"An enjoyably twisty, romantic, and thoughtful prep-school mystery." -Kirkus Reviews
At Holden Prep, the rich and powerful rule the school—and they’ll do just about anything to keep their dirty little secrets hidden.
When former con artist Eleanor Ames’ homecoming date commits suicide, she’s positive there’s something more going on. The more questions she asks, though, the more she crosses paths with Miles Beckett. He’s sexy, mysterious, arrogant…and he’s asking all the same questions.
Eleanor might not trust him—she doesn’t even like him—but they can’t keep their hands off of each other. Fighting the infuriating attraction is almost as hard as ignoring the fact that Miles isn’t telling her the truth…and that there’s a good chance he thinks she’s the killer.
The Eleanor Ames series is best enjoyed in order.
Book #1 Chasing Truth
Book #2 Hiding Lies
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About the Author
JULIE CROSS lives in central Illinois with her husband and three children. She never wrote fiction before May of 2009, but since then, hasn't gone a day without writing. She is the author of The Tempest Trilogy.
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The Eleanor Ames Series
By Julie Cross, Liz Pelletier
Entangled Publishing, LLCCopyright © 2016 Julie Cross
All rights reserved.
It's not like I haven't seen a topless girl before. I mean, I am one. Not topless. Not now, anyway. But I am a girl.
Seeing a topless girl standing on the neighbor's balcony at six a.m., yelling and tossing clothes from the second floor, is definitely not the norm around here.
From my position on my own apartment balcony, I watch the handful of gray and navy clothing land in the pool, right in front of Mrs. Olsen, mid–side stroke. The old lady stops, looks up, sees the topless blonde. A horrified expression takes over her face. She's out of the pool as fast as a seventy-something-year-old woman can be.
"Got anything else you want me to put on?" topless blonde snaps at whoever is pissing her off next door. New neighbors moved in yesterday while I was having a root canal and sleeping it off with pain meds most of the day. "That's right. Stay in there. Like I care. Have a nice life!"
The girl steps back into the apartment and, seconds later, I hear the front door slam and she's thundering down the steps, a blue sundress now hastily thrown on. I stay hidden until she's peeling out of the parking lot, then I tiptoe through the apartment — careful not to wake my sister and her boyfriend who only get to sleep past six on Saturdays — and head down to the pool. If the topless girl hadn't taken off so quickly, I would have thanked her. I'd been waiting twenty minutes for Mrs. Olsen to get out of the pool. Now it's all mine.
I lean over the side, fishing out the clothes floating near the five-foot end. One gray T-shirt — men's medium. One navy T-shirt — men's medium. Two pairs of navy shorts.
"Uh ... sorry about that."
The soggy shorts fall from my fingers and I look up, squinting into the sun at the tall, shadowed figure in front of me. I stare at the tan bare feet then allow my gaze to shift north. His washboard abs distract me for a second, but I reach for the wet shorts again and drop them onto his toes with a plunk before standing up. "Got something against colors?"
Now that I'm standing, I finally get a good look at my new neighbor. I'd expected someone older, but Mr. I-only-wear-gym-shorts-because-I-have-abs-of-steel is definitely more guy than man. Especially with the messy, dark-haired bedhead thing he's got going on.
He frowns at me. "Colors?"
"Yes," I say. "Like red, green, orange. Pink, if you're into that."
"Ah." He shrugs. "Never really thought about it."
The guy swoops down to scoop up the dripping clothes at his feet, and then he flashes me a grin that shows off two perfect dimples. I fold my arms across my chest — I never trust anyone with dimples — and wait for him to offer some kind of explanation. When he doesn't, I prompt him. "Think this will be a regular thing? Should I bring my fishing net tomorrow morning? Or I could ask management to install a pole. If your friend is gonna be here again, in costume, she might as well provide some entertainment."
The guy shakes his head and then, to my utter surprise — believe me when I say that I am not easily surprised — he blushes, his gaze bouncing to the parking lot from where Topless Blonde bolted, then back to me. "I'm not — I mean she's not —" He sighs. Defeated.
"What's wrong?" I press. "Not into topless girls?"
"Is it a crime if I'm not?" he says. "Besides, I don't even know her."
"I hear that happens sometimes." I pretend to look deep in thought. "Is it possible that a chemical substance could have been in your bloodstream when you met her? That might explain the memory loss."
Normally I'd roll my eyes and call the guy an asshole inside my head, but there's something almost boyish and innocent about my new neighbor — it wasn't when he first planted his feet beside me, or when he swooped down to pick up his wet clothes, or in his response to my question about his aversion to colorful fashion choices. But when I mentioned Topless Girl — that has me pausing. Curious. It'd been a little bit interesting when the girl was scaring off Mrs. Olsen, but then it was boring. Drunken one-night stand misinterpreted as more.
Now I'm dying to know what their relationships is/was. But as my wise and foolish — yes, you can be both — father taught me long ago, never show your cards. Not in your hand, not on your face. Not even in the way you breathe.
So instead of getting my answer from Hot Neighbor Boy, I toss my cover-up onto a nearby chair and dive into the pool. When I surface, I catch the tiniest glimpse of him still standing there, holding his dripping-wet clothes, his mouth half open. I force myself into a choppy freestyle, kicking and pulling way too hard for this early in the morning. A minute later, my new neighbor is trudging back up the steps.
I stop to rest at the shallow end, laughing to myself. But then I look up at the empty staircase, the completely desolate apartment complex, and I can't help wondering if maybe this is why I haven't made a lot of friends at my new school.
My only friend at Holden Prep. Maybe my only real friend in my entire life.
I pull my head out of my ass and look up at the tall, dark-skinned person standing on the pool deck. "Hey, Ace."
Aidan, my sister's boyfriend, ignores my use of his code name and tosses his towel onto an empty chair, then dives into the deep end. I watch with a hint of envy as he manages to swim the entire length of the pool without a breath and magically appears beside me on the steps. Over the last six or eight months, I've gotten worse and worse at my poker face with Aidan. To prove this, he gives me a look, obviously reading my thoughts, and says, "Ellie, a few months ago, you couldn't even swim."
A few months ago, I fell into this pool and nearly drowned. I shake off the memory and narrow my eyes at him. "I know that."
He flashes me a grin, which is nothing like the fake, dimple-filled grin of New Neighbor Guy. "Have patience, young Grasshopper. We have much to learn." He slaps the water, causing a tidal wave to hit me right in the face. "But you won't get anywhere sitting your lazy ass on those steps. Four laps is not a workout. Don't tell me you've turned all L.A. and taken up sunbathing."
"Virginia is not L.A., last I checked. Plus, I had a freakin' root canal yesterday! And you're taking this spy thing to a whole new level, Ace."
"Secret Service aren't spies," he corrects, though I know this already. "And yes, I saw your entire workout." He hits more water in my direction, probably trying to get me fired up. "Saw you scaring off our new neighbor, too. Well done. One less boy for me to chase away, Eleanor."
My jaw clenches at the use of my full name. It's payback for my calling him by his Secret Service earpiece name. "Think I should have gone easier on him?"
"Nah." Aidan glances at the balcony beside ours. "Miles can handle it."
"Miles?" I lift an eyebrow. "You've met him already? Does he have a keeper?"
Aidan gives his best "I'm a grown-up and thus privy to more information than you" look. "Don't you think I'd check out anyone new moving in?"
By "check out," he means background check. Criminal record. The irony of this statement is too much to not point out. Though if my sister, Harper, were here, I'd keep it to myself. Aidan is surprisingly tolerant of these mentions. "Clearly you possess the ability to bend the rules if you allow yourself to be associated with Harper and me."
"That's another lesson you haven't learned," Aidan says. "You and I aren't that different, kid. We've both made a living out of noticing things, and we're both experts at keeping secrets."
"Is that why they call it the Secret Service?" I joke, not sure what to do with this idea of Aidan being anything like Harper and me. He's the epitome of good. My family is the opposite of good. "I've always wondered where the name came from."
He rolls his eyes. "We both know you could have charmed Miles Beckett in your sleep. But you didn't. You resisted that instinct."
He says it like it's so easy, pushing away everything I've been taught my whole life and adopting this new mantra. I mean, I'm glad that I don't have to con people anymore. I'm here because, like my older sister, I don't want that life. But sometimes ... every once in a while ... like when I'm at Best Buy and the guy "diagnosing" the problem with my laptop has clearly labeled me as a clueless girl he can rip off, I'm so tempted to show him otherwise, to turn on that part of me I've left behind along with my old last name.
Aidan is more military than he's willing to admit, and our chat ends right then because he says I need to get my lazy ass moving. It's September already, and soon the pool will close. So I swim and swim and swim. Until my father's words are nothing but a phantom memory. Like when he told me swim lessons were for kids with social security numbers. For kids who stayed in the same place longer than six months.
I lose count of how many laps I swim — probably more than I've ever done in one session — but when I finally stop, it isn't just Aidan in the pool with me. Miles Beckett has apparently unpacked enough to find his swim trunks and is coming at me with perfect butterfly strokes. He stops at the wall beside me, barely out of breath, and looks at me like I hadn't made him blush less than an hour ago. "Your freestyle needs work."
I snort back a laugh. "Your one-night stand needs work." I miss his reaction because I hear Aidan laugh. I forgot he was out here.
"Come on, Miss Sunshine." Aidan nods toward our apartment. "Your sister's making waffles."
"And you let her?" I push myself out of the pool. "I can't believe they hire you to save lives."
"You're welcome to join us," Aidan says to Miles.
"Don't. Trust me." I wrap my towel around my waist and pat myself on the back. Daily civic duty? Check. I give Aidan a nod. "And that's how you save lives."
I'm halfway up the stairs when I hear, "Nice meeting you, Eleanor Ames."
What the — I stop. Turn slowly and look down at my new neighbor. "I don't remember introducing myself."
The grin he gives me is one I'm all too familiar with: guy trying to charm me (aka — guy trying to get in my pants). "Turns out you're infamous around here."
"Is that right?" I laugh to myself. He's being cute. He has no clue how infamous I am. Or my family, at least. "I'm sure everything you heard is completely true."
Aidan catches up to me and tries to hide his amusement. "This should be a blast."
"Whatever. It's not like I see our neighbors all that much, especially since school started up again last week." I shrug. Aidan looks like he wants to say something else but decides against it. "What?"
"He's going to Holden." Aidan turns more serious, his hand now on the doorknob to our apartment. "Miles is a good kid."
"Good? You sure about that?" Clearly he missed Topless Girl. "I think you're losing your touch."
He ignores my jab and says, "Might be nice to have another friend at school."
"Right." I nod. "Because the one friend I had went and offed himself. Good luck, Miles."
Aidan pauses on the stairs and turns to face me. "Ellie, Simon's death had nothing to do with you."
I roll my eyes, but inside I'm shaking. "I know that. God, turn off the therapist voice, will you?" And yeah, I do know all this. It's been three months since Simon — a senator's son and my only friend within the ritzy halls of Holden Prep — well, since he ... you know, went to a better place. The sting of saying his name out loud is slowly wearing off. But I still have questions. And it's taking every ounce of self-control I have to not seek out those answers.
"Plus, you were the new kid last spring," Aidan reminds me. "You should know better than anyone how hard that can be."
Luckily I don't have to spend too much time feeling sorry for Miles Beckett, new kid at school, because when Aidan opens the door, the smoke alarm is blaring and the entire kitchen is in a fog.CHAPTER 2
Aidan pushes past me, heading straight through the smoke-filled kitchen. "Harper!"
I'm too busy helping him look for a fire to say, I told you so. Both of us are coughing and barely able to see anything through the smoke. But sure enough, I spot flames coming up from what looks like a waffle maker (when did we get a waffle maker?), and while Aidan is looking around for a cup of water and stringing together way too many swear words, I yank the fire extinguisher from beneath the sink. A stream of whitish green foam hits the small flames and suffocates them almost immediately. The beeping of the alarm is too loud to talk over. Aidan grabs a chair to stand on so he can disable it, and I rush to open the balcony door.
Harper's cry of, "Oh no ... Oh hell no!" echoes through the apartment and probably floods outside. She's wearing her bathrobe, a towel over her long blond hair. She looks at Aidan and me, pleading with her eyes. "I swear to God it was off before I got in the shower! What the hell happened?"
She rushes over to the kitchen counter. The gust of smoke that leaves the apartment improves visibility enough for me to notice the small stack of blackened and oddly shaped waffles resting on a plate on the kitchen counter. The counters are littered with eggshells, spilled milk, flour, dirty measuring cups. Harper's expression goes from devastated to pissed off. Just when I'm sure she's about to chuck the waffle maker at the wall, she lets out a yelp.
Fingers are curled around the balcony railing and a second later, Miles Beckett (and his abs) hops the railing and stands on the balcony, barefoot and shirtless, looking into the kitchen like he's poised for a fight. "Everyone okay?"
I roll my eyes. I can't help it. I mean, Jesus, we have stairs for a reason.
Aidan tosses the smoke alarm battery onto the counter and hops down from the chair. "I think we've got it under control."
Miles walks in anyway. He glances at me. I'm still clutching the fire extinguisher, my towel long gone. "That's a good look for you."
I open my mouth to tell him off, but Harper reaches for the waffle maker. "Harper, don't! It was just on fire!"
When my sister gets pissed, she sees only red. Logic is nowhere near her line of sight. It's her greatest flaw — or so my father says. Luckily, Aidan is ready, an oven mitt on one hand. He snatches the appliance before she has a chance, holding it high above her head, the cord dangling behind him.
"God, what is wrong with me?" Harper throws her arms up in the air. "I can't do anything right. Preschoolers can probably make waffles without involving arson."
"It's not your fault." Aidan makes a poor attempt at looking over the waffle maker. "Didn't you get this at a yard sale? It's probably broken. I'm sure the seller just ripped you off."
Harper laughs, but there's not much humor in it. She would never be fooled by a faulty sale. Aidan should know better. He does know better, I remind myself. I forget sometimes that people can lie and deceive for good reasons.
I clear my throat and nod toward the balcony intruder just to make sure they both remember that Miles is here. Miles looks at me again and points a finger at the heavy object in my arms. "You might need to get that replaced."
"What are you? The apartment fire marshal?" I demand. What is he still doing here? It's not like we're throwing our problems into the pool. This is private property.
Harper is too pissed to talk about anything rationally and also very aware of this fact. She storms off to her and Aidan's bedroom and slams the door. A second later, she opens it again, poking her head out. "Don't you dare clean up my mess! Either of you."
I exhale and set the fire extinguisher on the table. My heart is finally coming down from the adrenaline rush. I look over at Aidan and see him lower the waffle maker, a smile playing on his lips. He taps the garbage can with one foot and drops the burned appliance inside.
"She's right, you know," Aidan says to me. "A preschooler could probably do this without setting anything on fire."
"Duh." I take in the destroyed kitchen and sigh. "I'll take care of this. Go do whatever it is you do to make her happy again. And refrain from sharing any details."
"Doughnuts on me." Aidan sets a hand on my head, rubbing my wet hair. "Just give me thirty minutes."
Excerpted from Chasing Truth by Julie Cross, Liz Pelletier. Copyright © 2016 Julie Cross. Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
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