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Sara Shepard

  Praise for


  “What an addictive, juicy novel, with a whip-cracking plot full of twists and turns. Reputation is packed to bursting with all of the best elements of commercial fiction. Read this one!”

  —Sarah Pekkanen, #1 New York Times bestselling coauthor of An Anoymous Girl

  “Sara Shepard reaches delicious, vicious heights with Reputation. I felt like I was sucked into a video game, slipping into different skins in every chapter. It’s the love child of Dead to Me and Scream, a creepy tale about modern technology and good old-fashioned human flaws. We’re so lucky that Shepard is out there watching the way we live, seeing the best in us, and, oh yes, the cringe-inducing, often laugh-out-loud worst as well.”

  —Caroline Kepnes, author of You, Hidden Bodies, and Providence

  “A modern murder-mystery that exposes our deepest fears about how vulnerable we are to the parts of ourselves we hide online. As the secrets pile up, Shepard writes her calculating antiheroines with sharp clarity, daring the reader to keep pace alongside her. I, for one, was breathless.”

  —Chandler Baker, New York Times bestselling author of Whisper Network

  “Deliciously diabolical. Shepard spares no one in this breakneck thriller as dark secrets and shocking scandals lead to murder.”

  —Liv Constantine, international bestselling author of The Last Mrs. Parrish and The Last Time I Saw You



  Pretty Little Liars Series

  The Lying Game Series

  The Perfectionists Series

  The Amateurs Series


  The Visibles

  Everything We Ever Wanted

  The Heiresses

  The Elizas

  An imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

  Copyright © 2019 by Sara Shepard

  Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

  DUTTON and the D colophon are registered trademarks of Penguin Random House LLC.

  Produced by Alloy Entertainment LLC, 1700 Broadway, New York, NY 10019


  Names: Shepard, Sara, 1977– author.

  Title: Reputation: a novel / Sara Shepard.

  Description: New York, New York: Dutton, [2020]

  Identifiers: LCCN 2019014647 (print) | LCCN 2019015499 (ebook) | ISBN 9781524742911 (ebook) | ISBN 9781524742904 (tr pbk.)

  Subjects: LCSH: Murder—Investigation—Fiction.

  Classification: LCC PS3619.H4543 (ebook) | LCC PS3619.H4543 R47 2020 (print) | DDC 813/.6—dc23

  LC record available at

  Hudson Exclusive Edition ISBN: 9780593182567

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


  To K + H


  Also by Sara Shepard

  Title Page



  Look What You Made Me Do

  Part 11. Kit

  2. Lynn

  3. Raina

  4. Laura

  5. Kit

  6. Lynn

  7. Kit

  Part 28. Willa

  9. Kit

  10. Raina

  11. Laura

  12. Kit

  13. Willa

  14. Lynn

  15. Laura

  16. Raina

  17. Kit

  18. Willa

  19. Kit

  20. Laura

  21. Lynn

  22. Willa

  23. Raina

  24. Kit

  25. Raina

  26. Willa

  27. Laura

  28. Lynn

  29. Willa

  30. Raina

  31. Kit

  32. Lynn

  33. Laura

  34. Raina

  35. Lynn

  36. Laura

  37. Kit

  38. Willa

  39. Kit

  40. Willa

  41. Willa

  42. Willa

  43. Willa

  44. Kit

  45. Willa

  46. Kit

  Epilogue47. Laura

  48. Raina

  49. Lynn

  50. Willa

  51. Kit


  About the Author


  Maybe you got it at birth. Maybe you gained it through hard work. Perhaps you have yours because you’re charitable, or ambitious, or an asshole. It’s your reputation. Everyone’s got one. And if you think reputations don’t matter, you’re wrong.

  Good reputations lift velvet ropes. They get you approved for loans; they’re your ticket to prestigious universities. Good reputations land jobs, find you a spouse, earn you the right friends.

  But have a bad reputation—well. Here come the whispers. Here come the slammed doors. Just try to shake off your bad name: Ten years later, a girl will still be known as the sophomore who had the affair with her track coach. Twenty years later, the only thing neighbors know about the man down the street is that he beat his wife; or that the woman in the grocery store is a frigid spinster; or that the lady on the library steps had something awful happen and she went crazy.

  So it makes sense to preserve a good name, sure. But how far would you go to preserve your reputation—especially when you fear you’re about to be exposed? Would you work on a good cover story? Would you lie? Would you kill?

  You’re shaking your head: I’d never do that—I’m a good person. But until you’re in the thick of it, you have no idea what you’re capable of. If something needs to stay hidden, you just might do whatever it takes.





  MONDAY, APRIL 24, 2017

  I’ve already had two strong martinis before hitting the rooftop bar at the Hotel Monaco in Old City, Philadelphia, which isn’t like me at all. But my foundation’s clients, the very reason I’m on this business trip? They bailed on me at the last minute. Decided to go to a horse show instead. I tried to insinuate myself into their outing—not that I wanted to go to a horse show—but either they didn’t get my hint or they didn’t want my company.

  I take my job very seriously. I raise money for Aldrich University, one of the best private colleges in the whole United States—it’s up there with the Harvards and Stanfords of the world, and actually tougher to get into. Ever since my first husband passed away, I’ve been the univ
ersity’s leading ensnarer of Big Fish donors. I seek out alumnae far and wide, vetting their newly minted positions as heads of hospitals or as CEOs, tracking the science prizes they’ve recently won, making it my business to know if the books they’ve written have hit the New York Times Best Sellers list. And then I pounce, stroking their egos, showering them with praise, reminding them of the prestigious academic roots from which they hail and that the right thing to do, when enjoying their kind of wealth and success, is to give back. I get a rush when I receive a huge check from a new donor—it’s my version of doing drugs. So when I find out that Dr. and Mrs. Robert Hawser of Devon, Pennsylvania, will be watching dressage instead of coming out with Kit Manning-Strasser of Aldrich University Charitable Giving for some wining and dining, I take it pretty damn hard.

  Have I done something wrong? I’m not even the one who groomed these people—it was Lynn Godfrey, a pushy, grating, competitive woman from my department. I consider calling her and chewing her out, but I don’t chew people out. I am graceful and humble and know when to back off. Next week, I will reach out to the Hawsers again. I will be kind and forgiving and gracious. We will start over.

  But right now I have nothing to do in Philadelphia. I’ve checked in with my airline: All flights back to Pittsburgh tonight are booked. I don’t feel like seeing the Liberty Bell. I don’t feel like walking down South Street. I could finalize the plans for the Aldrich Giving Gala this Wednesday, but the party is such a well-oiled machine that there isn’t much to do.

  I’ve never been great with idle hands.

  I uncap the first airplane-size vodka bottle in my room and call my daughters. First, I reach sweet, cheerful Sienna in her dorm room (she’s an Aldrich freshman, and I’ve interrupted a study session). After a forty-two-second conversation in which Sienna profusely apologizes for not being able to speak longer, I then speak to quiet, sullen sixteen-year-old Aurora. She’s at home but getting ready to go out. “Where?” I ask, suspicious. It’s a school night. Aurora assures me she’s just going to Sophie’s house to study for a physics test, nothing to freak out over.

  I mix the next drink as I dial Greg, my second husband of two years. Our conversation is short and about nothing but the basics. I don’t tell him that my clients have bailed on me because, well, it isn’t the picture of myself I want to paint. Greg doesn’t ask me why I sound so down because that isn’t the man he wants to be for me . . . though I believed he did, once. I confirm I am alive. He tells me the same. I remind him that the giving gala is in two days. It’s kind of like an adult prom, the university’s biggest fund-raiser of the year, and Greg is a no-brainer choice for my date, not that I’m exactly looking forward to it.

  My phone pings shortly after I hang up with him. When I look down, it’s a text from an unlisted number.

  Get ready.

  That’s all it says. Frowning, I write back: Who is this?

  No answer. A chill runs up my spine. Get ready for what?

  A loud horn honk outside startles me. I turn and notice that my window curtains are flung open, affording me a view of the rooftops and the bridge beyond. A pigeon flaps from a nearby roost. I have a tingling sensation that I’m being watched.

  I leap up and yank the blinds closed. I need out of this hotel room. I want company, noise, and maybe another drink. The closest place is the hotel’s rooftop bar.

  “You should try a naughty mule,” says a voice beside me after I slide onto a barstool.

  A man sits catty-corner to me on one of the gray couches, half-hidden behind a large marble post. I’m irked that he’s been eavesdropping. I’ve been debating with the bartender—a discerning, fiftyish man with half-mast eyes who is pretentiously overdressed in a three-piece suit—between a Moscow mule and a gimlet. After that strange, anonymous, cryptic text I’d received in my room, the last thing I want are random eyes on me.

  But my eavesdropper smiles jovially enough. I twist around to get a better look at him. By the way his legs stretch from the couch, I can tell that he’s quite tall. His face is square and friendly, and his dark hair curls over his oxford collar. The corners of his eyes turn down in a way that seems trustworthy, and he has a big, wide, straight smile, with good, square teeth. He looks like a preppy, naughty schoolboy, as if he might be hiding a slingshot behind his back. I notice he’s wearing Vans sneakers instead of loafers with his suit. Still dressed for my meeting, I am wearing Yves Saint Laurent pumps that paralyze my toes.

  “It’s vodka mixed with jalapeño and cayenne pepper,” Schoolboy explains, holding up a copper mug. “If you like spicy, you won’t find anything better.”

  My eyelashes lower, then lift. “What makes you think I like spicy?”

  One eyebrow rises. His eyes drift down to my exposed legs, my high heels. “Do you?” he asks, in a voice that, unless I’m crazy, oozes with flirtation.

  “Wouldn’t you like to know,” I shoot back. Then I chastise myself. Kit Manning-Strasser is not a woman who flirts with random men in hotel bars. I catch the bartender’s eye. “Just a Tanqueray and tonic, please.”

  The bartender turns to mix it up, with a smirk on his face. He sets down my cocktail silently, and I swear I hear him snicker. My cheeks are on fire; even a sip of the drink can’t extinguish the heat.

  As the bartender turns away, there’s a voice behind me: “Don’t mind Bertram. He’s a judgmental prick.”

  Schoolboy again. I can feel his gaze on my back as though it’s a heat lamp. “You know him?” I ask nonchalantly.

  “Nope. Just met him today. But I can tell. I’m good at reading people.”

  I pretend to be interested in the flickering votive candle on the bar. I’m still trying to process why this man thought I like spicy things. Or perhaps this is his line to every woman he meets.

  Schoolboy interprets some tiny movement I’ve made as a cue to slip off the couch and take the stool next to mine. “I’m Patrick,” he says, those crinkly, downturned eyes slow, careful magnets drawing me toward him.

  “Kit,” I answer.

  He does not offer his hand to shake, so I don’t offer mine, either. “So are you here on business?” I coolly ask.

  He holds up a palm to say, Halt. “Come now. We’re going to have that conversation?”

  I blink. “Pardon?”

  “We’re at a hotel. We don’t know each other. We can make boring chitchat, or we could actually have an interesting talk.” He leans back and crosses his arms over his chest. He has nice forearms, I notice. Muscular. He’s also not wearing a wedding band.

  “And what, in your estimation, is an interesting talk?” I ask. “You want to talk about politics? Global warming? Health care?”

  “I want to talk about who we really want to be.” His eyes gleam. “It’s a game I play when I travel. It’s not often that we get the opportunity to be someone other than ourselves, you know? I’m not going to tell you where I’m actually from, but where I want to be from. You won’t tell me what you actually do for a living, but what you want to do, in your wildest dreams.”

  A Tiffany lamp, perhaps authentic, sends glittering trapezoids across the marble bar. Out a long set of floor-to-ceiling windows, a rooftop deck beckons, though it is too cold to venture outside. I think of that line from “Eleanor Rigby,” one of my mother’s favorite songs. The title character puts on the face she keeps in a jar by the door whenever there are visitors. Who is Eleanor when she doesn’t have to be Eleanor? Who am I when I don’t have to be Kit Manning-Strasser?

  “Interesting.” I turn away slightly. “Except I’m not feeling very creative tonight, I’m afraid.”

  “It’s not a matter of creativity. It’s about looking into yourself. Knowing yourself. So you’re saying you don’t know yourself?”

  In the background, the soft, unobtrusive electronica song ends, and another begins. Kit Manning-Strasser, I want to tell him, is not a woman who has thes
e conversations. But it does beg a question: Do I know myself? Do I know what I want?

  I think of all I have. But I also think of all the wrong paths I’ve taken. I think of how hard I pretend. Everything I haven’t said. Everything I’ve wanted. Everything I’ve gained and lost.

  “Fine,” I say slowly, without quite realizing it. I settle back in my seat, and I ask him the very same question. “Where you are traveling from, Patrick?”

  His eyes sparkle. “A little town in the South of France. It’s known for its lemons. You?”

  “Marrakesh,” I answer, because I went there once with my parents when my father was on sabbatical—just a few years before I had to identify my mother’s mangled body in the morgue after a drunk driver T-boned her car at ninety miles an hour. Marrakesh was the most magical place I’ve ever been. I’ve always meant to go back, and though my new husband has the cash to make such a trip happen, it’s a little exotic for his taste. “And what do you do?”

  “I’m a weather pilot. I fly into the center of hurricanes.” He answers swiftly, like he’s done this before. “And on the weekends, I race antique cars professionally. Preferably around old, crumbling cities with lots of tight turns.”

  “So you like danger.” I crunch down on a piece of ice. “Thrills.”

  One eyebrow lifts again. “You could say that. And what do you do, Kit?”

  I think of Pulp Fiction, which my sister, Willa, and I used to watch obsessively in high school, especially in those months after our mother died. “I’m the keeper of the meaning of life. It’s in a box in my room right now, and I have to guard it with my life. I get paid very handsomely for doing so.”

  “Did they let you in on what the meaning of life is?” Patrick asks.

  I nod mysteriously. “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.”

  “So you’re a woman who likes to hold all the cards, then.”