Perfect Cover (The Squad 1) - Page 1

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  • CHAPTER 1

    Code Word: Pom-pom

    If you’d told me at the beginning of sophomore year that I was going to end up a government operative, I would have thought you were crazy, but if you’d told me I was destined to become a cheerleader, I would have had you committed, no questions asked. At that point in time, there were three things in life that I knew for certain: (1) I was a girl who’d never met a site she couldn’t hack or a code she couldn’t break, (2) I had a roundhouse that could put a grown man in the hospital, and (3) I would without question chop off my own hands before I’d come within five feet of a pom-pom.

    I liked to fly below the radar. I was the girl slouched in the back of your geometry class, not the one shaking my booty on the field. In fact, in the year and a half since we’d moved to Bayport, I’d spent more time in detention than at pep rallies and considered myself lucky; unless school spirit referred to a school-board-sanctioned wine, I had no intention of buying.

    And then, one day out of the blue, the note appeared in my locker.

    Toby Klein—

    You are cordially invited to an information session on the Bayport High Varsity Spirit Squad today at four in room 117. Go Lions (and Lionesses)!

    The year before, a bunch of angry feminist mothers had sued the district for having a male mascot, so now we were officially the Bayport Lion(esse)s. I kid you not. That’s just one of the many reasons I couldn’t fathom the idea of actually supporting the school in any way, shape, or form. That and the fact that I’d had to forcibly remove a football player’s hand from my brother’s arm three times in the last month. Emphasis on the word forcibly. If they touched Noah again, someone was going to lose an arm. Go Lions!

    I turned the note over in my hand. Wow, I thought, the God Squad must really be scratching bottom if they’re recruiting me. Maybe they just couldn’t stand it that there were actually a few sophomore and junior girls who weren’t willing to sell their souls for cheerleading immortality. There was a reason the varsity cheerleaders were collectively referred to as the God Squad, and it wasn’t because they were religious; it was because at Bayport High, they were gods: the ultimate social power. Most people did everything short of bowing down to worship them on a regular basis.

    I was not most people.

    Slamming my locker shut, I moved to throw the note away, but decided to save it for ammunition in case anyone in my carpool got too rowdy. As I moved to jam the invite into my pocket, light caught the letters, and for just a second, a few of them jumped out at me.

    “Stupid glitter pens,” I muttered, but automatically, my mind began cataloging the letters I’d noticed. I stuffed the note into my jeans, took four steps down the hallway, and then stopped. My brain does tricky things with letters and numbers: scrambles them and unscrambles them, analyzes their combinations, looks for patterns. When I was little, I loved palindromes and anagrams and any secret language more complicated than Pig Latin. Standing there in the hallway, my letter-savvy mind did its thing, and I pulled the invitation back out of my pocket.

    After a quick glance around the hall to make sure no one was watching, I held the small white card in the light again and, one by one, picked out the letters that appeared slightly more sparkly than their counterparts.

    Toby Klein—

    You are cordially invited to an information session on the Bayport High Varsity Spirit Squad today at four in room 117. Go Lions (and Lionesses)!

    There it was in black and white, or, more specifically, in hot pink glitter pen. COME ALONE.

    After that, I really did throw the note away, because there was no way it had been written by an actual cheerleader. Most of them probably couldn’t even spell cordially, let alone embed secret instructions in an invite to one of their oh-so-special meetings. Someone was definitely playing a trick on me, and I had a pretty good idea who that someone was. I also had a pretty good idea what I was going to do about it.

    Proximity—namely the fact that my brother’s locker was only three down from mine—was on my side.

    “Very funny, Einstein.” Since I’d trashed the message and therefore had nothing to throw at him, I settled for flicking my brother on the back of one of his ears.

    “Hey!” Noah tried not to lose what little cool he had, but failed miserably. After glaring at me for a second (like that did any good), he changed tactics. “Toby,” he said in a low whisper, “I’m working my magic here.”

    And that was why Noah kept getting attacked by football players with no necks and something to prove. No matter how many times I assured him that hot senior girls weren’t under any circumstances interested in scrawny freshman goofballs, he still couldn’t help trying out his “charms” on the older women.

    It was a miracle he wasn’t dead, and given the current circumstances, there was a decent chance that I was going to kill him myself.

    “Work’s over,” I said. I didn’t even spare a glance at the current object of his affection before literally dragging him to the side of the hall. “You got anything you want to tell me?” I asked. For a girl my size (five three), I can sound pretty mean when I want to.

    “Ummm…not that I can think of,” Noah said, giving me one of his most “charming” grins.

    “Try harder.”

    “Well…I…uhhh…did tell Chuck that you’d take him home after school.”

    “Try again,” I said darkly. That wasn’t what I was shooting for. Still, I had to wonder if Noah had been planning on giving me any forewarning at all that Chuck I’m-in-Love-with-Noah’s-Older-Sister Percy was hitching a ride home. That kid made Noah look like Prince Charming.

    “I went through your lingerie drawer looking for gift ideas?” Noah tried again.

    “You what?” I didn’t know what was worse: the fact that my brother had seen my underwear, or the fact that he was probably on the verge of buying underwear for a senior girl whose boyfriend I’d inevitably be forced to physically restrain.

    “Don’t worry,” Noah said quickly. “Your stuff didn’t give me any ideas.”

    And now he was insulting my intimates. It was a miracle I’d let him live past childhood.

    Noah wrinkled his forehead, completely unaware that I was plotting his death. “What are you talking about?”

    “The note.” I decided then and there that I didn’t want to learn any more of the many reasons that I should have been interrogating him. “The card in my locker.”