If Ava had her way, I was sure I would.

CHAPTER 3

THE RIVER

My last hope was Ava forgetting to pick me up, but when I reluctantly dragged myself to the porch five minutes after seven, I saw a massive Range Rover parked in the driveway, making my car look like a toy in comparison. My mother had still been sleeping when I’d gone to check on her, and instead of letting me wake her up to say goodbye, Sofia shooed me away. By the time I left, I wasn’t a happy camper.

“Kate!” squealed Ava as I opened the passenger door, oblivious to my bad mood. “I’m so glad you’re coming. You’re not contagious, are you?”

With effort, I climbed in and fastened my seat belt. “I’m not sick.”

“Whew,” said Ava. “You’re so lucky your mother lets you skip.”

My hands tightened into fists, and I said nothing. Lucky wasn’t exactly the word for it.

“You’re going to love it tonight,” said Ava, not bothering to glance in the mirror as she backed out of the driveway. “Everyone’s coming, so you’ll have a ton of people to meet.”

“Is James coming?” I braced myself as Ava slammed on the gas, and the Range Rover lurched forward, taking my stomach with it.

For a split second, Ava looked so disgusted by the thought of James showing up that I almost took my question back, but the look was gone as soon as it’d come. “James isn’t invited.”

“Oh.” I let it drop. I hadn’t been expecting James to come anyhow—he and Ava didn’t exactly run in the same circles, after all. “Is Dylan?”

“Of course.” Her cheery voice sounded as fake as her nails, and when I looked at her through the dim light of the car, I saw a flash of something in her eyes. Anger, maybe, or jealousy.

“I’m not after him,” I said, in case she hadn’t gotten the message yet. “I meant it when I said I don’t date.”

“I know.” But the way she refused to look at me spoke volumes, and I sighed. I shouldn’t have cared, but in New York I’d seen plenty of boys taking advantage of their girlfriends while eyeing someone else in the background. It never ended well. No matter how much Ava might’ve hated me, she didn’t deserve that.

“Why are you with him anyway?”

For a moment, she looked startled. “Because he’s Dylan,” she said, as if it were obvious. “He’s cute, he’s smart and he’s captain of the football team. Why wouldn’t I want to be with him?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. “Because he’s a pig who probably only dates you because you’re gorgeous and almost certainly a cheerleader?”

She sniffed. “I’m captain of the squad and captain of the swim team.”

“Exactly.”

Ava spun the wheel, and the tires squealed against the pavement as the car turned sharply. The image of a cow in the middle of the road flashed through my mind, and I squeezed my eyes shut and silently prayed.

“We’ve been together for ages,” said Ava. “I’m not going to dump him because some girl who thinks she’s better than us comes along and tells me I’m being stupid.”

“I don’t think I’m better than you,” I said tightly. “I just didn’t move here to make friends.”

She was silent as we drove through the darkness. At first I thought she wasn’t going to say anything, but when she did a minute later, her voice was so small I had to strain to hear her. “Daddy said your mom’s really sick.”

“Yeah, well, Daddy’s right.”

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know what I’d do without my mom.”

“Yeah,” I mumbled. “Me neither.”

This time when she turned the corner, I didn’t feel as if we were suddenly flying through the air. “Kate?”

“Mm?”

“I really love Dylan. Even if he’s only with me because I’m a cheerleader.”

“Maybe he’s not,” I said, leaning my head against the window. “Maybe he’s different.”

She sighed. “Maybe.”

Ava parked her gas-guzzling monster on the side of a dark road. Trees rose above us, and the moon cast shadows on the ground, but for the life of me I couldn’t figure out where we were. There wasn’t another car or house in sight.

“Where are we?” I said as she led me into the forest.

“The bonfire’s in the woods,” said Ava as she nimbly avoided the low-hanging branches. I wasn’t as lucky. “It’s not that far.”

Muttering a string of profanities under my breath, I followed her. This effectively destroyed my intentions of leaving early, and I’d be stuck here until Ava left, unless I caught a ride with one of my many suitors.

I made a face at the thought. I would have rather walked.

“It’s right on the other side of the hedge,” said Ava, and I stopped. The hedge?

“You mean the hedge around that huge property?”

“You know about it?” Ava turned to look at me.

“My mom told me.”

“Oh—well, it’s where we have our parties. Daddy knows the owner, and he’s totally cool with it.”

Something about the way she said it made my stomach twist into knots as I remembered the figure I thought I’d seen in the rearview mirror, but there wasn’t much I could do. Maybe she was telling the truth. She had no reason to lie to me, did she? Besides, as far as I knew, the only way past those hedges was the front gate, but we weren’t anywhere near the road anymore.

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