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Alyson Noel


  For Howard and Karen


  The truth is rarely pure and never simple.




  Title Page



  One: Father Figure

  Two: Notorious

  Three: Can’t Remember to Forget You

  Four: Sharp Dressed Man

  Five: Uncertain Smile

  Six: Waiting on the World to Change

  Seven: Blue Ain’t Your Color

  Eight: Long Road out of Eden

  Nine: Cake by the Ocean

  Ten: Fake Love

  Eleven: World Spins Madly

  Twelve: Guys My Age

  Thirteen: Surface Envy

  Fourteen: Funeral for a Friend

  Fifteen: Think a Little Less

  Sixteen: Sister Golden Hair

  Seventeen: iSpy

  Eighteen: You Are Goodbye

  Nineteen: Lady Grinning Soul

  Twenty: Slow Dancing in a Burning Room

  Twenty-One: Killer Queen

  Twenty-Two: Let’s Hurt Tonight

  Twenty-Three: Hey, Jealousy

  Twenty-Four: My Oh My

  Twenty-Five: Candle in the Wind

  Twenty-Six: This Is What You Came For

  Twenty-Seven: Sleeping Wild

  Twenty-Eight: Love Lies Bleeding

  Twenty-Nine: Girls on Film

  Thirty: California Dreaming

  Thirty-One: I Took a Pill in Ibiza

  Thirty-Two: All My Dead Drunk Friends

  Thirty-Three: Uptown Funk

  Thirty-Four: Heart of Glass

  Thirty-Five: White Room

  Thirty-Six: Where Have All the Good Times Gone

  Thirty-Seven: Any Ol’ Barstool

  Thirty-Eight: LA Woman

  Thirty-Nine: Lost and Found

  Forty: Ring of Fire

  Forty-One: Heartless

  Forty-Two: Careless Whisper

  Forty-Three: Sleep Now in the Fire

  Forty-Four: Heartbreaker

  Forty-Five: Here’s Where the Story Ends

  Forty-Six: Kids in America

  Forty-Seven: City of Stars

  Forty-Eight: Love’s Pure Light

  Forty-Nine: Green Grass and High Tides

  Fifty: The Man Who Sold the World

  Fifty-One: The Prettiest Star


  About the Author

  Books by Alyson Noël

  Back Ad


  About the Publisher

  Spotlight magazine exclusive!

  We caught up with rising star Heather Rollins to discuss the latest developments in the Madison Brooks case. As you probably know, Heather was a close friend of Madison’s, and she’s also acquainted with the four teens recently arrested for their alleged involvement in Madison’s disappearance. Read on for Heather’s unique, insider perspective of the ongoing scandal!

  Spotlight: Heather, we know how busy you are with your new show—congratulations, by the way! We’re honored you managed to carve out some time to speak with us today.

  Heather: Thank you, but really, the honor’s all mine. Like the rest of the world, I’m distraught over Madison’s disappearance and I just pray she’s okay. I miss her, and I want her to return home safely.

  Spotlight: Certainly the latest news that the body found in Joshua Tree has been ruled out as Madison comes as a relief. But tell us, how are you holding up, and what are your theories? It seems everyone has one these days.

  Heather: The news was certainly a relief, to say the least. As for theories, I can’t say I have any. I’m mostly just glad to know Madison is still out there, somewhere, and I pray every day that we’ll see her again—the sooner the better.

  Spotlight: I’m sure we’re all rooting for the same outcome. Though we’re also wondering, as someone with connections to everyone involved, what do you think of the recent arrests of Aster Amirpour, Layla Harrison, Tommy Phillips, and Ryan Hawthorne?

  Heather: Well, it definitely came as a shock, but I really hate to speculate. It seems like the public has already convicted them in their minds. And while I understand the need for justice, I think it’s wise to take a step back and trust that the LAPD and our legal system will do the right thing.

  Spotlight: Yes, but they were caught at the scene of the body, along with Madison’s tracker—what do you make of that?

  Heather: It certainly looks bad, doesn’t it? I’m just reluctant to point any fingers until we know the full story. A reputation can be ruined in a second, and it can take a lifetime to restore it, if ever.

  Spotlight: The body was found outside a cabin in Joshua Tree owned by Paul Banks. The same Paul Banks who’s been linked to Madison, and whose office building recently burned down in what was since ruled to be arson. Since the body has been established as a middle-aged male, do you think it was him?

  Heather: I really think that’s up to the coroner’s office to determine. Like you, I’m just glued to my phone, waiting for updates.

  Spotlight: Did you know Paul Banks, or ever see him with Madison?

  Heather: Uh, this is starting to sound more like an interrogation and less like an interview.

  Spotlight: Apologies. I guess we’re all a little high-strung around here.

  Heather: Understandably.

  Spotlight: Would you like to add anything in closing?

  Heather: Believe me when I say that Madison is truly a star in every sense of the word. She’s always the brightest light in any room, and she radiates this magical vibe that comes from within. And yet, there’s a side to her that few people realize. She’s super generous to her friends and fans, but there’s also a part that’s very private to the point of being impenetrable. While I know she’d appreciate the enormous outpouring of love and support coming in from all over the globe, I also can’t help but think how much she’d hate the three-ring circus her life has become. People tend to forget that underneath all the glamour and fame lives a real girl. A complex human being with her own hopes and dreams, and yes, even regrets. Madison inspired me to become the person I am today. We met early on in our careers, but I knew right away there was something really remarkable about her. She has so much determination and drive—I’ve never met anyone else who could even come close to matching her sheer power of will. It’s impossible to think she might truly be gone. I refuse to accept it. So, if she’s out there, somewhere, and is able to read this, I just want her to know that like everyone else the world over, I’m rooting for her safe return and won’t rest until I see her again.

  Spotlight: We couldn’t agree more, and we thank you for taking the time to speak with us. Before you go, any hints for what’s next?

  Heather: Filming on my new show, Lacey’s Castle, is set to begin soon. And I’m sure you heard about my new lip kit. It’s called Tempt, and I’m wearing the baby-pink gloss now! I worked alongside the chemists to get the formula just right. It’s packed with nutrients that make it super hydrating and soothing but not at all sticky. I put it on first thing this morning, and so far it’s lasted me through an intense Tracy Anderson workout, an entire bottle of Moon Juice Matcha Pearl, and now this interview—crazy, right? Anyway, I’m really excited about both projects, and there are more in the works, so stay tuned!

  Spotlight: So exciting, and I have to say your lips really do look great. I need to get some immediately! Speaking of exciting new developments, what can you tell us about your budding romance with hot up-and-comer Mateo Luna, who just so happens to be Layla Harrison’s former boyfriend? Any truth to the rumors?

  Heather: Mateo is a kind and gentle soul and a truly good person. That’s all I h
ave to say.

  Spotlight: Well, thanks for stopping by, Heather. We here at Spotlight wish you all the best!



  Madison Brooks was not alone.

  The first thing she sensed when consciousness dawned was the presence of someone looming over her bed.

  She froze. Keeping her breath even, her limbs still, she listened intently for any sort of clue that might provide some insight into who had taken her and why.

  Weeks in captivity had left her with little to go on. Still, there was always a chance that her captor, thinking she was asleep, would get careless or lazy and possibly do something that might give them away. Madison was so desperate for answers she refused to waste a single opportunity, no matter how improbable it might seem.

  “You awake?”

  Madison startled. The voice was familiar—one she knew well. It belonged to a man she’d trusted since she was a much younger girl.

  Her eyes snapped open and zeroed in on the nondescript male hovering nearby. His hair was neatly combed and nearly the same shade of beige as his face. His lips were thin, his nose unobtrusive, his irises a dull, chalky brown. It made for a collection of features so unremarkable he was hard to describe and nearly impossible to recall.

  And yet, even though she recognized him, knew him as her one true friend, she pulled the blanket defensively up to her chin and recoiled against the cold hard wall.

  “Easy,” he coaxed, tentatively raising both hands to prove he meant her no harm.

  Madison remained leery. She knew him as Paul Banks, aka the Ghost, aka her mentor, protector, and friend, who’d acted more like a parent than her real parents had.

  Paul had always been there for her, had risked his life for her more than once. So she shouldn’t be the least bit surprised to find him there now. Still, the time spent in confinement had left her skittish and traumatized. She’d grown so accustomed to living in a constant state of paranoia and dread that the transition to her new reality, where she really was safe with nothing to fear, was difficult at best.

  She blinked a few times, allowing a moment to adjust to the shift. Paul was not her captor. Thanks to Paul, she no longer had a captor. He’d taken care of that creep by ensuring he’d never mess with Madison, or anyone else for that matter, again.

  It was hardly the first time she’d seen a dead body, but she’d never forget the fleeting look of surprise on her kidnapper’s face as he was positioning himself, preparing to do her great harm, when he was interrupted by a momentary flash and a loud cracking pop, and then the side of his head exploded into bits, showering chunks of brain matter and flesh all over the walls.

  Next thing she knew Paul was lifting her, holding her close, and whispering reassurances into her ear. While he disposed of the body and cleaned up the mess, Madison slept a deep, dreamless sleep. By the time she woke, other than the strong scent of bleach permeating the room, it was like it’d been nothing more than a terrible hallucination. Neither of them had mentioned it since.

  Still, there had been another captor before him. One who’d acted with great determination. And the worst part was they were still out there, somewhere, faceless and unknown. The thought made Madison shiver as she gathered the blanket even tighter around her.

  “You okay?” Paul’s voice was gentle, his features blunted with concern.

  Madison nodded, more for his benefit than hers. She wasn’t okay. Not even close. As long as her first captor was out there, she doubted she’d ever achieve such a state.

  Would they try to strike again?

  Possibly finish what they’d started?

  While she had no idea what their endgame might be, unlike the second guy, they’d never physically harmed her, hadn’t even tried to rob her. Sure, they’d taken her purse, but as she’d recently learned, it had shown up in the trunk of her car, which was left outside Paul’s office the night of the fire. Only one of the gold-and-turquoise earrings Ryan had given her had managed to survive, but she was still in possession of her expensive diamond-encrusted Piaget watch, so clearly it wasn’t money they were after. Also, according to Paul, there hadn’t been a single ransom demand, making the motive a frustrating mystery. Yet another reason Paul insisted on keeping her completely hidden from the rest of the world.

  Funny to think how all the news outlets were breathlessly speculating on her demise, and yet, here she was, hiding out in some dead guy’s shack in the middle of Death Valley, with a man many had seen but no one remembered.

  Paul continued to hover, while in her head, Madison recited all the reasons she trusted him. Eventually the thoughts began to take root, her body relaxed, and she glanced around the small, shabby room they shared.

  It was bare-bones, run-down, and offered only a minimum of comforts. There was the saggy bed shoved in the corner. The mattress was lumpy and stained, but Paul had covered it in clean sheets and a thin blanket, so it was hardly the worst thing Madison had ever slept on. There was a battered old coffee table that held a small hand-crank radio, a large flashlight, and a stack of survivalist tomes. Beside it sat an old couch Paul had claimed for himself by stretching a flannel sleeping bag across it. In addition to a weak air conditioner that didn’t do much to dispel the searing heat, an array of fans were scattered around, their blades whirling furiously throughout the day.

  There was no sign of the knife the man had shoved hard against her throat, but she figured Paul had gotten rid of it, along with the body.

  Still, there was a bathroom with running water, didn’t matter that it was cold, and a toilet that flushed. After weeks of severe deprivation, the simplest conveniences took on luxury status.

  “How’s the ankle?” Paul gently lifted the corner of the blanket that covered her leg. “And how are you?”

  Her body was wounded and sore. She was malnourished and weak. And her flesh bore the deep cuts and scrapes that had resulted from her ill-fated run through Death Valley.

  She leaned her head back against the wall and closed her eyes for a long, peaceful moment. When she opened them again, she looked at Paul and said, “How am I?” She ran her tongue along the inside of her cheek. “Uncomfortable, weak, and angry beyond belief.” She reached for the cup of instant coffee he’d left on the small fold-up table beside her and took a small sip. It was awful, truly disgusting, but at the moment, a Starbucks run was out of the question.

  Apparently, the whole time she’d been missing, Paul had purposely gone missing too. He’d simply dropped off the radar, as only someone as practiced as him was able to do. Although as a master of invisibility, he’d been there all along. Moving among the very people he suspected of playing a part in her disappearance, without a single one of them noticing he was lurking around.

  He reached for a pillow and gingerly placed it between her back and the wall, then handed her a plate he’d lumped with Spam and canned pineapples, the best the cupboards had to offer.

  “You shouldn’t have.” She glared at the disgusting mash of food.

  “It ain’t Nobu, I know, but it’s sustenance all the same. Might even help remedy the uncomfortable and weak bits you were complaining about.” He spoke without a trace of irony.

  Madison took a tentative bite of Spam, then made an exaggerated gagging face, mostly for his benefit. In the weeks she’d been locked up, she’d eaten far worse. “And what about the deeply seething anger? What remedies that?” She stuck her fork in a piece of limp pineapple and lifted it to her mouth.

  Paul dragged a chair to the side of her bed. Settling onto it, he said, “I find revenge is often a good and reliable cure.”

  Madison took a few more bites, then set the plate aside.

  “You’re not a doctor, you know.” She winced as Paul went about surveying her ankle.

  “Not by profession, but I’ve tended far worse.”

  She shrugged, but what she really wanted to do was scream. She wasn’t kidding about being mad. Most days it was the only thing that fueled her. Bu
t she wasn’t mad at Paul, or at least not entirely.

  “Ow!” She leaned forward and swiped at his hand.

  He pulled away. “You know what they say about sprains. . . .”

  “That they’re worse than a clean break.”

  He nodded. “Definitely true in your case. Though at least some of the swelling is starting to subside.”

  “How soon can I return to my Spin Cycle class?”

  Paul lowered his glasses onto his nose and stared at her from over the thin metal rims. “Don’t push it. It’s not safe for you out there.”

  Her lips dragged to a frown. “I can’t take much more of this,” she said. “Tell me you’ve at least narrowed it down to a few suspects.”

  Wordlessly, Paul crossed the room and returned with a stack of magazines for her to read while he went about rewrapping her leg. She’d prefer the use of a phone or a tablet, but Paul had banned anything that could be easily hacked or traced back to them. On a good day, Paul was paranoid, but lately he’d taken it to a whole new level. His palpable unease did nothing to quell her own gnawing fears.

  She flipped through the stack. Her face was on every cover, alongside pictures of Layla, Tommy, Aster, and Ryan. It was as though they’d become as famous as her.

  Also like her, they were locked up now too.

  Madison traced her finger across Ryan’s mug shot. There was a time when she’d considered him a suspect, but the idea didn’t stick. At one point, she’d mentally accused all of them. Thoughts were the only things she had to keep from going insane. But now that she was free, she realized none of those thoughts held any weight.

  Though Paul was right about revenge. The elaborate retribution fantasies she’d plotted in her head were pretty much the only thing that had gotten her through. Well, that and her refusal to find herself on the losing end of whatever messed-up game she’d been cast in.

  She pushed the magazines aside. She was in no mood to read them. “Do they still think it’s you?”

  Paul finished wrapping her ankle, then reached for her hand and inspected the pinkie finger she’d broken a few weeks earlier that he’d had to reset. “What do you mean—suspect or victim?”