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Authors: Kate Brian

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BOOK: Private 12 - Vanished
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But I felt nothing—nothing but a chill that shot through me by a stiff wind from a broken window.

I opened my eyes and sat down hard on the raised platform around the pulpit. Alone. I was totally and completely alone. And
so was Noelle. She was out there somewhere, terrified, waiting for someone to come save her. I knew exactly what that felt like. That incredible sense of desperation. When I had been left to die on a deserted island in St. Barths I had started to hallucinate. Started to think I would be better off dead. Started to think no one out in the real world even cared I was gone. That depth of despair was not something I would wish upon my worst enemy, let alone my best friend.

I hugged my knees to my chest and rested my chin between them.

I’m going to find you, Noelle
Just stay strong.

Then the wind whistled through the eaves again. Up in the rafters, a pair of crows I hadn’t noticed before flapped their wings noisily, as if mocking me.

“Oh, why don’t you just fly south for the winter already?” I shouted up at them.

They were wrong. Paige was going to tell me what she knew. I was going to make sure of that. This would all be over by morning.

The arched chapel door creaked open and Paige stepped inside, cursing under her breath. She shoved the door closed with some effort, blocking out the wind. I jumped to my feet, adrenaline pumping as she dusted snow off the sleeves of her black cashmere coat. Finally, she drew the gray knit cap from her auburn hair as she turned around.

“God! Could this place be more impossible to get to?” she snapped. Her stiletto-heeled boots—not exactly the best gear for
hiking snow-covered hills at night—click-clacked against the floor, the sound echoing through the chapel as she walked to the center of the aisle. “I could have died out there.”

There were just way too many good comebacks to that one. About Noelle potentially dying out there right now. About the number of times
almost died at her mother’s hand. About how I’d like to wring her throat for all the crap she’d pulled on the island, not to mention her current crime. But I just swallowed all the words cramming my throat. I said nothing, hoping my silence and serious glare would intimidate her.

“So?” she said, turning her gloved palms out. “Let’s have it.”

I blinked. “Have what?”

“Your capitulation,” Paige said. “That is why you called me, right?”

“My capitulation? What the hell are you talking about?” I demanded, stepping toward her. “I called you about Noelle.”

“Noelle? Why? Is she here?” Paige looked around and then laughed. “Oh, this’ll be good. I’d
to get an apology from Her Majesty. Noelle!” she sang. “Come out, come out wherever you are!”

I was so confused I actually stood there for a moment with my jaw hanging open. So much for the position of authority. I looked like the town idiot, the dumbfounded subject of the punch line.

“If this is your idea of a joke—”

“Reed, you’re the one who called me, remember?” Paige replied, whipping her cell phone out of her Prada bag and checking
for messages. “Now,
you’ve decided to give up your little Billings project, whatever that was, but
I wouldn’t be here unless you wanted something in return. So what is it? What are your petty little demands?”

“My petty little …” I gritted my teeth together, clenched my fists, and prayed for patience. “Paige, this isn’t a joke. Where the hell is Noelle?”

“She’s not here?” Paige said blankly, jerking her head to look behind her. Her auburn curls twitched around her face.

A cold sense of realization washed through me. I was utterly and completely wrong. Paige had no idea where Noelle was. Had no idea she was even missing. There was no way she was a good enough actress to fake this level of cluelessness. She thought that I’d merely summoned her here to tell her I was giving up the BLS—that the lame-ass threats she and her fellow alums had made against me and my sisters had worked. This whole undertaking was pointless.

“I have to go,” I said, brushing by her.

“Wait. You have
to be kidding me,” Paige said. “That’s it? You have nothing else to say to me?”

I turned on my heel to look at her, my face aflame with anger, frustration, and despair. “Yeah. The next time you’re visiting the prison down in Virginia, tell your mom I said ‘Hi.’”

Then I turned and stormed out into the cold, not even bothering to cover up this time. The Billings Alums didn’t have Noelle. Or if they did, they hadn’t told Paige about it. So who the hell had
done this? And where were they keeping Noelle?

I emerged from the tree line, the stone buildings and winking lights of the Easton campus spread out below me at the bottom of the snow-covered hill, as if all were right in the world. Then I heard a jingle. My breath caught and I paused. Nothing. It was just the wind playing tricks on me. But then I heard it again. It was my phone. I was so riled up that I didn’t even recognize the sound of my own phone. Biting down on my tongue, I fumbled in my pocket for my cell, nearly dropping it in the snowdrift. Snowflakes clung to my eyelashes and the wind bit at my nose as I narrowed my blurred eyes and tried to read.


My lungs completely emptied out, ice-cold dread seeping through my body. I glanced over my shoulder at the snow-laden trees. Could Paige have sent this text? She’d had her phone out when I’d walked away from her. Maybe she
screwing with me. If someone was
watching me right now, it had to be her. She was the only one out here.

Or was she?

I closed my eyes against a crippling stab of terror and told myself to breathe. No one else was out here. No one even knew where I was other than Josh. The kidnappers were just trying to scare me. And I was not going to let them.

When I opened my eyes again and looked around, all I saw were trees, snow, and the campus below. Paige could not have sent the text. I had to go with my gut. The girl knew nothing. She knew less than nothing.

A gust of wind knocked me sideways and I reached back, pulling my hood over my head. Huddling against the wide trunk of an old elm tree, I bent over the phone and read the message again. This made no sense. Okay, yes, I understood why the kidnapper wanted Noelle excused from school. If she wasn’t, the faculty and
administration would get suspicious and start asking questions—especially at Easton, where they had been trained by experience to be severely paranoid. But why would they want me to get a note from Grandma Lange? Noelle had two parents, alive and well. Shouldn’t they be the ones to get her excused from school?

I gritted my teeth. It didn’t matter whether it made sense. It was my task, and I had to complete it. Noelle’s life was on the line.

I put my phone away, ducked my head, and started the long trudge back to campus, trying all the way not to look back over my shoulder. Trying to ignore the sinking sense that someone was, in fact, watching my every step.

“Reed! Oh my God! You have to stop them!”

Amberly Carmichael accosted me the second I speed-walked through the door to Pemberly, and as tense as I was, my heart practically vaulted up my throat and out my mouth.

“Stop who?” I said, clenching my fists to keep from bursting into flames or tears or just screaming my head off. I inhaled slowly then exhaled, trying to calm my frayed, paranoid nerves.

“Them!” Amberly threw her hand out toward the lounge. That was when I saw that she was not alone. Kiki Rosen, Astrid Chou, Vienna Clarke, and Tiffany Goubourne were all seated on the old, fading brocade couches, coats off, Coffee Carma cups on the coffee table before them. “They’re totally plotting against Noelle.”

My head went light as I stepped into the room.
Join the club.

Tiffany rolled her brown eyes toward the ceiling. “We’re not plotting against her. We just want our revenge,” she said with a
conspiratorial smile.

The door slammed behind me and I jumped.

“Revenge on whom?” Ivy asked. She’d just come in from outside and was now hovering behind me in her white coat. She tugged her black leather gloves from her fingers and gave me a questioning look.

“Noelle,” Astrid replied, popping her gum.

Ivy laughed, her eyes bright. “I’m
so very
in.” She walked over to the nearest couch and sat down next to Tiffany.

My stomach twisted itself up like a cats’ cradle, changing formations every two seconds. I lowered myself into an empty chair, weak from the many scares of the past ten minutes. “Revenge for what?”

“For that ridiculous prank she played on us last night,” Vienna said, like it was so obvious. She flicked her thick, highlighted hair over her shoulder and crossed her skinny-jeans-clad legs at the knee. “I mean, I practically had a heart attack.”

“I think I
have a heart attack,” Amberly said, touching her fingertips to her neck. She walked up behind my chair. “See? My pulse is

“Then I don’t get why you won’t let us use you,” Kiki said, lifting her legs and dropping her feet, one at a time, atop the coffee table. Her heavy black boots each came down with a bang. The coffee cups jumped.

“Because! I think what you’re planning is unusually cruel and besides … it’s Noelle,” Amberly said, flouncing around my chair
and sitting down on the arm.

“So you’re just afraid of Noelle,” Astrid said. “You’re a patsy, is what you’re saying.”

The other girls snickered.

“I’m not afraid of her,” Amberly pouted, sliding her long blond hair through her fingers over and over again. “It’s just that she’s been one of my best friends for, like, ever.”

Tiffany and I exchanged a look. We both knew Noelle didn’t think of Amberly as a friend so much as a lap dog.

“I don’t want to do this to her,” Amberly added.

“Do what, exactly?” I asked wearily.

Tiffany sat forward at this. “We were thinking that when she gets back, we should tell her that Amberly’s in the hospital. That the whole ordeal fried her delicate nerves and she had to be medicated.”

“Vienna’s boyfriend’s brother is interning at Easton Hospital and he said he could get us an empty room and hook up some machines to beep and stuff. Make it look real,” Astrid added.

“We could even put her in a straitjacket,” Kiki said with a smirk, eyeing Amberly. “That would be awesome.”

Amberly paled. My face screwed up in disgust. “That’s sick!”

“And scaring the shit out of all of us by pretending to be kidnapped is, what? Normal behavior?” Vienna snapped.

“You guys, just no. You can’t do this,” I said, standing up so fast I almost knocked Amberly over. “You don’t know … you don’t understand. …”

“Understand what, Reed?” Astrid asked. “That Noelle thinks she can get away with anything? I thought we were all equals now. If we get her back it’s like—”

“It’s like proving that we are,” Kiki said. “Equals, I mean.”

I paced around the back of the chair, my pulse pounding in my ears, my very hair follicles sizzling with anger and fear and frustration. They had no idea where Noelle really was right now, what she was really going through. This whole thing was so wrong, so petty, such a huge, stupid waste of time. Why was I even here? Why was I even listening to this when I had more important things to do?

Like saving Noelle’s life.

But I couldn’t say any of this. Couldn’t tell them what I was really thinking or feeling. The frustration was such agony, I wanted to punch something.

I glanced over at them and saw that Ivy was watching me very carefully. Almost like she could read my mind, or at least my mood. I grabbed on to that glance, held on to it for dear life, silently begged her to just help me.

“Reed’s right. It’s no good,” Ivy said.

“What?” Vienna blurted, crossing her arms over her chest. “I thought
jump on the bandwagon like your pants were on fire.”

“I can see why you’d think that, but I don’t know,” Ivy replied, looking me right in the eye. “Noelle had to go home for a family emergency, right?” she asked.

I nodded mutely, unable to speak past the lump in my throat.

“So isn’t it kind of cruel to attack her right when she gets back?” Ivy asked. “I mean, who knows what she might be dealing with right now? We’re supposed to be her friends.”

I could tell it took some effort for her to mention herself among Noelle’s friends, and I was beyond grateful for it.

“Yeah, but—”

“Besides, I hate to point out the obvious, you guys, but your prank kind of sucks,” Ivy said, standing and gathering her things. “I mean, we all know Amberly’s a delicate flower, but going catatonic in a mental ward because of a prank? Noelle would never believe that, even if you had Dr. Phil come in here and swear to it.”

BOOK: Private 12 - Vanished
2.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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