a safe, media-less exit. In the meantime, I retreat to the bathroom.

Thirty seconds pass before Casey gets the hint. When he enters the women’s room, I hop onto the marble counter. “How’s your hip?”

He slips between my legs and shuts me up with his mouth. I cross my ankles behind him and pull him as close to me as I can. In the brief moment we have, I relax into him and surrender. Holding him is the last straw, and suddenly I’m weeping, burying my face in his chest. He holds me and waits as I clutch the fabric of his dress shirt, until I’ve composed myself enough to say, “I’m so scared.”

“I’m fucking terrified.”

Someone clears their throat behind Casey. He pulls away, wincing at his own sudden movement. I wipe my face.

Valerie’s bloodshot eyes send a bolt of guilt through my abdomen, and I tuck my hair behind my ear. Casey and I exchange glances, his way of saying good-bye.

He leaves, and I hop off the counter and straighten my ensemble. My face is swollen and red. The crying will be impossible to cover no matter how much makeup I use.

Valerie exits the stall, and we stare at each other in the mirror before she dips her hands beneath the automatic faucet. “I promised someone very important that I’d fight for Jace.”

“It isn’t over.”

She nods, but it’s absent of all sincerity. We need a miracle to come back from this.

We need to find where the truth is hidden. But no one even knows where to look.

3

Our lawyers don’t want Casey, Valerie, and me seen together in public, especially with the inevitable outcome of the trial. We need to be viewed as starting over—resetting ourselves and breaking ties with the dark aspects of our former lives. Publicly bonding with other Compass Room survivors isn’t severance, it’s flirting with the deviance we’re trying to bury, especially since the world thinks we made up lies about what happened in the Compass Room.

Liz is adamant about every trail, anything that could be tapped or hacked or intercepted. Because of this, there has hardly been any hashing out between me and Casey about us.

The idea of us is emotionally masochistic, a fantasy fed on the idea that one day we could cultivate a functioning, normal-person relationship. We’re murderers and supposed liars, hardly able to exist and thrive on our own let alone be with someone else. And that’s not even considering falling in love—honey-sweet, pitter-patter loooovvee—after sixteen days of a wilderness torture chamber. Yeah, okay.

Yet it’s not my own well-being at the end of this trial that I’m obsessing over night after night or my miserable future. It’s his. So since I can’t speak to him, I learn everything I can about Casey Hargrove from the news archives on the Internet.

His father owned a mechanic shop, his mother a waitress until Casey’s birth, when she decided to stay home. She had two miscarriages before him. How the media knows about Stefanie’s unborn daughters is a mystery, although I’m sure they dug into his past thoroughly. We CR deviants are scandalous entertainment, after all.

The miscarriages allude to Stefanie being either stressed or beaten consistently by her husband for their entire marriage. None of the articles use this knowledge as an excuse for Casey’s crime, but to simply enlighten readers further as to how fucked up his family life really was.

My head fills with hundreds of vicious voices wanting to dissect Casey—his manner, his temper, his hate—and he becomes a character in my mind. I find myself questioning whether or not the Casey I know is built upon faux memories that bandage my brain from every screwed-up thing that happened in the Compass Room. Everyone thinks I’m lying—maybe I am making stuff up.

The thought fills me with cold dread, and for a week, I wonder if I’m going insane. Finally, one afternoon, as I’m sitting on my khaki-colored bedspread with my tablet in my hands, tabs of Casey news articles scattered across the screen, he calls me.

“Incoming call from Casey Hargrove. Accept or decline?” the mechanical voice chimes.

I stare at the screen of my phone, the text of his name illuminated. I’m not hearing things.

Fuck caution.

“Accept.”

Our lines connect, and I wait to speak, listening to his slow breathing over the speaker.

“Evalyn?”

“Yeah,” I stammer. “Yeah, I’m here.”

“I need to see you.” When I don’t respond right away, he continues. “I know I’m compromising—”

I cut him off. “Where?”

***

A new high-speed train line was built three years ago, connecting San Antonio to the Chicago track. It’d only take me a few hours to get to him, but he won’t let me. After useless arguing, we decide on the flat middle of the country, halfway between him and me. Missouri, Middle-of-Fucking-Nowhere, population 298.

The shitty hotel has a cash-up-front option. I didn’t even know places like this still existed. Everyone wants to know your information, or at least who you are and where they can charge damages if you destroy a room. Here, the paint peels off the walls and the carpet smells like cigarettes. Half the letters in the cheap florescent vacancy sign have died, and I’m sure the strung-out guy at the front desk wouldn’t care if we burned the whole place to the ground. He gives me the grimy metal key and I text Casey the room number. Then I sit on an itchy, stained comforter underneath a dim, bare bulb and wait.

Half an hour later, he knocks. I swing the door open and Casey greets me with a wince, leaning against the frame.

He’s getting worse, but even pained and out-of-breath, all I see is perfection.

“I should have come to you.” I pull him inside by the front of his shirt and shut the door.

“We should work equally as hard to see each other,” he argues.

“Chicago would have been easy to—”

“Fuck Chicago.”

I push him down onto the bed and slide onto his lap. His hands find my neck, but before he can kiss me, I place a finger against his lips. “Wait.” I exhale, my nose brushing his. I need to savor this, the moment of waiting we never have. We were too busy sneaking kisses in the seconds we have alone. Time is a luxury I didn’t acknowledge until recently.

“Wait,” I repeat.

His eyelashes flutter against me as he blinks. I count, forcing myself to wait a full minute before our lips meet. His tongue coaxes me open, hands fisting the back of my shirt.

I unwrap him, fingers fumbling on every button of his coat. He shrugs it off, and my hands roam from his collar to his belt, sliding beneath his shirt to risen scars. Familiar territory.

“Fuck the media. Fuck everyone. I can’t live like this.” He flips me onto my back and slides on top of me, even though I know he’s hurting. “I can’t keep ignoring you. I can’t keep pretending I don’t give a shit about your life when half the country would kill you if they had the chance.”

“It’s too dangerous.” The second the sentence leaves my mouth, I know it will never persuade him. Hand cupping the back of my neck, he says, “I’d take a bullet for you.”

“Don’t you ever say that again,” I threaten.

He rolls his eyes. “Regardless, we’re fucked anyway, Ev.”

No, I want to say. I’m fucked. And it’s the truth. Before we entered the Compass Room, we signed a contract that said we could be retried for our original crimes. Casey’s lawyer is fantastic. His sentence will be minimal.

Me on the other hand—no further evidence has been found unearthing what really happened the day of the shooting; it’s a closed case. If I’m lucky, I’ll be sentenced to life in prison.

I don’t remind Casey of this. It isn’t just his hip that pains and slows him. I see the shape of his soul in his eyes and the lines of his face. And I want him, as selfish as that is. While I deserve all of this self-loathing, being with Casey reminds me that I’m capable of other emotions too.

I nod. “Then we’ll make something work.”

His smile reaches his eyes, skin crinkling around his lashes. He leans in, and our kiss is slow. His sweeping tongue savors me, and the feeling borders between euphoria and pure torture.

My fingers fumble with his belt buckle until he stops me.

“Not tonight.”

I gape at him, but before I can argue, he cuts me off. “Evalyn, I have three more hours before the sun comes up and all I want to do is stare at you. Let me.”

I relax in defeat and touch my forehead to his. His eyes search mine and I want to ask what he’s looking for, but the question would be too much of an interruption.

So for three hours, we say nothing. His fingers comb through my hair as I think of our confessions of love in the Compass Room, wondering if they were contrived by circumstance—by desperation. Maybe they were and maybe I don’t care. Casey makes me feel human. It’s different with Mom, and even with Liam in the brief moments I’ve seen him since I escaped. In the same breath they say they believe me, they also want to forget, hoping I’ll reboot and begin again.

Casey knows better. He knows it’s more complicated than starting over.

At five in the morning, we call our cars and leave our shitty Missouri hotel. I shut the door behind me, and beneath the eaves, he leans in and kisses me on the cheek.

As he limps toward his car, I realize we haven’t exchanged a word in three hours. And those three hours were exactly how they should have been.

***

The story is published before I arrive home.

Secret Love Affair Between Criminals? Evalyn Ibarra and Casey Hargrove Seen Together at Missouri Hotel

“This?” My mother cries as she pushes her tablet displaying the story (with incriminating photos) in front of my face. “How could you be so careless?”

I watch as Todd finger paints on the dining room table, completely oblivious to what’s going on around him. My refusal to make eye contact with her is the nail in my guilty coffin.

“You didn’t even take a guard with you!”

“It’s not what you think,” I lie.

Please, enlighten me.”

I glare up at her. Why does she need to be enlightened? I’m old enough to make my own decisions, and my own mistakes.

My phone starts to ring. I pull it out of my pocket, praising my good fortune, until I realize that it’s Liz.

When I’m in my room, I pick up. “Hello?”

I can tell she’s furious and trying to hold it together. I listen mutely, sitting on my bed as she scolds me.

“Here’s the thing, Evalyn. You already have it in your head that you’d rather sacrifice yourself than see Casey or Valerie go down. I’m not going to let you do that because I’m your lawyer, but this . . .” She sighs. “Casey has a real fighting chance. His original crime already had sympathizers. If you care at all about the outcome of his trial, you need to stay away from him. I mean it, Evalyn. I believe your story. I always have. And I’ll do my damnedest to prove it to the rest of the world if we’re taken back to court for the shooting. But until that happens, people will still think that you are a conniving manipulator, and for your sake and his sake, Casey Hargrove cannot be seen as your pawn.”

I blink to hold back the burning tears, and choke out, “Did you tell him this?”

“Yes, actually. And what I’m about to say is going to be hard to hear.”

I can imagine that conversation perfectly, Casey fuming, his voice shaking as he hisses through gritted teeth his response to Liz’s proposal. “He said that he won’t stop seeing me, didn’t he? He’d rather take the fall alongside of me than keep himself safe.”

“I’m sorry, Evalyn, I’m sorry this has to fall on your shoulders, but you must break his heart. For his safety and for yours.”

When she hangs up, I cradle my phone in my hands and curl up on my side. I let myself cry for the first time in a while.

Liz is right. Casey Hargrove can’t be in love with a psychopath. The world needs to see him without ties to his criminal past, cleansed and ready to live as a normal, functioning citizen. He has a fighting chance, and I can’t get in the way.

My whole body trembles, but I force myself to sit up. I think of the moment I found out that he had made it out of the Compass Room alive. I foolishly believed that because we were both breathing, he could be mine. I couldn’t have contrived a stupider thought. Our baggage can be spotted by orbiting satellites. We don’t deserve to move on side by side.

I should be happy. I should be happy that he might, for once, have a chance at a somewhat-normal life.

“Ev?”

I look up. The universe must be playing a cruel trick on me, because Liam’s standing in my bedroom doorway.

Uncomprehending, I watch him frown and scratch the back of his head. “I talked to your mom. She told me where you guys were living. Said you’d object to me visiting so I begged her not to tell you. I wanted it to be a surprise.”

I fumble, incapable of forming a coherent sentence in my stupor, and he continues rambling like he’s desperately trying to fill the awkward silence. “I don’t know why you wouldn’t want to see me.”

He looks like I just murdered his entire family. Somehow it’s still not clicking in my brain that he’s actually here—Liam Callaway, my boyfriend of five years—the one I never really broke up with. He looks tired—older. Behind those bright eyes, he’s afraid. Walking across the room, he sits on the bed next to me. Seconds pass.

“Say something.”

“This . . .” I inhale. “It’s just a really fucking bad time, Liam.”

“I needed to see you. To know how you are.” He rests a hand on my knee and squeezes. This used to be the resting place for his hand every time we sat next to each other, a move practiced over and over until it became subconscious. We clicked together like jigsaw pieces, his hand on my leg, my arm looped in his. If we were somewhere public, he’d lean into my neck and whisper as he spoke. Anything we shared was a secret.

It isn’t fair, what happened to us, that we were so happy. My sins were his suffering. To think that I hated him in prison after loving him for nearly a quarter of my life. I remember the shift in emotion—how fast it had happened. How broken I’d felt. Maybe I hadn’t given him the benefit of the doubt. My judgment of Liam had been clouded the moment I was dealt a really shitty hand. Anyone who couldn’t be right there with me had been against me.

I instead of linking my arm with his, I rest my hand on top of his slender fingers. “I miss you.”

There’s a beat of silence before I confirm my words again. “I do.” I squeeze his hand tight and let go. “But you can’t be here with me.”

“Ev, I’ve been following your trial. And I believe you—everything the three have you have been saying about what actually happened to you in there. I know you. I know you wouldn’t lie.” The tremble in his voice confirms that I have to focus on his hand. His face will shatter all the determination I have to speak the truth that Liam has earned.

“But you don’t know everything about me.”

For five years, I trusted him. I can do that again for the last time, can’t I? I owe him that.

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A Vault of Sins: A Chaos Theory Novel 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 3 reviews.
Caroles_Random_Life More than 1 year ago
Overall enjoyable book I received an advance reader edition of this book from Penguin Group via Net Galley for the purpose of providing an honest review. 4 Stars I have to admit that I am a little torn about this rating. Overall I liked it and read it in less than 24 hours BUT I think it had a few problems. This book is the second book in the Chaos Theory series and this is a series that you really need to read in order. I honestly do not think that anyone would enjoy this book without having first read The Wicked We Have Done. I really try to rate book simply on my enjoyment without over analyzing anything. I went with a 4 star rating because I feel that the good in this book outweighs the not so good. The Good I absolutely loved the sexual tension between Casey and Evalyn in this book. Heck, I felt frustrated right along with Evalyn. I think that this section of the book really cemented their relationship and feelings for each at least in my mind. I felt for Casey during his reunion with Evalyn at the end of the story. I also liked that we got to see Evalyn struggle through this situation. She does not handle everything well and we see her turn to alcohol and shut everyone out in order to cope. The friendship between Valerie and Evalyn seemed very genuine as well. The Not So Good Haven't I read this somewhere before? What book series is it where the final participants escape the test only to be returned during the second book? Oh yeah, and of course the male lead wants to accompany the female lead. Many parts of this book are quite different but there is more overlap than I would have liked to have seen. This really was my main issue with this book. I did also think that the book sometimes jumped from one section to the next. I would have liked to see the flow of the book be much smoother. I would recommend this book to those that enjoyed the first novel in the series. I plan to continue reading Sarah Harian's work including the rest of the series.
Barb-TRC More than 1 year ago
A Vault of Sins by Sarah Harian, is the 2nd book in her adult dystopian thriller series, Chaos Theory. When we last left off in The Wicked We Have Done, the terrifying Compass Room had a malfunction, and three of the doomed survived. What is the Compass Room? In case you did not read my review of TWWHD, it is a place that violent criminals are sent for a one month stay. It is a place where their nightmares come alive, with each reliving the crimes they committed. It is rare to survive The Compass Room, which Evalyn, our heroine, Casey, and Valerie did. The rules dictate that if you survive you are then free. But because of the malfunction, the country was in uproar taking sides as to what is really happening in that Compass Room. Evalyn, Casey and Valerie are tried again, with the government willing to free them, if they would quietly say nothing about what happened. Because Valerie lost someone important to her, she wants vengeance and wants to expose the government. While the lawyers negotiate, the three of them are kept at their homes waiting. Evalyn runs away to hide, since she is trying to protect Casey, the love of her life. As she surfs the net daily to follow the comments discussing them, Evelyn begins to get messages from someone who says they will help her, and her friends discover the truth. Can she trust this mystery person? What follows is an exciting story where Evalyn and Casey are taken and helped by a revolutionary group called Reprise. They are hackers, and some former programmers of The Compass Room. We get to meet some really cool characters in Wes, Piper and Maliyah. Can they help save Evalyn, Casey and Valerie, and destroy the evil Compass Room? The last 1/3 of the story was intense, scary and action packed. Evalyn is willing to go back to the Compass Room to discover the evidence to stop the government running this program. We hold our breaths on every step that Evalyn takes and it is a credit to the writing of Sarah Harian that she can grab a hold of our emotions in this exciting finish. There is sort of a cliffhanger, but the ending does nicely tie things together, not leaving us in suspense waiting for the next book. I look forward to more of Sarah Harian, as the Chaos Theory will reach its conclusion in the next book, with our heroes helping to expose the horrific truth about The Compass Room.
WorldsCollide More than 1 year ago
A thrilling sequel, full of game-changing secrets, sweet romance, and a surprising twist, A Vault of Sins was a fantastic New Adult read. It had all the action and emotions that made the first book so good and I really liked it. Evalyn really showed the effects of what the Compass Room did to her in this book. Not only did she have nightmares, but her survival instincts were heightened and she had constant shadow of violence over her that she could never quite get rid of. She wanted to redeem herself in a way and if that meant risking her life to uncover the conspiracy behind that Compass Room, then that's what she would do. She had already proved herself as strong in book 1 and she continued to do so in this one. My one issue with her was that, more than once, she did something that hurt Casey for his own good. It's all well and good that she wanted to protect him (that's part of what made her a strong character) but he wasn't a child and I didn't think it was fair that she made so many decisions that hurt him without considering what he wanted. It got better later in the book, so it wasn't a huge problem and, of course, I still really liked her character. Casey was wonderful. He seemed to have a tougher time dealing with the effects of his crime, since it was so much more personal. Add to that his injury and Evalyn leaving him and the poor guy didn't have an easy time of it. But, I think it slowly made him in to a stronger character. And, of course, he was still sweet and just and overall adorable character. The romance had a lot of starts and stops. There was a lot of it when they were together but, when they were separated, they kind of had more important things to worry about. I liked how they were becoming more and more in sync with each other. They understood each other better and proved that they would both do anything to protect the other. I thought they were a great couple. The plot was fast paced and there was plenty of action that kept me hooked. There were some parts of the book that were slower than others. There was a lot of action in the beginning, with the trial, then the plot fell into a lull until new players in the story were introduced and set the rest of the book into motion. I never got bored, but there were definitely parts where I wasn't quite as hooked as during others. Beyond that, though, there were a lot of secrets and conspiracies that were revealed that really changed the game, including the truth behind the Compass Room. And, after all those revelations, the ending left me curious about what will happen next. Can't wait to read the next book! A Vault of Sins was a fantastic sequel that I really liked. With thrills, secrets, and romance, this book was amazing and I really enjoyed reading it. Fans of book 1, I don't think you'll be disappointed with book 2. And, for those who haven't read the series, it's definitely one worth picking up. *I received a complimentary copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review