Seven Minutes in Heaven (The Lying Game 6) - Page 1

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  • PROLOGUE

    The walk-in closet would be any girl’s dream. A thick pink rug lay on the hardwood floor, perfect for bare toes first thing in the morning. Shelves and cubbies lined the walls, filled with designer purses and jewelry and dozens of shoes. Luxurious clothes in every color of the rainbow hung in careful rows: blouses and skirts in silk, cashmere, cotton.

    For most girls, this closet would be heaven. For me, it was just another reminder that heaven was exactly where I wasn’t.

    Next to me in the narrow space, my twin sister, Emma Paxton, ran her fingers through the rich fabrics of my clothes, her heart clenched in a knot of grief. She has my exact chestnut hair and long legs, the same marine-blue eyes lined by dark lashes. She is my identical twin, after all. But even though I stood right next to her, hers was the only reflection in the three-way mirror at the end of the closet.

    Ever since I died, I’d been invisible. But somehow I still lingered among the living, attached through forces I don’t understand to the long-lost sister I never had a chance to meet. The sister who’d been forced by my killer to take over my life. Since my death, Emma had fooled all my friends and family into thinking she was me, Sutton Mercer. She’d been fighting tooth and nail to find out what happened the night I died, and she’d managed to eliminate my family and my best friends as suspects. But the leads were quickly dwindling, the clues drying up. And the killer was still watching, somewhere in the shadows, making sure she didn’t step out of line.

    Now Emma stood in socks and underwear, a dazed expression on her face as she stared up at my wardrobe. It seemed ridiculous that after everything that had happened—the losses she’d suffered, the terror she’d lived in—the simple act of getting dressed could feel so overwhelming. But maybe it was because of her losses, because of her terror, that the simplest choices had turned complicated in her agitated mind. Emma had never had this kind of closet in her old life. Placed in the foster system of Las Vegas after our mother, Becky, abandoned her, Emma moved from home to home with her secondhand T-shirts packed in a duffel bag. I had so many clothes, so many dresses: short and tight or long and flowing, in bright wild prints or plain blocked color, with sequins or ruching or lace trim. There were, of course, more than a half dozen in black to choose from.

    Suddenly, Emma began to tremble. She sank to the plush rug, hugging her arms around her knees as tears rolled down her cheeks.

    “What happened to you, Nisha?” she whispered. “What were you trying to tell me?”

    It’d been nearly two weeks since Nisha Banerjee, my old rival, was discovered floating facedown in her pool. The announcement sent shock waves through the school. Nisha was involved in dozens of activities, and while she wasn’t quite the queen bee I’d been, everyone knew her. The rumor mill started up almost immediately. Nisha was athletic and a strong swimmer—half the school had been to a pool party at her house at one time or another. How could she have drowned? Was it just a freak accident? Or could it have been something darker—a drug overdose? Suicide?

    But Emma and I knew better. The day of her death, Nisha had been desperately trying to reach Emma, calling her over and over. Emma hadn’t called back at first because she’d been so distracted by my secret boyfriend, Thayer Vega, insisting that there was something different about her and that he was going to find out what it was. By the time Emma did call her, Nisha was already dead, and Emma had a feeling that it wasn’t a coincidence.

    If Emma was right, if Nisha stumbled on some kind of information about my death, then she was the latest victim in my murderer’s deadly game. Whoever killed me was still out there—and was willing to kill again to keep his or her secret buried.

    Emma finally got to her feet, rubbing the tears away impatiently. Grieving for Nisha was a luxury she couldn’t afford. She needed to figure out what happened the night I died, before someone else she cared about paid the price—and before the killer eliminated her, too.

    1

    WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE

    “It was almost two weeks ago that this local girl was found dead in her family’s pool,” the newscaster’s voice intoned as an image of Nisha filled the screen on a Saturday in late November. Emma stood in front of Sutton’s desk, streaming the local news coverage about Nisha while she got dressed for Nisha’s funeral. She wasn’t sure why she was watching; she knew the details already. Maybe hearing them repeated often enough would make her finally believe it was true: Nisha was really gone.

    The newscaster, a slender Latina in a mauve blazer, stood in front of a contemporary ranch house that Emma knew well. Nisha’s home was the first place she went as Sutton, the night Madeline Vega and the Twitter Twins, Lilianna and Gabriella Fiorello, “kidnapped” her from the park bench where she’d been waiting to meet her twin for the very first time. Emma remembered how irritated Nisha had seemed when Emma walked into the party—Nisha and Sutton had been rivals for years. But over the past month, Emma had started to form a tentative friendship with the tennis team cocaptain.

    “The girl was discovered by her father just after eight P.M. last Monday. In an official statement, the Tucson Police have determined that there is no evidence of foul play and are treating the death as an accident. But many questions remain.”

    The camera cut to Clara, a girl Emma knew from the varsity tennis team. Her eyes were wide and shocked, her face pale. NISHA’S CLASSMATE appeared at the bottom third of the screen below her. “A lot of people are saying it might have been . . . it might have been intentional. Because Nisha was so driven, you know? How much can one person do before they . . . they crack?” Tears filled Clara’s eyes.