The past month had been hell.
Scratch that. The past year had been hell.
And now this?
Jackie Whitman threw herself onto the sofa and glared first at the TV, then at the gold-embossed card in her hand.
Mrs. Elizabeth “Libby” Ballou
Miss Laura Beth Ballou
Senator Jeffrey Ives
KINDLY REQUEST YOUR PRESENCE AT
A CELEBRATION OF THE LIFE OF TAYLOR CANE
Jackie could hardly believe a whole year had passed since Taylor was killed in a car wreck. It still seemed unreal. Yet it was also too real. Too raw.
Unreal to think that Taylor—her best friend, the one who taught her that life should be fun and loyalty a given—had had sex with Jackie’s boyfriend the night she died. Andrew’s devastating confession, though, was as real and as raw now as the day she heard it.
A whole year later, and she still hadn’t discovered the answer to “Why?” What dark secret had forced Taylor to betray her?
Seething, she reread the surprise invitation to an event she’d known nothing about, then shoved it back in her purse and snapped the clasp. She didn’t need this. Not today of all days.
In less than an hour, unless a miracle happened, Senator Jeffrey Ives—Laura Beth’s soon-to-be stepfather—would be announcing his candidacy for president of the United States. Running against President Deborah Price, Andrew’s mother and the boss and best friend of Jackie’s mom.
Throwing Jackie and Laura Beth into enemy camps. Threatening to destroy what was left of the Capital Girls. If Whitney Remick didn’t do it first, of course. Jackie shoved away thoughts of the two-faced Cali transplant. She didn’t need that worry today, either.
Senator Ives’s announcement was why Jackie was sitting in the First Family’s private living room in the White House, waiting for President Price and Jackie’s mom, Chief of Staff Carolyn Shaw, to arrive. So they could all watch it together. Like one big happy family.
Jackie stared at the TV, where a blond, Botoxed reporter was standing outside the senator’s brand-new Iowa campaign headquarters.
Jackie couldn’t believe her ears. The presidential election was almost two years away and Senator Ives hadn’t even won the Republican nomination. Yet the reporter was already referring to him as President Price’s “worst nightmare” and “her most formidable obstacle to a second term.”
“What crap!” she said out loud.
Without warning, Jackie felt a pair of warm hands on her shoulders. She shivered in delight as the strong fingers began to gently yet firmly massage the tense muscles in her neck.
Andrew, she thought, surprised, but also thrilled by his touch.
“Should I stop?” Andrew’s brother, Scott, said from behind the sofa. “Or should I see what else needs my magic touch?” he whispered teasingly.
A wave of guilt washed over her. His hands felt so good she didn’t want him to stop. But what if their mothers walked in on them?
Or Andrew? Though their relationship had hit rock bottom, they were still “a couple” in the eyes of their parents and the public. After all, the Ankie romance, as the media dubbed it, was fodder for the tabloids and great family-values publicity for the president. And as much as she wished it didn’t, her stomach still did a little flip whenever she looked at him.
Yet there was also no denying the chemistry between her and Scott. But what if it was more than that? Like Andrew, she’d grown up with Scott. He was a good listener, someone she’d always been able to talk to. Hang with. Trust. The way she used to with Andrew.
Despite her anger toward her best friend, Jackie tried to imagine how Taylor would handle Scott’s flirting.
“Maybe we can continue this later,” she purred, channeling Taylor’s wild, party-girl self.
“I’m down with that. Just name the time and the place.” She could hear the smile in his voice.
“Be careful what you wish—”
A voice cut her off.
Lettie Velasquez walked into the room, beaming.
“I’m here to cheer you up,” she declared. “Your mom arranged it. Sorry it took so long. They’ve really amped up the security around here.”
For most of winter break, Jackie had barely moved an inch without a Secret Service tail.
All because some insane person keeps threatening me.
Her skin crawled at the thought of the terrifying note the stalker somehow had smuggled into the White House Christmas party. She felt violated all over again.
“Hi, Scott!” Lettie said. “Where’s Andrew?”
“Hey, Lettie! He’s helping Dad bake brownies,” Scott answered, giving Lettie a quick hug before walking around the sofa and sitting next to Jackie. “Too bad Andrew can’t slip some weed in the batter. That’d really cheer us up. But Number One Perfect Son would never do that.”
Jackie slapped him lightly on the arm, her hand lingering.
“Behave!” she joked, although she was half-serious.
Scott’s fondness for smoking weed had landed him in a Midwestern reform school, sent there by his parents. Now he was on family probation—the Prices having just agreed to let him stay in D.C. for the rest of his senior year.
As for his crack about Andrew, it was anything but true. Actually, Andrew’s “perfect” façade had crumbled. At least behind closed doors. He’d been drinking way too much, getting lousy grades at Georgetown University, and generally acting like a jerk. So she wasn’t about to defend her so-called boyfriend. Besides, she didn’t want to get stuck in the middle of another Andrew-Scott rivalry thing. When they were little kids they’d fought for their mother’s attention and argued over stupid things like who got to bat first in a game of T-ball. Instead of growing out of their sibling rivalry, now it was worse than ever.
So she bit her lip. And withdrew her hand from Scott’s when she saw Lettie giving her a puzzled look.
“Scott, move over. Lettie, come sit next to me,” she said.
“I’m good! You know me, I like to sit on the floor when I watch TV.”
Jackie shifted her legs so Lettie could lean against the sofa. She picked up Lettie’s long, black ponytail, pulled out the elastic, and started to make a Katniss braid. Lettie, with her dark hair and eyes and olive skin, could have easily passed for the Hunger Games heroine.
As she divided the hair into three thick strands, she thought how ironic it was that Lettie was offering to cheer her up. When it was Jackie who should be comforting Lettie, whose entire family, apart from her brother, Paz, was trapped in their home country of Paraguay, where civil unrest had broken out.
“Have you heard from your mom and dad?” she asked. Lettie shook her head slowly.
“Not for a while,” she said. She was quiet for a moment before continuing. “That’s the hardest part. It’s so difficult getting letters in and out and the phone lines are down a lot of the time, so it’s impossible to call. And of course, the government’s shut down the Internet.”
“You are so unbelievably brave. I don’t know how you do it.”
“I don’t have any choice,” Lettie said simply. “I force myself to focus on my studies and I convince myself that the ambassador will keep them safe as long as Mamá and Papá continue working for him. Besides, most of the clashes are in the countryside, not the capital.”
Jackie knew that Lettie followed every single news item about the country and that right now, there seemed to be a little less bloodshed.
“It can’t be easy living with Whitney and her mom,” Scott said. Jackie had been thinking the exact same thing since the day Lettie moved in with Whitney and her parents, William Remick and Tracey Mills, who were nothing like Lettie’s own close-knit family.
“I’m surprised Whitney didn’t force you to bring her along today,” Jackie said, using both hands to twist the ribbons of hair into a braid.
“Oh, Whitney’s not as bad as you think. Anyway, she’s still in L.A. Fortunately, her mom didn’t know I was coming here otherwise she would have made Whitney fly back early.”
“Did you get your invitation yet?” Jackie asked, cutting off Lettie’s lame defense of Whitney.
Jackie rolled her eyes.
“We’ve been summoned to a memorial celebration for Taylor. Hosted by Laura Beth and her mom. And Senator Ives. Tracey Mills probably got to yours first so she could steam it open.” Whitney’s mom was a gossip columnist who’d do anything for a scoop.
Lettie twisted her head around to look at Jackie, her mouth gaping. “A Taylor celebration? You’re not serious.”
Not that an event to mark the one-year anniversary of Taylor’s death was a bad idea. It was the sneaky way Laura Beth had done it, not even discussing it first with Jackie or Lettie. And why was Senator Ives’s name on the invitation? He had never even met Taylor.
The campaign hadn’t even started and yet the two Ballou women were already plotting behind Jackie’s back to make sure Senator Ives scored political points with the media and Washington’s powerful elite. Starting with Taylor’s mom. Jennifer Cane. The Fixer. The keeper of Jackie’s secrets, who Jackie owed big-time.
My name should be on that invitation, not theirs.
She wrapped the elastic around the end of the braid and Lettie draped it over her shoulder, her Capital Girls charm bracelet jangling. Taylor had come up with the name of their exclusive clique in seventh grade and Libby Ballou had ordered four identical bracelets, adding a charm every year to represent each year of the girls’ friendship.
After Andrew’s confession, Jackie had thrown her bracelet in a bedroom drawer. And she hadn’t worn it since.
Jackie suddenly thought of a whole new reason to be terrified of a Price-Ives election fight. What if someone dug up the secret fact that it was Andrew, not Taylor, who was driving the night of the fatal crash? What if that someone was Laura Beth, who Jackie worried already suspected the truth?
If Taylor was willing to betray me, why wouldn’t Laura Beth? Until Sol came along, Laura Beth had harbored a not-so-secret crush on Andrew, obviously fantasizing about one day being his First Lady. But that’s all it had been—a deluded dream. Becoming First Daughter in an Ives White House, though, that was a real possibility.
Copyright © 2013 by Marilyn Rauber and Amy Reingold