Beautiful. Perfect. Dead.
In the peaceful seaside town of Cape Bonita, wicked secrets and lies are hidden just beneath the surface. But all it takes is one tragedy for them to be exposed.
The most popular girls in school are turning up dead, and Penelope Malone is terrified she's next. All the victims so far have been linked to Penelopeand to a boy from her physics class. The one she's never really noticed before, with the rumored dark past and a brooding stare that cuts right through her.
There's something he isn't telling her. But there's something she's not telling him, either.
Everyone has secrets, and theirs might get them killed.
|Publisher:||Entangled Publishing, LLC|
|Product dimensions:||5.60(w) x 8.10(h) x 1.30(d)|
|Age Range:||14 - 17 Years|
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I finally get her where I want her, folks, and wouldn't you know, she starts giving me attitude within seconds.
"And why am I here again?" Gretchen snags the lit joint from my fingers and brings it to her mouth, taking a long drag. She holds the smoke in, her bright green eyes narrowed, her expression almost pained, before she blows it all out.
Straight into my face.
God, she's such a bitch sometimes. Though I envy her fearlessness. She's rude and mean and she just doesn't give a damn.
I realize she's waiting for me to speak and I clear my throat.
"Look, I know you're never going to believe me, since we haven't talked much in the past. But we've gone to school together for a long time and I just wanted us to ... g-get to know each other better." I stumble over the words, and I am thoroughly pissed at myself.
I practiced this little speech over and over again the last few days, preparing for this moment. In the mirror, reciting the words back to my reflection. Late at night, while I lay in bed and stared up at the ceiling, mesmerized by the slow spinning ceiling fan above my head.
Yet I mess it up, falter because I'm actually in front of her, just the two of us. Gretchen Nelson, one of the most beautiful, most popular girls in school. She has everything.
I have nothing.
All I want is a little taste. Just a tiny sample of what she is. What she has. What I could possibly be.
"So what? You tricked me to go out with you?"
"It's nothing like that," I reassure her.
"What do you mean by getting to know me better, then? What exactly are you talking about?" She takes another drag off the joint, this one short and fast, and she coughs out the smoke, hacking a little. The glamorous, perfect Gretchen Nelson mask falls for the briefest moment, and it's like I've just been treated to a sneak peek of the real Gretchen. She's just a girl who likes to get high, who's aggressive, and who treats other people like shit. I mean, I already knew she was like this, but ... "Please don't tell me this is your idea of a date."
The contempt in her voice is obvious.
"No, not at all!" I sound too defensive and I clamp my lips shut. "That wasn't my intention. Can't we just be ... friends?"
She shoots me a sardonic look, her lips curled, her delicate eyebrows raised. She's still wearing her shorts and T-shirt from volleyball practice and she has to be cold, since both car windows are rolled down, and once the sun disappears, the temperature around here drops rapidly.
My gaze falls to her legs. They're sturdy, her thighs are thick, and I can't help but stare at them. They're thicker than the other cheerleaders', which made her a great base. Gretchen was known for tossing the flyers into the air higher than anyone else. I remember watching her. Watching all of them ...
Not that Gretchen's a cheerleader any longer. She quit at the end of her sophomore year, wanting to focus on volleyball instead. She's a strong player. Fearless. Downright mean on the court. Yet she's also beautiful and poised and smart.
"You really want to be friends with me?" She makes it sound like an impossible feat.
"We have nothing in common."
"We have a lot of things in common."
I frown. "You really want me to name ten?"
She nods slowly, places the joint between her lips. It dangles from her mouth, giving her this tough, rebellious air, and I can't help but admire her all over again. At school, she's absolute perfection. Right now, in the passenger seat of my car with a joint hanging from her lips, her dark-red hair a wild tangle about her head, eyeliner smudged, and her cheeks still ruddy from the chilly nighttime air, she's not quite as perfect.
But she's a lot more real.
"That's stupid," I tell her, and she sits up straight, yanking the joint out of her mouth so she can gape at me.
"Did you just call me stupid?"
The venom in her voice makes me recoil away from her. "N-no. I mean, I just took a hit off that joint. My head is spinning. How do you expect me to come up with ten things we have in common, just like that?" I snap my fingers for emphasis.
"God. You're just like everyone else. Always thinking you can buy me off with sex or booze or weed." She tosses the joint at my head and I dodge left, so it sails out the driver's side window and lands on the ground outside. "Bringing me to a church parking lot, too. Real classy."
With those last words, Gretchen climbs out of my car and slams the door behind her, so hard she makes the vehicle rock.
Panicked, I bolt out and follow after her. Her long legs take her far across the parking lot as she heads straight toward Our Lady of Mount Carmel Church. But I can run fast when I need to, and I catch up to her quickly. I grab hold of her arm and she snags it out of my grip, whirling on me with wild eyes.
"Get away from me!" I grab her again and she shakes me off, her expression full of disgust. "God, you're so freaking weird! Just leave me alone!"
It's the weird comment that gets me. It always gets me. They all single me out. They all point their fingers and laugh. With every step forward I make, something like this happens, and I'm pushed four steps back.
She turns away, breathing heavily, but she's not going anywhere. Odd. She's usually dying to get away from me.
That's when I realize she has her phone in her hand. And she's tapping away on the screen, like maybe she's texting someone.
"Gretchen, come on." I keep my voice even, like this is no big deal. Like I'm not hunting her down in the church parking lot on a Tuesday night. The wind whips through the giant pine trees that surround the lot, I can hear the branches swing and sway, the hoot of a lonely owl in the near distance. It's dark up here. Quiet. No one drives by. The street is abandoned and the nearest house is a quarter mile away.
Feels like it's just the two of us out here.
"Fuck you, you fucking weirdo!" She turns to face me and starts to laugh. No doubt when she catches sight of the stricken look on my face. "I can't wait to tell everyone about this. Wait until I spread this story around — I will ruin you."
A roar leaves me, unlike any sound I've ever made before in my life, and it makes my lungs ache. I run up on her and shove her hard, so she tumbles to the ground. She's distracted, in shock that I shoved her, and I take my chance and sock her in the face. I meant to hit her mouth, but my knuckles only glance off her jaw and my entire hand throbs from the impact.
I can't believe I hit her.
"What the hell?" She touches her face gingerly, working her jaw to the side, and she winces. "You punched me!"
"You deserved it." My voice is eerily calm as I stand over her, both of my hands clutched into fists.
She tilts her head back, all that glorious red hair spilling past her shoulders. Even after I hit her, she still challenges me. I don't know whether she's brave or just stupid. "What are you going to do to me now? Beat me up?"
I say nothing.
I don't need to.
Instead, I smile. Laugh.
Actions speak louder than words, after all.
"So yeah. They found a ... body this morning. Rumors are flying it was a teenage girl."
"Are you serious? How do you know?" Wednesday morning before third period and the halls are packed, everyone trying to get to class. I'm desperate to dump a few books off in my locker so I don't have to carry them around. Bad enough I have to wear the school uniform what feels like every day of my life. Don't need my backpack to stretch out my navy blue cardigan sweater and make it look even worse.
"I just ... know. I have sources." My best friend, Danielle Sanchez, is practically whispering as she stands by my side; I can hardly hear her. Not that it really matters, considering whatever she's telling me is most likely pure rumor and speculation. Maybe she's hallucinating. I mean really — a dead body found before eight in the morning in our privileged little community?
No freaking way.
"Who are your sources? And please, speak up. I can't hear you. No one's listening to us anyway." My voice drips with skepticism and I resist the urge to roll my eyes. I'm the realistic one while Dani's the idealist. She's all in, all the time, believing every little thing she hears, from the stupid lies some jock tells her in Spanish class to the rumors buzzing around the quad at lunch.
Me? I trust no one. I've been burned far too many times.
"Cops were on campus first thing this morning. Didn't you see their cars in the parking lot?" Dani frowns when I shake my head. "They showed up at the main office just before first period. A whole bunch of them, too, with serious expressions and looking badass in their uniforms." Only Dani thinks cops are hot. She loves a guy in uniform. "They looked like they were going to a funeral or whatever." Her eyes go wide the moment the words leave her lips. I can read her mind. She's thinking of funerals and murder and dead teenage girls.
"I was at the Larks meeting before first period." And what a worthless meeting that had been, not that I'm telling Dani. Half the girls in our community-service group weren't even there — every one of them seniors. The juniors all show up because they're trying to secure their Larks spot for next year, but they're clueless most of the time.
This is why meetings before school are pointless. No one wants to get out of bed a minute earlier than they have to, not even for their fellow Larks or for the good of the community. "You didn't show up," I remind her.
Dani shrugs. "I figured you'd fill me in, considering you're President Penelope." Ugh, I so hate it when she calls me that, but I say nothing. Just give her a little grin.
She smiles serenely in return. "But back to the cops. Supposedly they wanted to see recent attendance records for all seniors."
"Please. They might've been looking for a truant senior, and I can think of two right off the top of my head. I seriously can't remember the last time I saw James Fuller or Craig Howe in class." Grabbing my physics book, I slam the metal locker door so hard it rattles before I take off down the crowded hall toward my third period class.
Dani falls into step beside me, the heels of our loafers clicking in time on the concrete floor. "Valid point." She's always saying valid point. Usually because I'm explaining that whatever lies someone fed her were just that — total lies. "But I think you're way off. I heard they only wanted to look at the girls' attendance records. No guys."
"So?" I can't even focus on what she's saying right now. I have that test in physics to study for — Mrs. Emmert said we could use both sides of an index card to write notes to help us, and I want to get a head start. I do well in school. Okay, fine, I do great in school, but this year, physics is tripping me up, and I don't like it. I can't put my future at risk, which means I need to do everything I can to ace this test. My college applications must look impressive. I've got everything mostly covered.
Advanced classes, check.
Volunteers within the community, check.
Social and athletically involved, check and check.
Problem? I'm going to look less impressive because I suck so badly in that stupid freaking class. I'm barely keeping my head above water with a C that could slip into D territory if I don't watch it.
And I can't have that. Within my group of friends, we're all a bunch of overachievers. And the Larks isn't just about community service — it's the ultimate overachievers group. The outgoing seniors nominate the best of the best before the end of their sophomore year. The Larks is a small group of ten girls who are the smartest, the most respected, the most athletic, the most popular in our school. We all try to make the top grades so we can get into the best colleges and make our school and our families proud.
Sometimes, it feels like we don't really have a choice, either.
"So put two and two together. It was a girl's body that was found this morning? And they're checking out seniors' attendance records?" Danielle's the one who rolls her eyes when I say nothing. "Duh, Penelope! The dead body is someone from school! Someone from our class." The last two words are said in a ragged whisper.
"No way," I tell her, but she's nodding frantically, her enthusiasm level shooting up about fifty notches. "You always think the worst when something happens."
"That's because bad stuff happens to good people!"
"I'm afraid you're watching too much Discovery ID channel again." It's true. My best friend loves to jump to conclusions. There was the time during sophomore year Danielle thought Melissa Hankins got caught up in a sex-slave ring but it turned out Missy had mono. Or when she thought Brent Villanueva was a drug dealer who got tossed into prison when really Brent spent the night in juvie because he was caught with a little baggie of weed in the front pocket of his jeans.
The cops didn't even want to take him to juvenile hall. They were ready to cite and release, but his parents wanted to prove a point. They wanted him to suffer the consequences. He stayed the night, picked up some excellent leads on who to score even better weed from, and was released the next morning. He proceeded to go to his best friend's house, where they smoked a bowl together before they came to school.
"Maybe I am, but come on. It's just too weird of a coincidence." A little shiver moves through her and she frowns. "I just hope it's not someone we know."
"Ah, Dani." I wrap my arm around her shoulders and give her a side hug. We've been friends for so long, and I love her dearly, even though she's a little nutty sometimes. "I think you're getting ahead of yourself."
"Something is definitely up." Dani smirks, looking rather pleased with herself. "Courtney answers phones during second period in the main office. She said the cops called in twice. Twice."
"It's probably nothing." Maybe. Maybe not. How often do the police call the high school? I know we have rent-a-cops who put on a big show when they strut around campus, supposedly scaring us straight or whatever.
"Or it could mean everything." Danielle glances over her shoulder, her eyes narrowing. "Touch me and die, Pearson!"
I blow out an exasperated breath when I hear Brogan Pearson and all his football buddies laugh at Danielle's useless threat. She's the one dying for Brogan to touch her. She's just playing hard to get.
"I'm sure we'll find out what's going on eventually," I tell her once we reach the wing where my class is. "See you at lunch?"
Dani nods and waves before we go our separate ways, Brogan chasing after her with his friends. He's a goofball, always playing pranks on people, and for some reason everyone loves him, especially Dani. I tolerate him because she's had a crush on him for so long, but I don't get the appeal.
Pushing thoughts of Brogan Pearson out of my head, I hurry to class, slipping into my seat and pulling a few index cards and my pen out of the front pocket of my backpack before I scan the room.
Everyone's talking in low whispers, their wide-eyed gazes lingering on empty desks. Unease trickles down my spine and I jump a little when the guy who sits next to me brushes past and settles into his seat, sending me a curious glance when he catches me gawking.
I look down, not wanting to engage. Weird boys who keep to themselves and rarely talk really aren't my thing. Plus, his background story is weird and sort of sad and warped. Something about a dead father and a mom in prison for murdering him? I don't know if it's true — the information did come from Dani, after all.
But I do know he lives with his grandma up on Hot Springs Road, which is like, the most elite neighborhood in town. We're talking multimillion-dollar estates with views of the Pacific that stretch as far as the eye can see. He's also really smart and prefers to keep to himself, which ups his weird factor around here. No one wants to keep to himself on purpose.
Meaning no one can figure him out.
Within minutes, Mrs. Emmert strides into the classroom and dumps a stack of books and a can of Dr Pepper on top of her desk before she surveys everyone sitting at their desks, her hands resting on her hips. "Ready to get this review started?" she asks, her overly cheery voice making everyone groan in agony. Including me.
Excerpted from "Pretty Dead Girls"
Copyright © 2018 Monica Murphy.
Excerpted by permission of Entangled Publishing, LLC.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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