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The first thing Ariana Osgood noticed was Kaitlynn Nottingham's shoes -- those gorgeous, brown leather Marc Jacobs wedge sandals. Then she let her gaze travel ever so slowly from her enemy's pedicured toes up her long, recently waxed legs. She took in the pressed shorts, the pink sweater, the perfectly cropped hair. Finally, finally she looked into Kaitlynn's eyes. Jade green, they gleamed with malevolence.
In moments of abject fury, Ariana Osgood's mind often went for the details. The things she could catalogue, analyze, compartmentalize. And her particular obsession was shoes. Where the hell had Kaitlynn gotten the money for Marc Jacobs wedge sandals?
But then, Ariana already knew the answer to this question: Kaitlynn had gotten the money from her. That one million dollars Ariana had wasted blood, sweat, and tears to raise -- the one million dollars Kaitlynn was supposed to be using to start a new life in Australia -- had, at least partially, been used to secure a new wardrobe, an expensive haircut, and some seriously killer shoes. All things that would help Kaitlynn blend in perfectly on the Atherton-Pryce Hall campus. Ariana's campus, where the two of them now stood, in the rapidly waning light of the late-summer evening, facing off amidst a hundred happily chatting prep schoolers.
"Are you okay, Ana?" Kaitlynn asked, tilting her head in faux concern. She had just introduced herself as Lillian Oswald. So very close to Ariana's mother's name, Lillian Osgood. Kaitlynn had clearly known this would get right under Ariana's skin. "You look a little faint."
"She's right, Ana," Brigit Rhygsted agreed, reaching for Ariana's arm. "Have you eaten anything since the race this morning? We should get you some food." She gestured to the far wall of the room, where a few guys were high-fiving one another. "There's a table over there full of crap I can't eat. Want me to get you something? Or maybe Lily can. I'm on a diet," she explained to Kaitlynn. "I probably shouldn't even go near it. I have no willpower at all."
Ariana's fingers curled. It was almost funny, Brigit babbling about her struggles with food as if that were important right now. But then, she had no idea there was a serious battle of wills going on right in front of her. As far as she knew, "Ana Covington" and "Lillian Oswald" had never met before this moment.
"No, thank you. I'm fine," Ariana said through her teeth, lifting her chin to show Kaitlynn that she was not about to go weak at the very sight of her. Even though that was exactly what had happened the moment she'd spotted Kaitlynn on the crowded quad. The party continued to bubble and swell, but all Ariana could do was hug herself tightly in an attempt to quell her rage-induced trembling.
A few yards away, Palmer Liriano laughed and Ariana found him with her eyes, needing a moment of relief. He stood near a table of sandwiches and snacks, laughing along with two of his best friends, Christian Brooks and international pop star Landon Jacobs. Ariana focused on his handsome face, his carefree smile, the way the breeze tossed his black hair back from his forehead, hoping the glimpse of her crush -- the guy she would soon be calling her boyfriend -- would soothe her. But it didn't work.
Kaitlynn Nottingham was here. The only person on the planet who could obliterate Ariana's carefully laid plan for a new life -- the person who had sworn she'd be on a plane to another country by tonight if Ariana gave her the money she needed -- was instead here. On the Atherton-Pryce Hall campus. The place that was supposed to be Ariana's new home. Her sanctuary.
The enemy had invaded. Had used Ariana's money to worm her way into APH. And now that she was here, who knew what she was going to do next?
"I think she's right, Ana. Let's get you something to eat," Kaitlynn said pointedly, clasping Ariana's upper arm in her viselike grip. Ariana imagined her skin melting away under the girl's poisonous touch. "Come on. We'll grab a snack and get to know each other better."
For a moment, Ariana assumed Brigit would follow, but there was something exclusionary in Kaitlynn's tone, and Brigit's wide blue eyes showed that she'd picked up on it. When Ariana glanced over her shoulder at Brigit, the girl had already roped Adam Lazerri, a scholarship student who had just transferred to APH, into conversation.
Kaitlynn released Ariana in front of one of the snack tables and started to load up a clear glass plate with sweets. All around them, friends gabbed and gossiped; a few adventurous couples had created their own dance floor at the center of the circle of tables, and every now and then someone would throw out a cheer for Team Gold and half the crowd would cheer and whoop in response. Everyone was having fun, except Ariana.
"Before you can embarrass yourself asking all the obvious questions, let me answer them," Kaitlynn said lightly, addressing the wide array of fruit, cookies, cakes, and tarts rather than granting Ariana the courtesy of looking her in the eye. She spoke at a volume just loud enough for Ariana alone to hear. "I've signed over most of the money you gave me to secure my place in APH's junior class and in this exclusive dorm thing you and your new friends call Privilege House."
Ariana's rage swelled to nuclear levels. "No. You can't," she said under her breath. "You cannot be in Privilege House."
Not after all the work Ariana had done to get in. Not after she'd been forced to steal from her team to buy Kaitlynn's silence about her true identity. Not after rigging the crew race that morning to ensure Team Gold's victory. Privilege House was Ariana's plum. The shiny purple plum that she had won for herself -- and for Palmer Liriano and Lexa Greene and the rest of her team. She had not gone to all that trouble so Kaitlynn Nottingham of all people could share in the spoils.
"Apparently I can," Kaitlynn said blithely, nibbling on a black-and-white cookie. "You'd be surprised how hard up the APH administration was for cash. Seems the recession hit this place where it hurts."
Ariana's fingernails dug into the flesh on her forearm. This was all too much to bear. Far too much to absorb over the space of two measly minutes. Her brain was still wrapping itself around the fact that Kaitlynn had lied to her about her plans to leave the country, and now she was supposed to accept the fact that the girl had duped her again? That she had forced Ariana to raise for her the very money that would buy her a spot in Ariana's life? And not only a spot, but a significant spot? The girl was going to be living in her dorm, amongst her friends. Ariana was going to have to see her, talk to her, deal with her every single day.
But there was no denying it. Kaitlynn was standing right there. Just six inches away. Enjoying her cookie and smiling at megastar Landon, Maria Stanzini's secret boyfriend, across the quad.
"Who's that?" Kaitlynn asked, popping a blueberry into her mouth. "He is absolutely munchable."
Ariana's vision began to prickle over with gray spots. Her throat closed and her skin burned. There was no air. She was outdoors on a beautiful, late-summer night, the breeze rustling the leaves on the ash and maple and cherry trees dotting the campus, but there was no air.Breathe, Ariana. Just breathe.
"Oh my God. You're not actually going to faint, are you?" Kaitlynn asked in an amused tone, grabbing another blueberry.
Ariana blinked. The gray spots dissipated.
"No. I'm not going to faint." Bitch, she added silently.
"Good. Because we have some business to discuss," Kaitlynn said, nudging Ariana farther away from the table as a group of sophomores descended in search of a sugar rush. "I'm sure Grandma Covington is sending you some sort of weekly allowance. I think it's only fair we split it."
Ariana's jaw clenched so hard she was sure she heard a tooth crack. "Fair? How, exactly?"
"Well, because you never would have met Briana Leigh or Grandma C. if it weren't for me," Kaitlynn said matter-of-factly, choosing a strawberry from her plate and biting into it. "You wouldn't be here right now, masquerading as a millionaire, if it weren't for me. In fact, you should be glad I'm letting you keep any of it."
"Then why, exactly, are you?" Ariana asked, genuinely curious. Back when Ariana and Kaitlynn had been cellmates at the Brenda T. Trumbull Correctional Facility for Women, Ariana had thought she knew how Kaitlynn's mind worked -- had thought she was sweet, innocent, guileless -- but it had all turned out to be a ruse. At this point, the girl was a complete enigma.
Kaitlynn clucked her tongue and tilted her head again, giving Ariana the tiniest pout. Her lips were stained from the berry. "Because I want you here. And you can't exactly keep up the charade without cash now, can you?"
"You want me here," Ariana said dubiously.
Kaitlynn's eyes widened innocently. She looked almost hurt. "Of course I do, Ana. You're the only friend I've got." She hooked her arm around Ariana's in an affable way and looked out across the crowded party with her. Handsome boys in their well-worn APH T-shirts or broken-in oxfords chatted with fresh-faced girls in designer outfits, their laughter and babble mingling on the breeze. Overhead, white and gold paper lanterns bounced and swayed, hanging from poles set up in a circle around the party area. In the background, music played at a low volume from hidden speakers. Kaitlynn let out a contented sigh. "Can you believe how far we've come? A few months ago, would you ever have imagined this was possible?"
Ariana thought about the sterile cell they used to share at the Brenda T., about the better life she'd imagined for herself and Kaitlynn. Of course, back then she hadn't known Kaitlynn was a seriously evil girl who was going to use her to get that life.
"We've really done it, A. You and me. I'm not saying it was all champagne and roses, but we've done it."
Ariana didn't buy Kaitlynn's act for a second. They were never going to be friends. If Kaitlynn actually wanted Ariana here, it was for some reason other than friendship. Some dark, sadistic reason.
"You're sick, you know that, don't you?" Ariana said.
Kaitlynn glanced at Ariana out of the corner of her eye. "You're going to have to stop saying such ugly things to me, Ana, now that we're going to be besties again."
"Munchable? Besties? Who talks like that?" Ariana asked with a sneer.
"Lillian Oswald does," Kaitlynn said with a smile. "She has an endearingly innocent side. I've played that well before, no?"
Ariana stared her down, fuming at the reference to their past.
"You're going to give me that money," Kaitlynn said, giving Ariana's arm a squeeze. "You're going to play along. And as long as you do, we should both get exactly what we want out of this place."
"And if I don't?" Ariana asked.
Kaitlynn shook her head, amused. "Do you really have to ask?"
Brigit chose that moment to bounce over to them like a bunny on Red Bull.
"Hey guys! Christian's setting up Rock Band over by the chapel steps. He's on guitar and I'm on drums, but we need a singer. Landon's being all prima donna about it. You in?"
"I don't sing," Ariana replied flatly, forgetting for the moment that she was supposed to be ingratiating herself to these people. She was too busy trying not to explode.
"Seriously? Lexa said you guys used to duet for all the talent shows at camp," Brigit said, her brow creasing.
Ariana cursed her bad luck. Of course Briana Leigh sang in talent shows. The girl was the biggest exhibitionist Ariana had ever known, aside, perhaps, from Kiran Hayes, her former friend from her former life at Easton Academy.
Kaitlynn's brows arched at this news. "Do you have an old friend who goes here, Briana Leigh?" she said, clearly amused.
"Lexa Greene. They went to equestrian camp together back in the day," Brigit supplied helpfully.
Kaitlynn's grin widened. "How...nice for you, Ana."
Ariana bristled. She and Kaitlynn both knew that having someone at APH that knew the now-deceased Briana Leigh Covington was anything but nice.
"You have no idea," Ariana said, forcing a chipper tone. "It was amazing to see her, and now it's like we've never been apart," she added pointedly. Just so Kaitlynn would know that she had everything under control. "But I don't really sing anymore," she told Brigit.
Brigit frowned, fiddling with the colorful plastic bracelet that encircled her wrist. "Okay. What about you, Lillian?"
Kaitlynn shrugged, still holding Ariana's gaze. "I can carry a tune." She released Ariana and placed her heaping plate of food down on the table, hardly touched. "See you later, Ana!"
She twiddled her fingers as she turned and dove into the crowd with Brigit. Soon Landon and Adam had joined them and then, inevitably, Palmer gravitated over as well. Maria, Lexa, and Soomie Ahn were off somewhere, dealing with Lexa and Palmer's breakup. But if they had been there, Ariana was sure the three of them would have been holding court with Kaitlynn as well. Kaitlynn was just that pretty, just that magnetic, just that interesting.
And, infuriatingly, just that difficult to ditch.
Copyright © 2009 by Alloy EntertainmentROOMIES
In the dark of night, dozens of students poured from various dorms and picked their way to the center of campus with their suitcases and trunks and backpacks. Atherton-Pryce Hall was constructed in a series of circles. The innermost green contained a bubbling fountain and was conscribed by class buildings, the offices, and the chapel. The next ring housed the dorms, and on the outskirts stood the liberal arts buildings, gymnasium, and playing fields.
Ariana joined the mass of students gathered around the fountain, an excited buzz filling the air. The giddy atmosphere filled Ariana with a sense of extreme satisfaction. They were all here because of her. Because she had sabotaged the other crew teams that morning. Not that she could ever tell anyone that. But still. She was their benefactor, and the thought made her feel all fizzy inside.
As she wove around the groups of gossiping girls, texting and talking at the same time, the smattering of boys laughing and conspiring and checking out the girls, she searched the shadowy faces of the crowd for Lexa, Maria, Soomie, and Brigit. But she kept an eye out for Kaitlynn as well. She wanted to find her friends before Kaitlynn found her.
"Ana! Over here!" Lexa called out.
Ariana's relieved smile lasted but a brief moment. Standing in a klatch near the wide stone rim of the burbling fountain were the four girls Ariana had come to call her friends over the past week -- and Kaitlynn Nottingham. The girl was simply everywhere.
Gripping the handle on her trunk a bit tighter, Ariana slowly made her way over. Everyone was dressed down in baggy sweats and T-shirts, ready for the move and some all-night socializing in their new rooms. Even Soomie, who was always perfectly pressed and coiffed, had her glossy dark hair tied into two haphazard braids and wore a navy blue APH sweatshirt over jeans. Brigit was sipping some kind of smoothie, her short blond hair dancing in the breeze, and Maria was looking around distractedly, her light brown hair back in a messy bun, her Juilliard sweatshirt two sizes too big for her slight frame.
"Hi, ladies," Ariana said, plastering an excited grin to her face, even though all she wanted to do was tear Kaitlynn's hair from her scalp. Just then, Tahira Al Mahmood and Allison Rothaus, Ariana's other two least favorite people at APH, walked by, chatting obnoxiously on their cell phones as they tugged their huge trunks behind them. Ariana's shoulder muscles curled. It seemed like the enemies were proliferating. At least Tahira and Allison's third BFF, Zuri Tavengua, had been on Team Gray and would not moving into Privilege House.
"Hey, Ana, have you met Lily?" Maria asked, taking a break from nail chewing long enough to gesture at Kaitlynn. "She just transferred in too."
Ariana's smile stiffened. She did not turn to look at Kaitlynn. "We've met."
"Hi, Ana!" Kaitlynn said brightly, forcing Ariana to look at her.
Ariana met her gaze coolly. There was no way she was going to let Kaitlynn become part of her group. No way in hell.
"Well, now that we're all here, let's get going," Lexa said brightly.
She started to weave through the crowd with her bags. Only then did the dozens of people around the fountain snap to and start to move, as if Lexa's position as leader was universally acknowledged. Ariana fell into step with her as they started across campus, and the other girls formed a group around them. Ariana wondered where Palmer was. Her skin tingled pleasantly at the thought of him out there somewhere in the dark, possibly watching her.
And he might not be the only one watching. Ever since Lexa had spilled the beans about the secret societies on the APH campus, Ariana had constantly felt as if she were under some giant microscope, and now that she was going to be living in Privilege House, she felt it more than ever. She was sure that sometime soon, the society would be tapping new members, and Ariana was determined to be one of them -- determined to conduct herself in a manner befitting Team Gold's ultra-exclusive society. Unfortunately, she wasn't entirely certain what the society was looking for, but she did know that Lexa Greene was a member.
"So...how are you?" Ariana asked Lexa as they walked side by side along the cobblestone path. By this point, news of Palmer and Lexa's breakup had traveled throughout the student body. All around them the campus's old-fashioned street lamps were ablaze, lighting the way toward the hill and Wolcott Hall beyond.
"Fine. I'll be fine," Lexa said gamely. "Everyone breaks up eventually, right?"
It was a line, obviously. She had broken up with the guy she loved less than three hours ago. But Ariana understood the need to keep up appearances. As they passed under one of the flickering lamps, Ariana noticed that beneath her dark bangs, Lexa's pretty, pert face was free of makeup. There was no evidence in her blue eyes that she had been crying, but her smile was slightly strained. Ariana felt a fleeting trace of guilt, having been the immediate cause of the breakup between Lexa and Palmer, but she let it go. Obviously there had been trouble brewing between the two of them for a while. Otherwise Palmer never would have developed feelings for Ariana in the first place. It wasn't entirely her fault that her friend was heartbroken.
"I'm just excited to move in," Lexa added, changing the subject. "You know we get to pick our own rooms, right?"
"Actually, I didn't know that," Ariana said.
"Guys are in Alpha tower, girls are in Bella," Maria explained.
"It's really A-tower and B-tower, but they have nicknames," Soomie explained, rolling her eyes as if the whole thing was just so juvenile. "Alpha for the alpha males, Bella for the supposedly softer gender," she said pointedly.
"So clever," Ariana said facetiously.
"Whatever you do, just don't pick 2B," Brigit cautioned. "Steer clear of that one."
"Why? What's with 2B?" Kaitlynn asked, glancing over her shoulder at Brigit.
"It's cursed," Brigit said with total seriousness.
The other girls laughed. "It's not cursed," Lexa said. "A girl died there back in the nineties and ever since then no one has wanted to live in 2B."
"Died? How?" Ariana asked.
"She killed herself," Maria said flatly. "With a carving knife she stole from the dining hall."
"Apparently she had some...issues," Soomie added.
"Ew. Omigod," Kaitlynn said, hand to her chest. "That's so awful! Okay, I am definitely not picking that room."
Ariana wanted to laugh. Kaitlynn grossed out by a little suicide? She'd killed a man, shooting him point-blank with a handgun. A man she supposedly loved. She so wished she could tell her friends about that tidbit from "Lily's" past. But then, Kaitlynn would expose Ariana's secrets, her own...indiscretions. And that, she could not have.
"Don't worry. We usually just use it as an extra closet," Lexa told them as they emerged from the circle of lesser dorms and headed up the steep incline toward Wolcott. The building's two towers of dorm rooms flanked a low-lying common area with floor-to-ceiling windows at the center that overlooked the campus on one side and the Potomac River on the other. Ariana had been dying to see the inside of the exclusive building for days.
"Hey Ana, have you found a roommate yet?" Lexa asked. "Because Lily is solo if you two want to hook up."
"Omigosh, please say you're still solo," Kaitlynn said brightly, rushing forward a few steps to join them. "I would love it if we could room together."
Ariana felt the sudden urge to chew her own arm off. "We get to pick our own roommates, too?" she asked, stalling.
"Just one of the many perks of living in Privilege House," Soomie said, brushing one of her thick braids over her shoulder.
"And we're already paired off, so you two might as well pair off too," Maria suggested. "Before you get stuck with some loser like Tahira."
"Now, now," Lexa scolded with a laugh.
"What do you think, Ana? We can help each other figure this place out," Kaitlynn suggested, putting on a perfect, eager puppy dog act. Making it impossible for Ariana to turn her down without looking like a bitch in front of her friends.
"Sure. Sounds great," Ariana said, gritting her teeth.
Kaitlynn smiled in triumph. As the girls made their way up the hill at the front of the long line of students, Kaitlynn leaned toward Ariana's ear.
"It'll be just like old times," she whispered.
Right. Except back then I didn't know you were a psychotic, cold-blooded murderer.
Ariana felt so heavy with dread and defeat, her steps started to slow. Soon she was watching all four of her new friends from behind as they trotted up the hill, gabbing merrily with her sworn enemy. The enemy who was going to be sleeping in the next bed for the rest of the year.
Copyright © 2009 by Alloy Entertainment