Burned pll-12Sara Shepard
( Pretty Little Liars - 12 )
It's spring break, and the pretty little liars are trading in Rosewood for a cruise vacation. They want nothing more than to sail into the tropical sunset and leave their troubles behind for one blissful week. But where Emily, Aria, Spencer, and Hanna go, A goes, too. From scuba diving to tanning on the upper deck, A is there, soaking up all their new secrets.
Emily is smooching a stowaway. Aria's treasure-hunting partner is a little too interested in her booty. Spencer's going overboard trying to land a new boy. And a blast--or rather, a crash--from Hanna's past could mean rough waters ahead for everyone.
The liars better tighten their life jackets. A perfect storm is brewing, and if they aren't careful, A will bury them at sea. . . .
Loose lips sink ships.
HIT AND RUN
Ever told a lie to save yourself? Maybe you blamed the dent in your parents’ Mercedes on your brother so you could still go to the spring formal. Maybe you told your Algebra teacher you weren’t part of the group of kids who cheated on the midterm, even though you were the one who stole the answer key from her desk. You aren’t normally a dishonest person, of course. But desperate times call for desperate measures.
Four pretty girls in Rosewood told some very dark lies to protect themselves. One of those lies even involved walking away from a crime just miles from their home. Even though they hated themselves for leaving the scene, they thought no one would ever know about it.
Guess what. They were wrong.
It had been raining for eight days straight at the end of June in Rosewood, Pennsylvania, a wealthy, idyllic suburb about twenty miles from Philadelphia, and everyone was beyond fed up. The rain had drowned perfectly manicured lawns and the first blooms in organic vegetable gardens, turning everything to mud. It had waterlogged golf course sand traps, Little League baseball fields, and the Rosewood Peach Orchard, which had been ramping up for its beginning-of-summer bash. The first sidewalk chalk drawings of the season swirled down the gutter, LOST DOG signs turned to pulp, and a single wilted bouquet on the cemetery plot containing the remains of a certain beautiful girl everyone thought was named Alison DiLaurentis washed away. People said such biblical rain would surely bring bad luck in the coming year. That wasn’t welcome news for Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Emily Fields, and Hanna Marin, who’d already had more bad luck than they could handle.
No matter how fast the windshield wipers on Aria’s Subaru swept across the glass, they couldn’t brush off the driving rain quickly enough. Aria squinted through the windshield as she headed down Reeds Lane, a twisty road that bordered thick, dark woods and the Morrell Stream—a bubbling creek that would most likely flood within the hour. Even though there were upscale developments a stone’s throw away over the hill, this road was pitch-black, without a single streetlight to guide them.
Then Spencer pointed at something ahead. “Is that it?”
Aria hit the brakes and nearly hydroplaned into a speed limit sign. Emily, who looked tired—she was getting ready to start a summer program at Temple—peered through the window. “Where? I don’t see anything.”
“There are lights near the creek.” Spencer was already unbuckling her seat belt and springing out of the car. The rain soaked her immediately, and she wished she’d worn something warmer than a tank top and workout shorts. Before Aria had picked her up, she’d been running on the treadmill in preparation for this year’s field hockey season—she hoped she’d be an early decision shoo-in for Princeton after completing the five AP classes she was set to start taking at Penn, but she also wanted to be Rosewood Day’s star field hockey player to get that extra edge.
Spencer climbed over the guardrail and peered down the hill. When she let out a little scream, Aria and Emily looked at each other, then bounded out of the car, too. They pulled their raincoat hoods over their heads and followed Spencer down the embankment.
Yellow headlights shone over the raging creek. A BMW station wagon was T-boned into a tree. The front end was smashed and the airbag dangled limply on the passenger side, but the engine was still humming. Windshield glass littered the forest floor, and the odor of gasoline eclipsed the smell of mud and wet leaves. Near the headlights was a slight, auburn-haired figure staring dazedly around as though she had no idea how she’d gotten there.
“Hanna!” Aria yelled. She ran down the slope to her. Hanna had called them all in a panic just a half hour before, saying she’d been in a crash and needed their help.
“Are you hurt?” Emily touched Hanna’s arm. Her bare skin was slick with rain and covered in tiny shards of glass from the windshield.
“I think I’m okay.” Hanna wiped the rain from her eyes. “It all happened so fast. This car came out of nowhere, knocking me out of the lane. But I don’t know about … her.”
Her gaze drifted to the car. There was a girl slumped in the passenger seat. Her eyes were closed, and her body was motionless. She had clear skin, high cheekbones, and long eyelashes. Her lips were pretty and bow-shaped, and there was a small mole on her chin.
“Who is that?” Spencer asked cautiously. Hanna hadn’t mentioned that anyone was with her.
“Her name’s Madison,” Hanna answered, brushing off a wet leaf that had just blown against her cheek. She had to scream over the sound of the pounding rain, which was so violent it was almost like hail. “I just met her tonight—this is her car. She was really drunk, and I offered to drive her home. She lives somewhere around here, I guess—she gave me directions piecemeal, and she seemed really out of it. Does she look familiar to any of you?”
Everyone shook their heads, slack-jawed.
Then Aria frowned. “Where did you meet her?”
Hanna lowered her eyes. “The Cabana.” She sounded sheepish. “It’s a bar on South Street.”
The others exchanged a surprised look. Hanna wasn’t one to turn down a cosmopolitan at a party, but she wasn’t the type to go to a dive bar alone. Then again, they all needed to blow off some steam. Not only had they been tortured the previous year by two stalkers using the alias A—first Mona Vanderwaal, Hanna’s best friend, and then the real Alison DiLaurentis—but they were also sharing a terrible secret from spring break a few months before. They’d all thought Real Ali had died in a fire in the Poconos, but then she’d appeared in Jamaica to kill them once and for all. The girls had confronted her on the roof deck at the resort, and when Ali had lunged at Hanna, Aria had stepped forward and pushed her over the side. When they ran to the beach to find her body, it was gone. The memory haunted each of them every day.
Hanna wrenched the passenger door open. “I used her phone to call for an ambulance—it’ll be here soon. You guys have to help me move her to the driver’s seat.”
Emily stepped back and raised her eyebrows. “Wait. What?”
“Hanna, we can’t do that,” Spencer said at the same time.
Hanna’s eyes flashed. “Look, this wasn’t my fault. I wasn’t drunk, but I did nurse a drink all night. If I stay here and admit I was driving, I’ll definitely get arrested. I might have gotten away with stealing and crashing a car once, but the cops won’t go easy on me a second time.” Last year, she’d drunkenly stolen her old boyfriend Sean Ackard’s car and smashed it into a tree. Mr. Ackard had decided not to press charges, and Hanna had done community service instead.
“I could go to jail,” Hanna went on. “Don’t you realize how that would look? My dad’s campaign will be ruined before it even begins.” Hanna’s father was running for senator in the fall; his campaign was already all over the news. “I can’t let him down again.
The rain fell relentlessly. Spencer let out an awkward cough. Aria chewed on her lip, her eyes drifting to the motionless girl. Emily shifted her weight. “But what if she’s really hurt? What if moving her makes things worse?”
“And then what do we do?” Aria added. “Just … abandon her? That seems so … wrong.”
Hanna stared at them in disbelief. Then, setting her jaw, she turned back to the girl. “It’s not like we’re leaving her here for days. And I don’t think she’s hurt at all—it seems like she’s just passed-out drunk. But if you don’t want to help me, I’ll just do it myself.”
She squatted down and tried to lift the girl by the armpits. The girl’s body tilted awkwardly to the side like a heavy sack of flour, but she still didn’t stir. Grunting, Hanna planted her feet and hoisted the girl upright again. Then she began to shift her across the center console and into the driver’s seat.
“Don’t do it like that,” Emily blurted, stepping forward. “We have to keep her neck stable, in case there’s any damage to her spine. We need to find a blanket or a towel, something to keep her neck steady.”
Hanna eased the girl back down into the seat, then peered into the back of the station wagon. There was a towel in the footwell. She grabbed it, rolled it up, and wound it around the girl’s neck like a scarf. For a moment, Hanna looked up. The moon had drifted out from behind a cloud and momentarily lit up the road, and the whole forest was alive with movement. The trees swayed violently in the wind. As a flash of lightning turned the sky white, all of them swore they saw something move near the creek bed. An animal, maybe.
“It will probably be easier for us to carry her around the outside of the car instead of trying to shift her from the inside,” Emily said. “Han, you take her under the arms, and I’ll take her feet.”
Spencer stepped forward. “I’ll get her around the middle.”
Aria reluctantly peered into the car, then grabbed an umbrella from the backseat. “She probably shouldn’t get wet.”
Hanna looked at all of them gratefully. “Thank you.”
Together, Hanna, Spencer, and Emily lifted the girl out of the passenger side of the car and slowly shuffled her around the back and toward the driver’s seat. Aria held an umbrella over the girl’s body so that not a drop of rain hit her skin. They could barely see through the driving storm, having to blink every few seconds to keep the rain out of their eyes.
And then, halfway around the back, it happened: Spencer’s feet slipped in the quicksandlike mud and she lost her grip on the girl. Madison tilted violently inward, her head banging against the bumper. There was a snap—maybe of a tree limb, but maybe of bone. Emily tried to bear the brunt of Madison’s weight, but she slipped, too, jostling Madison’s limp, fragile body even more.
“Jesus!” Hanna screamed. “Hold her up!”
Aria’s hands wobbled as she tried to hold the umbrella steady. “Is she okay?”
“I-I don’t know,” Emily gasped. She glared at Spencer. “Weren’t you watching where you were going?”
“It’s not like I meant to do it!” Spencer stared into Madison’s face. That snap resonated in her mind. Was the girl’s neck now tilting at an unnatural angle?
An ambulance wailed in the distance. The girls stared at one another in horror, then started shuffling faster. Aria yanked the driver’s-side door open. The key was still in the ignition, and the left-turn signal was blinking. Hanna, Spencer, and Emily moved the airbag aside and set the girl down in the buttery leather seat behind the wheel. Her body listed to the right. Her eyes were still sealed shut, and the expression on her face was placid.
Emily let out a whimper. “Maybe we should stay here.”
“No!” Hanna screamed. “What if we did hurt her? We look even guiltier now!”
The sirens grew louder. “Hurry!” Hanna grabbed her purse from the backseat and slammed the driver’s-side door hard. Spencer shut the passenger door. They scrambled up the hill and dove into Aria’s car just as the ambulance appeared on the ridge. Emily got in the car last.
“Go!” Hanna screamed.
Aria jammed her key in the Subaru’s ignition, and the car sputtered to life. She did a quick three-point turn and sped away.
“Oh my God, oh my God,” Emily sobbed.
“Keep driving,” Spencer growled, peering out the back window at the whirling lights on top of the ambulance. Two EMTs jumped out of the ambulance and carefully maneuvered down the hill. “We can’t let them see us.”
Hanna swiveled around and stared out the window. All kinds of emotions knifed through her. Relief, definitely—at least Madison would get help. But the regret was like a vise around her throat. Had moving Madison made her worse? What had just happened?
A low sob burst from her lips. She put her head in her hands and felt the tears come.
Emily started crying, too. So did Aria.
“Stop it, guys,” Spencer snapped, though tears were running down her cheeks as well. “The EMTs will take care of her. She’s probably fine.”
“But what if she’s not fine?” Aria cried. “What if we paralyzed her?”
“I was just trying to do the right thing by driving her home!” Hanna moaned.
“We know.” Emily hugged her tight. “We know.”
As the Subaru wound around the hairpin turns, there was something else everyone wanted to say but didn’t dare: At least no one will know about this. The accident had happened on a desolate stretch of road. They’d gotten away from the accident before anyone had seen.
They were safe.
The girls waited for the accident to hit the news: CAR CAREENS OFF EMBANKMENT ON REEDS LANE, they imagined the headlines would read. The story might recount the girl’s high blood-alcohol level and how badly the car had been smashed up. But what else would the reporters say? What if Madison was paralyzed? What if she remembered she hadn’t been driving, or even remembered the girls moving her?
All the next day, each of them sat by the TV, checked their phones for breaking news, and kept the radio on low, on alert. But no news came.
A day passed, and then another. Still nothing. It was like the crash had never happened. On the third morning, Hanna got in her car and drove slowly down Reeds Lane, wondering if she’d imagined the whole thing. But no, there was the bent guardrail. There were the skid marks in the mud and a few shards of glass on the forest floor.
“Maybe her family was really embarrassed about what happened and made a deal with the cops to keep it quiet,” Spencer suggested when Hanna called her to express her uneasiness at the lack of news. “Remember Nadine Rupert, Melissa’s friend? One night, when they were seniors, Nadine got drunk and wrapped her car around a tree. She was fine, but her family begged the cops to keep the DUI a secret, and they did. Nadine was out of school for a month getting rehab, but she told everyone she was at a spa retreat instead. Later, though, she got drunk again and told Melissa the truth.”
“I just wish I knew if she’s hurt,” Hanna said in a small voice.
“I know.” Spencer sounded worried. “Let’s call the hospital.”
They did, on three-way, but since Hanna didn’t know Madison’s last name, the nurses couldn’t give them any information. Hanna hung up the phone, staring into space. Then she went on the website for Penn State—which was the school Madison said she attended—and did a search for her, hoping she’d find her last name that way. But there were quite a few Madisons in the sophomore class, way too many to go through one by one.
Would she feel better if she came forward and confessed? But even if she explained that another car had come out of nowhere, knocking her off the road, no one would believe her—they’d assume she’d been as wasted as Madison. The cops wouldn’t congratulate her for being honest, either—they’d haul her off to jail. They’d also realize that she’d needed help moving Madison and had had to recruit her friends. They’d be in trouble, too.
Stop thinking about it, Hanna decided resolutely. Her family want
ed to make it go away, and you should do the same. So she went to the mall. She tanned poolside at the country club. She avoided her stepsister, Kate, and was a bridesmaid in her father’s wedding to Isabel, wearing a hideous green dress. Eventually, she stopped thinking about Madison and the accident every second of the day. The crash hadn’t been her fault, after all, and Madison was probably fine. It wasn’t like she knew Madison, anyway. She’d probably never see her again.
Little did Hanna know that Madison was connected to someone they all knew very well—someone who hated them, in fact. And if that someone knew what they all had done, terrible things might happen. Acts of retribution. Revenge. Torture. That very person might take it upon himself—or herself—to become the very thing all four girls feared most.
A new—and far more frightening—A.
BEWARE, YE LIARS
On a blustery Monday morning in late March, Spencer Hastings stared into the vintage Louis Vuitton trunk on her queen-sized bed. It was packed full of things for her upcoming journey on the Rosewood Day Prep Eco Cruise to the Caribbean, a combination of class trip and environmental-science seminar. Using the trunk was a long-standing good-luck tradition: It had once belonged to Regina Hastings, Spencer’s great-great-grandmother. Regina had bought a first-class reservation on the Titanic but decided to stay in Southampton for a few extra weeks and take the next steamer out.
As Spencer tossed a third bottle of sunscreen onto the top of the pile, her phone let out a bloop. A text bubble appeared on the screen from Reefer Fredericks. Hey buddy, it said. What are you up to?
Spencer found Reefer’s number in her contacts list and dialed it. “I’m packing for the trip,” she said when he answered on the first ring. “You?”
“Just putting some last-minute things together,” Reefer answered. “But I’m bummed. I can’t find my Speedo.”