In Kara Taylor's Deadly Little Sins, Anne Dowling investigates a mysterious disappearance, concluding the fast-paced and twisty Prep School Confidential series.
It's August and Anne is back in New York City for the summer, but she can't escape the memories of the terrible things that happened at the Wheatley School last spring and the possibility of being expelled looming over her. When an unexpected and suspicious turn of events gets Anne sent back to Wheatley, she's determined to figure out what happened to her favorite teacher and only adult ally at the school: Ms. Cross.
After a shocking, gruesome murder with connections to the Wheatley School occurs, Anne is convinced there's more to Ms. Cross's sudden disappearance, and that her favorite teacher is in danger. But after an ugly breakup with Brent and a new, inexplicable distance between her and Anthony, Anne isn't sure who she can trust. And even worse, Anne discovers evidence that someone at Wheatley is covering up what really happened to Ms. Cross someone who will stop at nothing to keep Anne from learning the truth in this engrossing, unputdownable read.
About the Author
KARA TAYLOR is the twenty-something author of the Prep School Confidential novels. Recently, she developed a TV show with Rashida Jones and Will McCormack (cowriters on Celeste and Jesse Forever) which was bought by the CW. In the past, Taylor has worked as everything from a nanny to an ice cream scooper on Fire Island, New York.
Read an Excerpt
Deadly Little Sins
A Prep School Confidential Novel
By Kara Taylor
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2014 Kara Taylor
All rights reserved.
The first time I looked death in the face, I blinked and it was gone.
They say your life is supposed to flash before your eyes, but all I remember is the moment after. The adrenaline that filled me, knowing I survived. The weightlessness of having dodged a bullet. Literally.
Watching someone else die was different.
The details are the hardest to forget. The smell of cinnamon and pine furniture polish. The sound of glass breaking in the front door. And worst of all, the way Travis Shepherd's eyes froze as the life left his body.
It's been more than two months since Anthony and I watched Steven Westbrook shoot Shepherd, his former classmate, in the chest. Since then, I've been unofficially expelled from the Wheatley School, grounded for what's quite possibly the rest of my teenage years, and exiled from my friends.
I know that having my phone, computer, and social life taken away is my parents' way of ensuring I have nothing to do all summer but think about the things I've done. If only they knew the whole story — the one that starts with a thirty-year-old photo of a missing student and ends with watching his killer die on the floor of his own foyer — they'd understand that I could never not think about what I've done.
I would give anything to be able to close my eyes and not picture the blood blossoming around the hole in Travis Shepherd's chest. If I could, I'd stop it from happening in the first place.
Even though he killed four people, including a five-year-old boy. Even though deep down, I believe that Travis Shepherd deserved to die.
Or maybe that's what I want to believe, because if I'd gone to the police instead of Alexis Westbrook that night, Shepherd would be alive.
It was like a horrible move in a game of chess — a move where bam, all of your pieces get captured. Shepherd is dead, Steven Westbrook is in jail, and Headmaster Goddard is in hiding. The only person at Wheatley I thought I could trust — Ms. Cross, my favorite teacher — disappeared without a trace.
As for me, I'm the Knight that got kicked back to New York. Right back where I started, but so, so far away from the person I was.
And every day that goes by without word from Ms. C, I can't help but wonder if she was a pawn all along.
* * *
I still don't know where I'm going to school in the fall. My parents said, "We'll cross that bridge when we get there," which obviously means no one wants me. There was a time I would have made that work in my favor. Now, I mostly just stay out of their way and hope I don't end up at a school where everyone either has a baby or a probation officer.
I technically haven't been expelled from Wheatley. Yet. My disciplinary hearing has been postponed until July, because of "internal restructuring." Which is a fancy euphemism for the fact that Wheatley, formerly Massachusetts's number-one secondary preparatory school, is up shit's creek.
The administration of the mighty Wheatley School has fallen and now Jacqueline Tierney, aka Dean Snaggletooth, is the last person standing. Maybe she'll wind up running the place. If you ask me, they could use a womanly touch over there, even though Tierney has all the femininity of a jockstrap.
Anyway, none of that matters because the board is almost certain to turn my suspension into an expulsion, which will mark my second expulsion from a school this year.
The official citation in the letter Dean Tierney sent home said I "assaulted another student." I guess they were willing to give me a break for using a Taser on Larry Tretter, the boys' crew team coach and Travis Shepherd's accomplice, since he's currently in jail for conspiracy to commit murder.
The version of the story I gave Tierney and my parents is that I used the Taser on Coach Tretter because he was beating the crap out of Casey, Travis Shepherd's son. Then I took a couple shots of my own at Casey, just for being a Class A douche.
My parents were probably too pissed at me to dig further into what happened. My dad wanted to know why, if I had to kick a boy in the balls, I couldn't wait to do it until we were off-campus. My mom just wanted to know where I got the Taser.
Their reactions probably explain a lot about why I am the way I am.
So my sentence for being not-officially-but-basically-expelled was virtual confinement to our apartment until the hearing. At first it wasn't so bad, because I had a ton of schoolwork to finish. Then I turned in my final exams and realized I had no purpose in life. I was a prisoner in my own home. Except I think I'd prefer actually being in jail, because then I wouldn't have to see my parents every day.
I told my dad this, and he didn't think it was very funny. He decided I needed an attitude adjustment in the form of going to work with him.
His plan to further my misery backfired, though, because I love interning in his law office. I get to research cases and read trial transcripts, and my dad's assistant Leah lets me tag along when she picks up lunch. If we have time, we browse Sephora or the bookstore and I get to feel like a real human being again.
Today is a particularly glorious day, because my father has to be in court at nine A.M. I've been waiting for this moment for weeks.
"Go straight to the office," he says as we cross 51st Street outside our apartment. "I'm calling Leah in ten minutes to make sure you're there."
"Dad, chill. I already snuck out to meet my meth dealer last night."
He whirls around and gives me the worst look I've ever seen. "You are not half as funny as you think you are."
Well, that's a little upsetting, because I think I'm hilarious. I lift the hair off the back of my neck and tie it into a loose bun. I'm already planning which layers of clothing I can ditch when I get to the office.
"I mean it, Anne," he says when we're across the street. He lifts his hand up, as if he wants to say something else, but lowers it. "Make sure you're home by five fifteen."
I give him a captain's salute, even though I know it irritates him. I don't know what's wrong with me. It's like I feel if I keep digging my hole, eventually it'll get deep enough that I can disappear.
I catch Leah by the thermostat when I get to the office. Since my dad will be gone all day, we can crank the central air without him bitching about the bill.
And if I play my cards right, I can check my email for the first time in weeks.
Seconds after I set my bag on the extra desk, Leah drops a stack of collated papers on my desk. "Need you to read up on State of New York versus Helen Peters. I flagged the pages."
Crap. This is going to take me at least until lunch. As I flip through the photocopied pages, I watch Leah at her desk. She rolls away from the computer on her chair and starts thumbing through a stack of legal journals.
"I need to make a couple more copies," she says. "Think you can handle the phone if anyone calls?"
"Remember, no personal calls. Your dad will find out."
"I know," I say. "He's got this place under Homeland levels of surveillance."
Leah flounces out the door. I'm not stupid — she's going down to the lobby to call her boyfriend. First off, we have a perfectly good copy machine in the back room. Second, she didn't even take the journal with her.
It makes me feel a little less lousy about using her computer. When I hear the elevator ping, I slide into her chair and log into my email.
I was able to sneak a few emails to Brent Conroy — my ex-boyfriend — before my dad figured out I was using my school email for personal business. Disappointment needles me when I see he hasn't replied to my last message. He's in England for the summer, visiting family, so I can only assume he's met a British girl with an adorable gap between her front teeth.
Brent and I broke up under epically bad circumstances. I snooped through his phone so I could follow him and the rest of the crew team into the woods during one of their hazing rituals. And I also may have implied his father was involved in Matt Weaver's murder.
The fact that Anthony, the other guy I was kind-of-sort-of involved with, hasn't responded to any of my emails isn't surprising either. The last time I saw him, we'd just made a promise to each other not to tell anyone what we saw in Travis Shepherd's house. Then I had to leave Wheatley without getting the chance to say good-bye. He probably thinks I did it on purpose — almost as if I wanted to leave him, and everything we saw together, behind.
The more I think about it, I don't blame either one of them for wanting nothing to do with me.
I take a deep breath as I scan my in-box; it catches in my throat when I spot a message from Muller, Rowan. It's dated two weeks ago.
Dr. Muller is a physics teacher at the Wheatley School. I saw him hanging around campus with Ms. Cross a few times before she disappeared. He was the one who called and told me I shouldn't bother trying to find Ms. C — I had to hang up before he could tell me why.
All he'd said was that Jessica Cross doesn't really exist.
I open the email.
I apologize for the delay. I'd preferred not to say what I had to tell you through email as long as I was still employed by Wheatley, but my situation has changed. Is there any chance you could speak in person when I'm in New York at the beginning of August? In the meantime, I think you should check out the following.
He's pasted two links in the email. I click on the first, which leads to a LinkedIn profile for a Jessica L. Cross from Cliftonville, Georgia. According to the page, she has a double BA in English and classic languages from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. Her current occupation is listed as "teacher."
And the woman in the black-and-white photo is definitely Ms. C.
I don't understand — all of this fits with what Ms. Cross told me about herself. I x out of the page and click the second link. The page takes forever to load — I glance at the door to make sure Leah isn't on her way up, but the hall is quiet.
The page — an article from the Cliftonville Gazette — finally loads. I have to blink a few times to process what I'm reading.
An obituary for Jessica Leigh Cross, who died eight years ago.CHAPTER 2
I select print from the menu and respond to Dr. Muller's message. Yesterday was the first day of August — he should be in New York by now.
Wajima on 61st, Friday at 1. If you can't make it, call 917-555-9687 and hang up twice. That's my dad's office.
I log out of my email account and delete my tabs from the browser history.
The elevator pings just as the obituary is done printing. I slip it between the journal pages and pretend to be staring out the window aimlessly when Leah comes back inside.
When she's settled back in her desk, I open to the obituary.
Jessica Leigh Cross, beloved daughter, sister, and UNC Chapel Hill graduate, passed away unexpectedly after an illness. She is survived by her parents, Marie and Alan Cross of Cliftonville and sister, Arianne Cross-Duncan of Canton. Jessica is remembered for her generous and kind nature. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Acworth Home for Women.
Either Muller is messing with me, or something completely screwed up is going on here.
* * *
For the next couple days, I jump every time the phone rings, waiting to see if it's a hang-up call. On Wednesday, the phone rings at a little past ten.
"Dowling and Associates," Leah says. "How can I help you?"
There's a pause. "He's in court all week," she replies. "What is the best number to call you back?"
She's quiet, listening to the caller. When her gaze lands on me and doesn't move, my blood runs cold.
"One moment." Leah is frowning. "I'll connect you to his cell."
My heart sinks to the pit of my stomach. There are about a million reasons someone would be calling about me, and none of them are good. What if the thing I've been so desperately trying to escape has caught up with me? I've been dreading this phone call ever since Steven Westbrook was arrested.
What if he told the police or his lawyers that Anthony and I were there that night? Or what if Casey Shepherd figured out I was involved? What if it's the police calling my father right now?
Leah presses the transfer button on the phone. "Mr. Dowling, I have Jacqueline Tierney on the line for you."
I think that's almost worse than the police.
I knew this moment was coming, but even though I convinced myself I was okay with it, I'm not. Tierney is going to expel my ass without losing a minute's sleep over it, and I'll probably never see most of my friends — April, Kelsey, Cole, Murali — again.
Leah whispers my name and motions for me to come over to her. She presses a finger to her lips, then points to the phone. And hands it to me.
I could kiss her. I have to hold the phone a few inches away from my face, because I'm breathing so hard I'm sure my dad will hear me. Leah bites her thumbnail.
"... and Dylan?" my dad asks.
"Away at lacrosse camp," Tierney says. "I never thought I'd miss having a house full of preteen boys."
Dad laughs, and my blood boils. Dean Tierney is calling my dad with the fate of my future in her hands, and they're talking about her damn kids? I don't realize I'm making a fist with my free hand until Leah reaches to take the phone away from me. I spin the desk chair away from her.
"— about the delay, I'm sure you can imagine," Tierney is saying. "We're interviewing headmasters, but no one wants to touch this mess with a ten-foot pole."
"Jackie, I asked how you're holding up," my dad says, with uncharacteristic gentleness.
There's silence on Tierney's end for a beat. "Quite frankly, I'm sick over the whole thing and would leave this place tomorrow if I could."
I nearly fall out of Leah's chair. This is the same woman who threatened to expel me for suggesting my roommate Isabella's murder was anything but an "unforeseen tragedy." The same woman who threw me out of her office when I told her I knew Matt Weaver assaulted her sister, Vanessa.
"In any case, I'm sorry to keep your family waiting about the hearing," Tierney says.
The hearing. Of course.
"We don't make these decisions hastily," she continues. "The last time a student was even expelled from Wheatley was fifteen years ago."
That should make an interesting detail in my college entrance essay. My toes curl in my sandals. I think Tierney has set some sort of record for shutting my father up.
"That's why the board has to vote unanimously to expel a student."
"We understand," my dad says.
And that's when I know there really is no hope left for me. Despite all my dad's huffing and puffing, he knew the fire at St. Bernadette's was an accident. That's why he fought to get me into Wheatley. Because he still believed in me. Believed that I wouldn't screw up again.
"You should know, then, that in light of evidence, the board deliberated for a while about Anne," Tierney says.
"Yes. Quite a few of Anne's friends submitted testimony about her character. They believe that Casey Shepherd antagonized her before she assaulted him."
"Well, that does sound like my daughter."
"Regardless, considering the circumstances, there was a board member who felt uncomfortable expelling Anne."
My father is speechless in what I can only hope is some sort of new trend.
"You ... want her back?" he finally stammers.
"She's not expelled," Tierney says firmly. Message received, Tierney. The feeling is mutual.
"I'm going to need to discuss this with my wife," Dad says. "Obviously I would have reservations about putting her back in that environment."
"You have reservations?" It spills out of me in a whisper. I clamp my hand over my mouth and meet Leah's horrified expression.
"Excuse me, Jackie." My father's voice is eerily calm. "I'll have to call you back."
Seconds later, the office phone rings. Leah answers it with a meek "Yes?"
I catch "speak to my daughter." She hands me the phone.
"Are you trying to push all of my buttons?" my dad shouts.
"Are you trying to make my life miserable?" I shoot back. "You'd really decide to send me back there without asking me how I feel?"
"Who said I'm sending you back there?"
"That's not the point." My eyes prick, and I don't even know why. "You should at least care how I feel about it. At least ask me."
"Anne," he says, firmly, "we'll discuss this later."
Excerpted from Deadly Little Sins by Kara Taylor. Copyright © 2014 Kara Taylor. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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