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The Lying Game tlg-1

Sara Shepard

  The Lying Game

  ( The Lying Game - 1 )

  Sara Shepard

  I had a life anyone would kill for.

  Then someone did.

  The worst part of being dead is that there's nothing left to live for. No more kisses. No more secrets. No more gossip. It's enough to kill a girl all over again. But I'm about to get something no one else does--an encore performance, thanks to Emma, the long-lost twin sister I never even got to meet.

  Now Emma's desperate to know what happened to me. And the only way to figure it out is to be me--to slip into my old life and piece it all together. But can she laugh at inside jokes with my best friends? Convince my boyfriend she's the girl he fell in love with? Pretend to be a happy, care-free daughter when she hugs my parents goodnight? And can she keep up the charade, even after she realizes my murderer is watching her every move?

  From Sara Shepard, the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Pretty Little Liars books, comes a riveting new series about secrets, lies, and killer consequences.

  Let the lying game begin.




  We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.



  I woke up in a dingy claw-foot bathtub in an unfamiliar pink-tiled bathroom. A stack of Maxims sat next to the toilet, green toothpaste globbed in the sink, and white drips streaked the mirror. The window showed a dark sky and a full moon. What day of the week was it? Where was I? A frat house at the U of A? Someone’s apartment? I could barely remember that my name was Sutton Mercer, or that I lived in the foothills of Tucson, Arizona. I had no idea where my purse was, and I didn’t have a clue where I’d parked my car. Actually, what kind of car did I drive? Had someone slipped me something?

  “Emma?” a guy’s voice called from another room. “You home?”

  “I’m busy!” called a voice close by.

  A tall, thin girl opened the bathroom door, her tangled dark hair hanging in her face. “Hey!” I leapt to my feet. “Someone’s in here already!” My body felt tingly, as if it had fallen asleep. When I looked down, it seemed like I was flickering on and off, like I was under a strobe light. Freaky. Someone definitely slipped me something.

  The girl didn’t seem to hear me. She stumbled forward, her face covered in shadows.

  “Hello?” I cried, climbing out of the tub. She didn’t look over. “Are you deaf?” Nothing. She pumped a bottle of lavender-scented lotion and rubbed it on her arms.

  The door flung open again, and a snub-nosed, unshaven teenage guy burst in. “Oh.” His gaze flew to the girl’s tight-fitting T-shirt, which said NEW YORK NEW YORK ROLLER COASTER on the front. “I didn’t know you were in here, Emma.”

  “That’s maybe why the door was closed?” Emma pushed him out and slammed it shut. She turned back to the mirror. I stood right behind her. “Hey!” I cried again.

  Finally, she looked up. My eyes darted to the mirror to meet her gaze. But when I looked into the glass, I screamed.

  Because Emma looked exactly like me.

  And I wasn’t there.

  Emma turned and walked out of the bathroom, and I followed as if something was yanking me along behind her. Who was this girl? Why did we look the same? Why was I invisible? And why couldn’t I remember, well, anything? The wrong memories snapped into aching, nostalgic focus—the glittering sunset over the Catalinas, the smell of the lemon trees in my backyard in the morning, the feel of cashmere slippers on my toes. But other things, the most important things, had become muffled and fuzzy, as if I’d lived my whole life underwater. I saw vague shapes, but I couldn’t make out what they were. I couldn’t remember what I’d done for any summer vacations, who my first kiss had been with, or what it felt like to feel the sun on my face or dance to my favorite song. What was my favorite song? And even worse, every second that passed, things got fuzzier and fuzzier. Like they were disappearing.

  Like I was disappearing.

  But then I concentrated really hard and I heard a muffled scream. And suddenly it was like I was somewhere else. I felt pain shooting through my body, before a final, sleepy sensation of my muscles surrendering. As my eyes slowly closed, I saw a blurry, shadowy figure standing over me.

  “Oh my God,” I whispered.

  No wonder Emma didn’t see me. No wonder I wasn’t in the mirror. I wasn’t really here.

  I was dead.

  Chapter 1


  Emma Paxton carried her canvas tote and a glass of iced tea out the back door of her new foster family’s home on the outskirts of Las Vegas. Cars swished and grumbled on the nearby expressway, and the air smelled heavily of exhaust and the local water treatment plant. The only decorations in the backyard were dusty free weights, a rusted bug zapper, and kitschy terra-cotta statues.

  It was a far cry from my backyard in Tucson, which was desert-landscaped to perfection and had a wooden swing set I used to pretend was a castle. Like I said, it was weird and random which details I still remembered and which ones had evaporated away. For the last hour, I’d been following Emma trying to make sense of her life and willing myself to remember my own. Not like I had a choice. Everywhere she went, I went. I wasn’t entirely sure how I knew these things about Emma, either—they just appeared in my head as I watched her, like a text message popping up in an inbox. I knew the details of her life better than I did my own.

  Emma dropped the tote on the faux wrought-iron patio table, plopped down in a plastic lawn chair, and craned her neck upward. The only nice thing about this patio was that it faced away from the casinos, offering a large swath of clear, uninterrupted sky. The moon dangled halfway up the horizon, a bloated alabaster wafer. Emma’s gaze drifted to two bright, familiar stars to the east. At nine years old, Emma had wistfully named the star on the right the Mom Star, the star on the left the Dad Star, and the smaller, brightly twinkling spot just below them the Emma Star. She’d made up all kinds of fairy tales about these stars, pretending that they were her real family and that one day they’d all be reunited on earth like they were in the sky.

  Emma had been in foster care for most of her life. She’d never met her dad, but she remembered her mother, with whom she had lived until she was five years old. Her mom’s name was Becky. She was a slender woman who loved shouting out the answers to Wheel of Fortune, dancing around the living room to Michael Jackson songs, and reading tabloids that ran stories like BABY BORN FROM PUMPKIN! and BAT BOY LIVES! Becky used to send Emma on scavenger hunts around their apartment complex, the prize always being a tube of used lipstick or a mini Snickers. She bought Emma frilly tutus and lacy dresses from Goodwill for dress-up. She read Emma Harry Potter before bed, making up different voices for every character.

  But Becky was like a scratch-off lottery ticket—Emma never quite knew what she was going to get with her. Sometimes Becky spent the whole day crying on the couch, her face contorted and her cheeks streaked with tears. Other times she would drag Emma to the nearest department store and buy her two of everything. “Why do I need two pairs of the same shoes?” Emma would ask. A faraway look would come over Becky’s face. “In case the first pair gets dirty, Emmy.”

  Becky could be very forgetful, too—like the time she left Emma at a Circle K. Suddenly unable to breathe, Emma had watched her mother’s car vanish down the shimmering highway. The clerk on duty gave Emma an orange Popsicle and let her sit on the ice freezer at the front of the store while he made some phone calls. When Becky finally returned, she scooped up Emma and gave her a huge hug. For once, she didn’t even complain when Emma dripped sticky orange Popsicle goo on her dress.

; One summer night not long after that, Emma slept over with Sasha Morgan, a friend from kindergarten. She woke up in the morning to Mrs. Morgan standing in the doorway, a sick look on her face. Apparently, Becky had left a note under the Morgans’ front door, saying she’d “gone on a little trip.” Some trip that was—it had lasted almost thirteen years and counting.

  When no one could track down Becky, Sasha’s parents turned Emma over to an orphanage in Reno. Prospective adopters had no interest in a five-year-old—they all wanted babies they could mold into mini versions of themselves—so Emma lived in group homes, then foster homes. Though Emma would always love her mom, she couldn’t say she missed her—at least not Miserable Becky, Manic Becky, or the Lunatic Becky who’d forgotten her at the Circle K. She did miss the idea of a mom though: someone stable and constant who knew her past, looked forward to her future, and loved her unconditionally. Emma had invented the Mom, Dad, and Emma stars in the sky not based on anything she’d ever known, but instead on what she wished she’d had.

  The sliding glass door opened, and Emma wheeled around. Travis, her new foster mom’s eighteen-year-old son, strutted out and settled on top of the patio table. “Sorry about bursting in on you in the bathroom,” he said.

  “It’s okay,” Emma muttered bitterly, slowly inching away from Travis’s outstretched legs. She was pretty sure Travis wasn’t sorry. He practically made a sport of trying to see her naked. Today, Travis wore a blue ball cap pulled low over his eyes, a ratty, oversized plaid shirt, and baggy jean shorts with the crotch sagging almost to his knees. There was patchy stubble on his pointy-nosed, thin-lipped, pea-eyed face; he wasn’t man enough to actually grow facial hair. His bloodshot brown eyes narrowed lasciviously. Emma could feel his gaze on her, canvassing her tight-fitting NEW YORK NEW YORK camisole, bare, tanned arms, and long legs.

  With a grunt, Travis reached into his shirt pocket, pulled out a joint, and lit up. As he blew a plume of smoke in her direction, the bug zapper glowed to life. With a crisp snap and a fizzle of blue light, it annihilated yet another mosquito. If only it could do that to Travis, too.

  Back off, pot breath, Emma wanted to say. It’s no wonder no girl will get near you. But she bit her tongue; the comment would have to go into her Comebacks I Should’ve Said file, a list she’d compiled in a black cloth notebook hidden in her top drawer. The Comebacks list, CISS for short, was filled with pithy, snarky remarks Emma had longed to say to foster moms, creepy neighbors, bitchy girls at school, and a whole host of others. For the most part, Emma held her tongue—it was easier to keep quiet, not make trouble, and become whatever type of girl a situation needed her to be. Along the way, Emma had picked up some pretty impressive coping skills: At age ten, she honed her reflexes when Mr. Smythe, a tempestuous foster parent, got into one of his object-throwing moods. When Emma lived in Henderson with Ursula and Steve, the two hippies who grew their own food but were clueless about how to cook it, Emma had begrudgingly taken over kitchen duties, whipping up zucchini bread, veggie gratins, and some awesome stir-fries.

  It had been just two months since Emma had moved in with Clarice, a single mom who worked as a bartender for VIP gamblers at The M Resort. Since then, Emma had spent the summer taking pictures, playing marathon games of Minesweeper on the banged-up BlackBerry her friend Alex had given her before she’d left her last foster home in Henderson, and working part-time operating the roller coaster at the New York New York casino. And, oh yeah, avoiding Travis as much as she could.

  It hadn’t started out that way, though. At first, Emma had tried to make nice with her new foster brother, hoping they could be friends. It wasn’t like every foster family sucked and she’d never made friends with the other kids; it just sometimes took a lot of effort on her part. She’d feigned interest in all of the YouTube videos Travis watched about how to be a small-time thug: how to unlock a car with a cell phone, how to hack soda machines, how to open a padlock with a beer can. She’d suffered through a couple of Ultimate Fighting Championship matches on TV, even attempting to learn the wrestling-move vocabulary. But the nicety had ended for Emma a week later, when Travis tried to feel her up while she was standing in front of the open fridge. “You’ve been so friendly,” he’d murmured in her ear, before Emma had “accidentally” kicked him in the crotch.

  All Emma wanted to do was get through her senior year here. It was the end of August, and school started on Wednesday. She had the option of leaving Clarice’s when she turned eighteen in two weeks, but that would mean quitting school, finding an apartment, and getting a full-time job to pay rent. Clarice had told Emma’s social worker that Emma could stay here until she got her diploma. Nine more months, Emma chanted to herself like a mantra. She could hold on until then, couldn’t she?

  Travis took another hit off the joint. “You want some?” he asked in a choked voice, holding the smoke in his lungs.

  “No thanks,” Emma said stiffly.

  Travis finally exhaled. “Sweet little Emma,” he said in a syrupy voice. “But you aren’t always this good, are you?”

  Emma craned her neck up at the sky and paused on the Mom, Dad, and Emma stars again. Farther down the horizon was a star she’d recently named the Boyfriend Star. It seemed to be hovering closer than usual to the Emma Star tonight—maybe it was a sign. Perhaps this would be the year she’d meet her perfect boyfriend, someone she was destined to be with.

  “Shit,” Travis whispered suddenly, noticing something inside the house. He quickly stubbed out the joint and threw it under Emma’s chair just as Clarice appeared on the back deck. Emma scowled at the joint’s smoldering tip—nice of Travis to try to pin it on her—and covered it with her shoe.

  Clarice still had on her work uniform: a tuxedo jacket, silky white shirt, and black bow tie. Her dyed blond hair was slicked into an impeccable French twist, and her mouth was smeared with bright fuchsia lipstick that didn’t flatter anyone’s skin tone. She held a white envelope in her hands.

  “I’m missing two hundred and fifty dollars,” Clarice announced flatly. The empty envelope crinkled. “It was a personal tip from Bruce Willis. He signed one of the bills. I was going to put it in my scrapbook.”

  Emma sighed sympathetically. The only thing she’d gleaned about Clarice was that she was absolutely obsessed with celebrities. She kept a scrapbook describing every celeb interaction she’d ever had, and glossy signed head shots lined the wall space in the breakfast nook. Occasionally, Clarice and Emma ran into each other in the kitchen around noon, which was the crack of dawn for Clarice after a bar shift. The only thing Clarice ever wanted to talk about was how she’d had a long conversation with the latest winner of American Idol the night before, or how a certain action film starlet’s boobs were definitely fake, or how the host of a dating reality show was kind of a bitch. Emma was always intrigued. She didn’t care much about celebrity dirt but dreamed of someday being an investigative journalist. Not that she ever told Clarice that. Not that Clarice had ever asked anything personal about her.

  “The money was in this envelope in my bedroom when I left for work this afternoon.” Clarice stared straight at Emma, her eyes squinting. “Now it’s not. Is there something you want to tell me?”

  Emma sneaked a peek at Travis, but he was fiddling with his BlackBerry. As he scrolled through his photos, Emma noticed a blurry shot of her at the bathroom mirror. Her hair was wet, and she’d knotted a towel under her arms.

  Cheeks burning, Emma turned to Clarice. “I don’t know anything about it,” she said in the most diplomatic voice she could muster. “But maybe you should ask Travis. He might know.”

  “Excuse me?” Travis’s voice cracked. “I didn’t take any money.”

  Emma made an incredulous noise at the back of her throat.

  “You know I wouldn’t do that, Mom,” Travis went on. He stood and pulled up his shorts around his waist. “I know how hard you work. I did see Emma go into your room today though.”

  “What?” Emma whirled around to fac
e him. “I did not!”

  “Did too,” Travis shot back. As soon as he turned his back on his mom, his expression morphed from a fake smile to a wrinkled-nose, narrowed-eyes glower.

  Emma gaped. It was amazing how calmly he lied. “I’ve seen you go through your mom’s purse,” she announced.

  Clarice leaned against the table, twisting her mouth to the right. “Travis did that?”

  “No, I didn’t.” Travis pointed accusingly at Emma. “Why would you believe her? You don’t even know this girl.”

  “I don’t need money!” Emma pressed her hands to her chest. “I have a job! I’m fine!” She’d been working for years. Before the roller coaster, she’d had a job as Head Goat Girl at a local petting zoo, she’d dressed up as a toga-robed Statue of Liberty and stood on the street corner to advertise a local credit union, and she’d even sold knives door-to-door. She’d saved more than two grand and stashed it in a half-empty Tampax box in her bedroom. Travis hadn’t found the money yet, probably because the tampons were a better security system against creepy boys than a rabid pack of Rottweilers.

  Clarice gazed at Travis, who was giving her a sickening, pouty smile. As she creased the empty envelope back and forth in her hands, a suspicious look crossed her face. It looked as if she momentarily saw through Travis’s facade.

  “Look.” Travis walked over to his mom and put his arm on her shoulder. “I think you need to know what Emma’s really all about.” He pulled his BlackBerry from his pocket again and began to fiddle with the click wheel.

  “What do you mean?” Emma walked over to them.

  Travis gave her a sanctimonious look, hiding the BlackBerry screen from view. “I was going to talk to you about this in private. But it’s too late for that now.”

  “Talk to me about what?” Emma lunged forward, making the citronella candle in the center of the table wobble.