Pledging to Theta Pi at Merriwether University seemed to offer Emma Danelski a passport to friendship, fun, and popularity. But the excitement of pledge training quickly fades, as does the warmth of her so-called sisters. What’s left is a stifling society filled with petty rules, bullying, and manipulation. Most haunting are the choices Emma makes in the wake of another sorority sister’s suicide . . .
It doesn’t matter that no one else needs to know what Emma did, or how vastly different life at Theta House is from the glossy image it projects. Emma knows. And now, with her loyalties tested, she must decide which secrets are worth keeping and how far she’ll go to protect them—and herself . . .
Praise for Rosalind Noonan’s Domestic Secrets
“This suspenseful read is Noonan at her best. Fans will be eager to get their hands on her latest, and it doesn’t disappoint.” —Booklist
“Noonan delivers another page-turning thriller whose deeply flawed characters draw you into a web of family secrets.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Recommended for readers wanting stories of dysfunctional families, scandal, and violence that involve entire communities.” —Library Journal
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.90(d)|
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It was over.
It had been a hellish night of blood and pain, but at last, it was done.
With hands clammy from sweat, I reached for the door to the basement lounge known as the "babe cave" and pushed in. In the eerie glow of orange jack-o'-lanterns and Halloween lights, suspicion filled the air as the small group of Theta Pi sisters stopped talking. The Rose Council had assembled, and all eyes were on me.
"You scared the shit out of me." Courtney flopped back against the couch, her hair pale against the brown leather as she adjusted the silver cone cups of her "Material Girl" costume. "For a second I thought you were the cops."
"Don't be paranoid," Tori snapped at her, combing through one of her blue-and-white pom-poms. She had spent the evening dressed as a Dallas Cowboys cheerleader, and it was hard to believe that her hot pants, tiny vest, and boots were still snow white considering the level of partying that must have gone down in the meeting room. "The police are never going to hear about this. Emma will make sure of that." She folded her arms imperiously. "Right, Emma?"
Tori's words were thick with accusation.
I nodded, struggling to swallow the bitter regret that clung to the back of my tongue. My eyes burned and every muscle in my body ached. How had I fallen into this? My evening plans for a costume party with dance music, pumpkin shooters, and drinking games had given way to a night of screaming and cursing, crying, and ... and all that blood. I hadn't expected that.
"I have to go back to my room." What time was it? In the red haze of agony, I'd lost track of everything. The muted light peeking through the edges of the curtains on the small windows told me it was morning, and I knew I had a quiz and an assignment due, if I even made it to class. Right now even my most difficult sophomore classes seemed like trite indulgences compared to the trauma of the night.
But we had survived, my sisters and I. Every bone in my body ached and my muscles were screaming, but I had made it through the night. Now my body desperately craved sleep and solitude. "I'll see you guys later."
"Emma, wait." Tori was suddenly at my side, guiding me back into the room. "Come. Sit."
They sat me on a folding chair used for meetings, the bony chair strategically placed in front of the flat-screen TV. The hot seat. Although the sun had risen outside, the curtains were closed, and the only light came from Halloween decorations and candles.
Ritual candles, I realized. Who had gotten these out? The glow of votive candles cast peculiar shadows on the girls' faces as they, the Rose Council of Theta Pi, sat facing me. Someone handed me a white taper.
The candle of truth.
My throat felt raw and dry as I squinted through the flickering candlelight, trying to find the door behind the pretty faces marred by scowls. Although Lydia's vampire-dark hair fell over her eyes, I could feel the hot mess of emotion there. That girl was on fire. Or maybe the image of fire came from the red satin cape she wore — my Red Riding Hood costume. Had she stolen it, or had she asked to borrow it during the chaos of the night?
I couldn't remember.
Tori's beautiful mouth was a fierce slash of disapproval as she set her shimmering pom-poms in her lap. Courtney echoed the stern look just as she mimicked everything Tori did, same leg crossed, hands on hips, shoulders raised in that camera-ready pose.
And Violet, looking delicate and leggy in a fringed, beaded flapper costume, showered me with thick pity. "Bless your heart, but you're a mess." Hers was the voice of our rituals: soft, with a Southern lilt and firm backbone that shut down argument. "First of all, no one can ever know about this. Now we're all going to swear an oath of silence. Swear on our loyalty and love to the sisters of Theta Pi."
We all pledged secrecy, but I was the one holding the candle of truth. The vow would burn deep. "Can I go now?" I felt like a heap of sodden laundry, wrung out and abandoned when the owner found that all the dorm dryers were full. I was so exhausted I was beyond caring about the festivities that I'd missed tonight. "I'm so tired."
"Don't you think we're tired, too?" There was condemnation in Lydia's voice, stern and imperious, as she flipped up the red hood of the cape and scowled at me.
I wished I could simply rise from the center of the circle and slip out. Vanish in a curl of smoke beneath the door frame. Escape seemed so simple, but appearances were deceiving. Reality was twisted and thorny and complicated, and it kept me in that chair.
Now I belonged in this ring of fire. I had pledged this sorority, vowing to remain loyal and true forever. As the song said, I'm Theta born. Theta bred. And when I die, I'll be Theta dead.
Death seemed like a restful option.
"I really have to go." I handed the candle to Courtney, who blew it out and plunked it on the table without hesitation.
"Poor baby," Tori cooed, with half-closed eyes that twinkled with blue glitter shadow. She looked way too good to have stayed up all night long. Had she sneaked off for a nap in the middle of everything? "You need rest. But before you go to beddy-bye, tell us, what did you do with ... it."
I squinted. "What are you talking about?"
"You know." Courtney leaned closer, wincing. "The body."
Those two words stole away my last ounce of energy and hope. This night had been the worst of my life, and it refused to end. "I didn't ..." I shook my head, not wanting to think about it anymore. "I left her there." I pointed toward the room where I'd left the body wrapped in towels and tucked into a laundry basket, as if she were asleep. She had seemed too peaceful to move.
"Wait." Courtney's mouth dropped open. "You left it in the suite? That's disgusting!"
Violet was shaking her head and Tori was getting all puffed up with indignation. "That cannot happen," Tori said. "What if Ol' Jan sees?"
"She's not going in there." Our housemother wasn't in the habit of barging into girls' rooms.
Violet stared as if seeing me for the first time. "Bless your heart, I don't think you get the enormity of the situation. Look at me, Emma. Sweet pea, you've got to get rid of it."
A wave of emotion crashed over me and I had to bite my lower lip to hold back the tears that formed when I thought of the baby — so tiny, with velvet mini-fingers — wrapped up in fluffy towels like Itsy, the doll I used to bathe when I was seven. "I couldn't move her. She seemed so peaceful."
"Oh, no. No, no. We will not have that thing found in Theta House." Suddenly, Tori stood beside me, hustling me to my feet. "You need to get it out of here. Pronto."
"I can't." I knew the baby couldn't stay here, but I couldn't bring myself to touch her again. "I can't do this. Get someone else."
"Like who?" Lydia chimed in, her dark gaze fixing on me like a leech. "Who wants to get stuck with that?"
I stared back at them, wanting to shrink away and disappear. After all I'd been through, how could they expect me to handle this horrible task? "Why are you ganging up on me?"
Violet gave a whimper of a sigh as she adjusted the skinny strings of her spangled dress. "Bless your heart. We're just trying to help you."
"You're not thinking clearly," Tori said.
That part was true. I was a hot mess.
Tori forged on. "We have bent over backward to help you. We're like all 'Go, Emma!'" she said, jiggling one pom-pom in the air. "But we can only do so much, and what would be the point of us jumping in to finish off what you started? You created this mess for yourself, and it's your responsibility to clean it up. Get that body out of here. Now. Put it in a shopping bag or hide it in your laundry bag and toss it in a hole. Bury it deep or throw it in the ravine. I don't care, as long as you get it out of here."
It was a her. Didn't they get that? And she was a living being. Well, she had been living a few minutes ago.
I was crying now. Silent tears, though I could feel my mouth crumpling in that pathetic frown that, Violet insisted, caused creases. "I can't do this," I murmured. "I can't."
"You can," Tori said steadily, "and you will."
"I can't even ..." I shuddered, hot and cold and dizzy at the same time. "Why do I have to do this?"
"Silly boo." Tori granted me a condescending smile, her teeth super white against her tanned skin. She leaned so close I could feel the heat from her body. "You know this is the consequence of your actions. This is what happens when you kill your baby."
Eyes shut, Rory MacFarlane let his mind rise above the earth as he lingered in a meditative, foggy state. Slightly groggy, intensely happy. He could feel that the back of his jeans was getting wet. Cold, too. November chill, not snow chill. But that didn't matter in the cerebral, honeyed glaze that bathed his soul.
If anything, the sensation amplified the sensory experience. Cold and hot, dark and light, yin and yang. Opposites and contrasts layered upon each other, swirling in one universe.
He smiled. At least his upper body was comfortable and dry in his Omni-Heat jacket, his head topped by a wool beanie. But his fingers rooted in something cold and damp.
Grass. Grass? Ha ha, not that kind. Real grass on the ground.
Slogging through the mist in his mind, he opened his eyes and realized he was lying on a patch of damp grass. Spread-eagle. Somewhere on campus.
"What the hell?"
"I know. Really skank." Adam was hunkered down beside him, arms slung around his knees, all loose limbed and sleepy eyed. No sign of the joint they'd smoked, but Adam was too cautious to leave any evidence in sight. He was premed, needed to keep a clean record. Even in Oregon, where weed was legal, you could get jammed up for life if you were under twenty-one.
"I'm all wet." Mustering the energy before it rolled away, Rory pushed himself up from the earth and slouched forward. He recognized the flat grassy knoll, park benches, and statue of Benjamin Merriwether at the edge of the clearing. Top of the World. People came to this campus hilltop to play Frisbee, picnic, stargaze, and smoke. "Did I fall asleep?"
"I don't know. Did you?" Adam had a habit of repeating things when he was totally baked.
Rory dug in his pocket to make sure his cell phone was there. Yeah. The time glowed in bold white numbers against the dark screen saver of Rory's graphic art: 1:43 a.m. But then it had been late when they'd headed out of the fraternity lounge, looking for fresh air and a break from the drone of normal. They were into the November crunch, the last gasp of the term before Thanksgiving sent them into preparation for finals. Rory had been studying for an economics test, trying to digest Keynesianism and macroeconomics while his brothers watched a late-night talk show, battled in a video game, and played cards. That was the curse of growing up in a large family: Rory needed ambient noise to feel at home. He studied best when a wall of sound freed his mind from present surroundings, but after a few hours, no matter what the content, the brain shut down.
He'd hit saturation when Adam cut out of the card game, looking for someone to kick it with. They had left Greek Row and headed across the bridge, away from the security guards who occasionally patrolled the residential areas at night. Although it had rained earlier, the sky was dark and clear now, a black ceiling over the silent campus. They had passed a stoned-looking couple and a family of deer that had stared at them from the bushes near Chambers Hall. The guys had walked right past and climbed the hill.
Now Rory was good and buzzed and tired, ready to crash. His mind was crammed with all the information it could take. He needed sleep, then coffee, then an hour and a half to spit out everything he'd devoured on the weekly economics quiz.
"You ready?" Rory stood up, swiping at the seat of his jeans.
"Yeah. Let's head back." Adam drew himself up slowly and took a few careful steps across the lawn. He moved in slow motion; Rory probably did, too, but there was no way to see himself. Sometimes when he was high he imagined himself hovering above it all, watching his body move and cataloging the words that came out of his mouth, as if they snapped into written dialogue bubbles in the air. Yeah, that was cool.
They crossed the lawn, pausing at the edge of the hilltop to take in the towers and lights of the north campus that filled the panorama below.
"Top of the World. You see that?" Rory said. "We're lucky."
On their left were the majestic peaks of Chambers Hall, and straight ahead were the rectangular towers of the North Campus Bridge, an ugly suspension bridge that served the campus well. Across the darkened ravine were the houses of Greek Row, the Craftsman-style structures from the old Merriwether estate. Beyond that were modern, square boxes of glass — university buildings that dotted the distant hillside. The darkness between buildings consisted of green things — boxwood hedges, jasmine bushes, tall cedars, and Douglas fir trees, some of them hundreds of years old.
The Merriwether campus was a balance of nature and architecture that seemed museum-like to Rory at times. His friends from home couldn't believe it when he posted photos on Instagram. It was so picture-perfect he half expected a camera dolly to swoop down on the old mansions on Greek Row or the bridge over the falls or the windows of the old buildings sparkling like diamonds in the sunset.
"Amazing," Rory said aloud.
"Where we live, dude. It's a beautiful patch of the planet."
"That it is."
Right now the campus was still and dark, like a model train village with the low-wattage lights twinkling. Even in the vise grip of pressure, Rory could still recognize the natural beauty that surrounded him. He wasn't one of those ungrateful morons who trashed the place and then flunked out mid-semester.
Something sounded from the direction of the ravine, like the harsh cry of a crow.
"What was that?" Adam's eyes grew round.
"Someone on the bridge?" Focus narrowing, he squinted toward the flicker, an object moving in front of one of the bridge lights.
A large bird? Something flapping near the deck of the bridge.
No, not a bird. A person.
The breath left Rory's lungs as the small commands were barked in the air. A girl was mad at someone. Who? No one answered. The only voice was hers, lashing the air. Was she talking on a cell phone? "You promised. You promised." The words traveled through the emptiness over the ravine, as if amplified by the surface of the water.
"Did you hear that?" Adam asked.
Rory lifted one hand to shut his friend up, and Adam hunched his shoulders as they listened. She was raging now. Growling. She was pissed, but her words were muddled.
Adam's face went pale. "Is she going to jump?"
"She's probably thinking about it." A sudden rush of adrenaline told him this was the real deal. Shit. Alarm shivered up his spine, but it would be hard to shake the buzz.
"We need to stop her," Adam said, voicing the obvious.
Rory stared hard, wishing he could close the distance between himself and the distraught girl. He wanted to fly through the night like some superhero, be on the bridge now, hold her back. Sure, he could run to her, but that would take precious minutes, far from an instant intervention.
Something moved again on the deck of the bridge. A large bird flapping its wings in front of the dull amber light.
"She's pacing," Rory observed. "She's on the edge." Stalling? A rumbling of hope in Rory's gut urged him forward. Maybe he could get to her, talk with her. "But I don't hear her crying anymore."
"Is that a good sign?" Adam asked. "Do you think she —"
Rory was already running, tearing down the hill, legs pumping like pistons as though someone's life depended on him to rescue them. With each breathless stride he pushed himself harder.
Get there. Get there. Get there.
He raced ahead frantically, knowing that, by all standards of logic, it was probably too late. Too late, but he had to try.
Excerpted from "Pretty, Nasty, Lovely"
Copyright © 2017 Rosalind Noonan.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book kept me guessing right from the start. A baby is born and someone disposes of it, however, you don't know who it is. You know that it happens in a sorority house, but not if it's in the past or something that is yet to come. Little pieces of the puzzle are given to us throughout the book. However, I could not complete it myself until the character spoke up about what happened. And, it's not what you think. Well, maybe not, it certainly wasn't what I thought. A book that I could put down and did. It has your usual characters in a sorority house. Some friendly, some not and some horrible. However, I think the ending more than made up for some of the extra wording I had to plow through to get to the finale. I found this book to be a good read, although sometimes some of the unnecessary additions bogged me down a little. Thanks to Kensington Books and Net Galley for providing me with a free e-galley in exchange for an honest, unbiased review.