Vincent leaves Miami early, cutting his trip short. He doesn’t care. She’s not here. He goes home where he is called by his board of directors for a special meeting.
Meanwhile, Keatyn and Cooper go to Vancouver where they initially get a very chilly reception . . .
Cooper and I leave in our separate cars from school, meet up at the airport, and do our cross-country tour to get to Vancouver without leaving a trail.
When we get to the house my family is leasing, a shocked James meets us out front surrounded by four security guards.
“What are you doing here?” he asks, eyeing me suspiciously.
“What do you think I’m doing here, James? It’s Gracie’s birthday.”
“Who’s the guy?”
“This is Cooper Steele. Garrett hired him to be my bodyguard. Why are you acting so weird?”
“Since Vincent followed your mom to New York, we’ve been worried that you might not be enough for him.”
“What do you mean?”
“We think you’re both in danger. That’s why you haven’t seen any pictures of your mom and Tommy together. She refuses to go out in public with him. She won’t even ride in the same car with him.”
“She had a dream that Vincent shot them both. She’s afraid it was a premonition, and she doesn’t want the girls to grow up without at least one parent.”
“Garrett is also worried that he could use one of you as bait. In order to get you both.”
“Has he been following Mom?”
“She always has someone following her. It’s rarely Vincent, but we know he’s hired someone. And he watches the house. You shouldn’t be here.”
“Why don’t you make him go away?”
“Because he sucks at his job and is easy to spot. If he’s there, we know Vincent is probably not.”
“Wait. Is that why you brought the hulks with the guns out here? Why you haven’t let me in the house? You think I’d bring Vincent here? Where my sisters are? Are you nuts, James?”
“I’m sorry, Keatyn. I assume no matter what that you’d want me to keep your sisters safe. Is that correct?”
I nod as tears flood my eyes.
I was so excited to come here. I thought everyone would be happy to see me.
I turn toward the car. “I have a present for Gracie. Will you please give it to her and let her know it was from me?”
I open the car door and ask Cooper to unload her present.
“We’re clear.” I hear from a walkie-talkie.
Cooper has been standing stick still but ready to strike. He hasn’t said a word until now. “That means you get to go to your sister’s birthday party.”
“I’m sorry,” James says to me. “I’m just doing my job.”
I nod as we’re led through the front door of a sprawling contemporary log cabin style home.
Mom rushes down the stairs. “Keatyn! Why are you here?”
“I came for Gracie’s birthday. I couldn’t miss it.”
She looks really nervous to see me, but she quickly hides it with a smile. “Did Brook know you were coming?”
“Uh, no. Why?” I reply as Tommy and Mom give me hugs and I introduce them to Cooper. We briefly explain how Vincent is in Miami doing his auditions, so we knew that my coming here would be okay. Cooper also fills James in on our no breadcrumbs trip here.
We follow Mom out to a lush backyard.
And there, sitting in the middle of a huge sandbox, is Brooklyn, building sand castles with the girls.
“B is here? I just talked to him yesterday and he didn’t tell me he was coming.” My eyes fill up with tears again as my heart feels warm and full.
I grab my mom’s hand. “When did he get here?”
“Late last night. He had a sandbox and a truckload of sand delivered this morning.”
“I told him she wanted to build sandy castles with him.” I yell out, “Gracie!”
Gracie turns toward the sound of her name, sees me, jumps up, does something similar to the Snoopy happy dance, and then runs straight to me. I bend down as she catapults herself into my arms.
“Happy birthday, Gracie!”
“Happy birthday to Kiki,” she says back.
Then all the girls come running over and gang tackle me into the grass. Covering me with hugs and kisses.
Gracie screams, “No! My Kiki!”
The other girls back off as a hand reaches out to help me up.
A deeply tanned hand attached to a thicker than usual arm.
I grasp his hand as he pulls me to my feet and into a hug.
“I can’t believe you’re here.”
He gives me a lopsided grin. “I brought sand.”
I look into his warm blue eyes. Eyes that engulf me with more emotions than the ocean could hold. Eyes that make me feel like I’m riding a wave.
The eyes of home . . .
Vincent is in the meeting with his board of directors. It’s going well. He presents them with graphs from his marketing department full of consumer statistics and explains how the buzz from the nation-wide search for the lead role both verifies the need for the remake and how well it will be received upon release. He asks for their financial support.
“Vincent, if I may,” one of the more vocal board members says. “Making movies isn’t what this company does. I don’t think it’s a good move for us strategically. Our capital is much better spent on doing what we do best.”
Vincent quickly angers but doesn’t allow it to show on his face. “This is my company. I built it and have made each of you a lot of money trusting my good instincts in regard to movie futures and movie commodities. You need to trust me.”
“While that’s true, we all have invested in that company and want to see it continue to succeed. What will your budget be for this movie?”
Vincent tells them.
“Exactly my point. If the movie failed, it could have disastrous effects on the company’s net worth.”
“Your job is to advise me, not question me,” Vincent states politely. He needs their support to make this happen.
“Could I have you for a moment, Mr. Sharpe?” his assistant asks, barging into the closed door meeting.
He gives her a glare, but smiles at the board and says politely, “If you will excuse me.” When he gets out into the hall, he’s livid. “What is it?”
“There’s this guy on the phone who has called like four times. He says he won’t take no for an answer and says he needs to speak to you urgently about your daughter. I told him you don’t have a daughter, but he keeps calling.”
“Give me the phone.” His heart starts racing as he snatches the cordless phone out of her hand. “Yes?”
“Your daughter just showed up in Vancouver.”
“Are you sure?”
“Positive. Private plane. Flew in from Salt Lake City under the name Keatyn Douglas. Our man on the ground at the airport also identified her from the photo.”
“When?” he asks, knowing his assistant is listening.
“About three hours ago.”
“What?! God dammit!” he says, going into a rage, hanging up and yelling at his assistant. “When I get an important call, I don’t care who I’m with. You notify me! I’m leaving. Call the airport, let them know I need a charter. I need to be wheels up within the hour!”
“But, sir. What about the board?”
“The board can go fuck themselves.”
. . . B and I stare at each other, ignoring most of what’s going on around us.
When the music starts, he moves with me. Like he did that night at the Undertow. The night when I wished he’d kiss me. Now, I don’t know what to wish for. B has changed. I’ve changed. We’re not those two naive kids anymore. Vincent has changed us. I look at my sisters dancing with each other. The triplets are getting taller and are under constant surveillance. Mom and Tommy were nervous upon seeing me. My godfather, James, thought I was some sort of trap.
And I realize Vincent has changed us all.
I close my eyes and do something I haven’t done for a while.
I make a wish.
“I wish we could have our old lives back,” I say quietly.
“I’ve been studying stalking cases,” B whispers in my ear. “I want to talk to you about it.”
“Not today, B. Don’t ruin today with any other thoughts of him.”
Vincent is so rushed getting to the airport, he doesn’t have much time to plan, but since she got away in New York, he’s always prepared. He carries a cigar tube with a syringe inside his jacket pocket. He pats it reassuringly. It’s quick acting, and once she’s incapacitated there are numerous lies he can tell the pilots, the simplest being that she is an actress with severe flight anxiety—due to her father perishing in a plane crash when she was young—and has to be practically comatose to get back and forth between filming in Vancouver and her home in L.A.
He’s praying he doesn’t miss her, but it’s been months since she’s seen her family. She’ll be staying for awhile. Probably thinks he isn’t paying attention anymore. Or maybe, she knows he his. Maybe that’s why she boldly flew there. She wants him to come rescue her. She told him of her desire to make his movie with him. Circumstances are keeping them apart.
He calls his man on the ground. He couldn’t say much while his assistant was hovering over him, but he can now. “Give me a situation update,” he barks.
“Flew in on a charter. The plane is still at the airport, apparently waiting for her return. They have a flight plan filed to go back to Salt Lake later this evening.”
“I’ll be there in three hours. Where is she now?”
“At the house with her family.”
“Do you know why?”
“Yes, it’s one of Abby and Tommy’s daughter’s birthdays. They took a day off filming because of it, my source on set told me.”
“I’ll be there soon. Keep watch on the house. Can I assume you are armed?”
During the flight to Vancouver, Vincent works through his head how it will go down. He knows from his man that the whore’s home is heavily guarded. If he has to, he’ll break in and kill everyone.
Actually, he smiles. He won’t kill everyone.
He’ll bring both the whore and her daughter home with him.
The ultimate punishment for her betrayal. She will watch him kill her husband. Her babies. Then she can watch as he has his way over and over with her daughter. Maybe he will violate both of them.
The thought arouses him, and he allows his mind to drift further.
. . . I’m walking up the stairway to board our plane when a black town car pulls up to a sleek jet that has just landed. A man gets off and starts down the stairs. “Oh my God.”
The man turns in my direction, locks eyes with me, and smiles.
Our eyes lock. She’s here, but already preparing to depart. When she kisses her middle finger and flips him off, he knows the vulgar gesture is just a ruse. Something to confuse those around her. What she does next pulls at his heart. She mouths, Come and get me.
He knows with certainty that is what she truly wants.
And he knows he must do exactly as she requests. He must come and get her. Their fates have been conjoined since the first moment they met on the beach. And he must not fail her.
He takes out his phone and makes a desperate call to a very important man. One he knows can have this airport shut down in seconds due to the power his mafia status wields across the world.
“Cooper! It’s him. He’s just getting off that plane. They were right about me. I led him here. I shouldn’t have come!”
Cooper drags me into the plane and yells at the copilot, “We need to take off. Now!”
I somehow get out of Cooper’s grip and back to the door. I see Vincent is on his phone.
I wave at him to get his attention. Then I raise my middle finger to my lips, kiss it, and hold it out to him. Then I mouth, Come and get me. I don’t even care if it pisses him off.
I want him pissed. I want him to follow me.
I want him far away from my family.
Vincent bounds down the stairs and starts running toward me just as the door is shut and the stairs are rolled away.
I grab my phone, hit 911, and call Garrett.
“Is he there?”
“He’s at the airport in Vancouver.”
“Your locket says you’re at school.”
“I took it off. Doesn’t matter. He’s coming toward our plane. He left Miami. Must’ve heard I was here. Call the airport. Say it’s a national emergency or something. Just get us off the ground.”
“What’s your tail number?”
I run to the cockpit and ask the pilot as politely as I can, “Can you please give him our tail number?” I hand him my phone. Then I run and look out the window. Vincent is standing outside the plane, gesturing big with his hands, and screaming into his phone.
I think he’s trying to get them to roll the stairs back.
Cooper nods at me and grabs a black bag that he didn’t have on the way here. He unzips it quickly, pulls out a matte black gun, and hands it to me. “The safety is on. Click here to unlock it. Pull the trigger to shoot. There are fifteen bullets in the magazine. If something happens to me, shoot until you take him down. Do not stop shooting.”
He pulls two more guns out of the bag. A smaller one, which he shoves into the back of his pants and a larger one that he keeps in his hand. “God dammit. I knew I should have taken you to the gun range.”
The copilot walks back with my phone. “I gave it to him but all flights have been temporarily grounded.” Then he notices the guns in our hands and says, “What’s going on?”
“She’s a federal witness,” Cooper quickly lies. He pushes the copilot’s head down even with the window. “That guy out there is the mob’s contract killer. We have to take off now. Because when he comes to kill her, he’ll kill you too. Won’t think twice. Get us ungrounded. Now.” Cooper even pulls out a badge of some kind and flashes it at the copilot. “Move,” he says.
The copilot gets on the headset and speaks to the tower. “We’re requesting an emergency takeoff.”
“Emergency takeoff? You mean landing?” the tower replies.
“No. Take off.”
“Can’t right now.”
Cooper grabs the headset. “This is Cooper Steele, NSA. There is a possible terrorist suspect standing outside our plane. He just arrived from . . .”
“Miami,” I whisper, as Cooper says, “Miami.”
“A flight did just arrive from Miami,” the tower replies, sounding confused.
“Apprehend him and clear us for takeoff,” Cooper commands.
“I can apprehend him but I’m afraid I can’t clear you for takeoff. Only the . . . what? Yes, sir. You are cleared for take off.”
Quickly, we are moving down the runway.
Vincent curses excessively into his phone as he watches her plane race down the runway. “I thought you said you could handle it?”
“I tried. I was overruled by the government. If you would have called me sooner, I could have had the plane disabled.”
Vincent pushes his anger down. “I appreciate your help in this matter.”
“Do you want me to have her kidnapped?”
“The men you recommend haven’t been able to find her.”
“Have you followed the money?”
“She had to pay for the flight somehow.”
“How do I do that?”
“You let me invest in your company.”
“So I can go to jail for money laundering?”
“Don’t kid yourself, Vincent. I have plenty of legitimate funds in the bank.”
“I couldn’t give you a seat on my board of directors, but I just met with them and regardless of the financial projections for my movie they have been hesitant. It’s not going to stop me, though. I have plenty of assets I can leverage.”
“And I happen to own a bank that would love to help you do just that if you’ll agree to take me on as a small investor.”
“Deal,” Vincent says.
“Excellent. I also know of a few others who would be willing to invest without representation. If you need more money, let us know. In the meantime, I’ll have a bank representative at your office within the week. And I will make a call to a very special accountant I know. His specialty is finding those who don’t want to be found. Everyone leaves a trail.”
Vincent hangs up. At least something good has come out of this day.
“Put your hands up!” he hears.
Vincent assesses the airport security men who have their weapons trained on him—and does as they ask.
What follows is a debacle. Men detain him, and he’s brought in a room for questioning.
Once the TSA realizes he’s in the movie industry and that he wasn’t even on the plane that arrived from Miami, they profusely apologize and let him go.
As our wheels leave the ground, Cooper’s phone rings.
“Fuck,” he says before he answers. “Yes. I know, sir. Right, but . . .” Sigh. “It’s on me. Yes, I understand.”
He disconnects the call and shuts off his phone as we climb into the air.
Then he stands up, takes the gun out of my hand, and puts it back in the bag along with his.
“What the hell were you thinking? He didn’t know you were in here until you called attention to yourself.”
“He was going to the house.” I picture Gracie sleeping in my arms and feel sick. “I couldn’t let him.”
“He put something in one of your sister’s backpacks, didn’t he?”
He runs his hand across his buzzed hair. “Garrett just fired me.”
“Bullshit,” I say.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, bullshit. Although I appreciate everything he’s done for me, and although he may think he is, Garrett is not the boss of me. He works for me.”
“It seems personal to him.”
“It’s always been personal to you. And it just got more personal because you met my sisters.”
“You were right, Cooper. About me being the weakest link in my security. I need you to teach me all the martial arts stuff you know. And how to shoot. You’re not leaving school.” I roll my eyes and give him a grin. “The girls would all be grieving for days.”
After we level out, the co-pilot comes back. “We were just informed that our flight plan was changed. We’ll be landing at Santa Monica airport in a few hours.”
“Santa Monica?” I ask after the pilot goes back into the cockpit.
Cooper shakes his head. “That’s where Garrett is meeting us. He’ll be getting you back to school.”
I get up and pour us each two fingers of scotch.
I set the glass in front of him. “Drink.”
“I can’t drink on the job.”
“Technically, you just got fired. Drink.”
When we land, Garrett pulls Cooper aside. They’re having a very animated conversation.
I walk in between them. “That’s enough, Garrett. There’s no reason to yell at him if you’ve fired him.”
“The hell there isn’t. I can’t believe the two of you pulled a stunt like this.”
“Garrett, calm down. Cooper planned everything out. He’s really smart and he did a really good job. You need to hire him back.”
“Um, yes, Garrett. Otherwise you’re fired.”
Garrett’s head practically does a 360-degree spin. Almost like a horror movie.
“Are you fucking kidding me?” Garrett says, now completely pissed off.
“Garrett, you know I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but I have to put my foot down on this, just like I did with Cooper. I need both of you working together to help keep me safe. My rehearsals just ended and Cooper is going to start teaching me martial arts.”
“And how to shoot,” Cooper says with a grin.
“Because even though school is pretty secure, I’m the weak link.”
“The weak link?”
“Tell him, Cooper.”
He does and then, finally, they shake hands.
Garrett gives me a hug, then dangles a set of car keys in front of us and says, “Drive from here to Vegas. Spend the night. Catch a charter there.”
Cooper and I get into the car and drive away from the airport.
“I don’t want to go to Vegas tonight.”
“We don’t have a choice.”
“Sure, we do. It’s past ten, we’re exhausted, and it’s over a four-hour drive. It’s not safe.”
“Where do you want to go then?”
“We’ll stay here in Santa Monica.”
“Vincent can check our flight plans.”
“If he does that, he’d go to Malibu. Shit. I wonder if he knows B was in Vancouver? Hang on. I need to call him.”
I push B’s number. “Hey, are you still in Vancouver?”
“Yeah, spending the night at your parents’ and then flying to my next tournament.”
“Portugal. Then Hawaii for the Thanksgiving break. You doing anything? You could come.”
“I don’t think that would be very smart, B.”
“Yeah, I know. Wishful thinking.”
“Thanks again for spending Gracie’s birthday with her.”
“No problem. Bye, Keats.”
I hang up. “He’s not coming home. And I know just where to stay. Let me call and see if they have any rooms.”
Cooper and I get to the iconic Shutters on the Beach in Santa Monica and check into the Presidential suite. It was all they had available and I would pay just about anything to stay on the beach tonight.
After we get checked in, I immediately swing open the balcony doors and take in the fresh ocean breeze.
I get a crazy idea that Cooper will probably never agree to. But I check anyway. I pop on Facebook and pull up Mark’s profile. He always posts the night before where they are surfing in the morning.
There across my phone are the words: Manhattan Beach is where it’s at.
“You better get some sleep tonight,” I tell Cooper. “We’re getting up at sunrise and going surfing.”
Cooper stops drinking the beer he just pulled out of the refrigerator. “No, we are not.”
“Yeah, we are. We’re going to Manhattan Beach. It’s nowhere near Malibu. Some of B’s old surfer friends are going to be there.”
“I think it’s a bad idea.”
I smile at him. “So’s going to sit out on the beach right now, but I’m still going to do it.”
“I’m coming with you and you’re going to pretend to be with me. Understand? Like we’re a couple.”
I grab his hand. “Come on then, sexy. We’re going to make out in the moonlight.”
I drag him down to the beach and plop down in the sand.
He wraps the blanket he took from the suite around us.
I close my eyes and take it all in. The smells, the sounds. All of which feel like home.
“Tell me about your sister,” I say to Cooper.
He shakes his head. “It’s not a pretty story.”
“I’m sure it’s not. Please. I need to know.”
“She broke up with her boyfriend because he was cheating on her and that’s when things changed. He started showing up at her apartment unannounced. Standing outside her car waiting for her after work. Sending her flowers and leaving her notes. Of course, she told him they weren’t getting back together, and that he needed to leave her alone. He did for a few months until she started dating again. Then, one night he was waiting for her when she got home. He told her she was his and that if she ever even looked at another man, he would kill her. Before he threatened her, she considered him more of an annoyance, but after that, she was scared. They tried to get a restraining order at that point, but didn’t have any proof. So, she started noting all the times he was around. Saved his cards and letters. Finally got a restraining order. Two days after he was notified of the order, he went to her apartment, raped her, and killed her.”
My hand flies up to my mouth. “Oh my god.”
“The neighbors heard the shot and called the police. There was a standoff and he shot himself.”
“My parents still blame themselves. They tried to get her to stay with them, but she wouldn’t listen.”
“She was trying to live her life,” I say, sort of understanding.
The next morning . . .
Cooper and I get up early and drive to Manhattan Beach.
Last night I asked the hotel to get us wetsuits, swimsuits, towels, and changes of clothes. We didn’t pack anything since we weren’t planning on spending the night.
“Have you ever surfed before?”
“On a summer vacation to Hawaii.”
I carefully look at the surfers who are assembled, double checking that Vincent’s not one of them. Or even to see if there’s someone who looks like they don’t belong.
I spot Mark and wander over to him.
“Keatyn!” he says, giving me a full body hug. “What’s up, girl?”
“Not much. I was back in town and saw this was the place to be. I don’t even have a board.”
“Aw, hell. I’ve got three in my van. You can borrow one.”
“Thanks. This is my friend, Cooper.”
Mark gives Cooper a fist bump, and I say hey to the guys that I used to surf with almost every day.
“Brooklyn is shredding it up on the tour,” one says.
“How is he?” another asks.
“He’s living his dream,” Mark answers for me, coming back with two boards.
Wherever they take him, I say quietly to myself as the sky brightens.
I was so worried about how his leaving would affect me that I didn’t once stop to think how good this would be for him. He’s already changed so much. The boy I left has grown into a man.
I sit down in the sand and call him, knowing he’s already awake. “Hey, guess where I am.”
“Are you safe? That’s all I care about. Tommy and James told me about everything that happened at the airport and how Garrett fired your bodyguard.”
“Two things I want to tell you before we get into that.”
“I’m proud of you for living your dream, and I’m really sorry I wasn’t more supportive.”
“Keats, you’re the one who encouraged me. I’ll never forget you telling me to follow my dream that night at the Undertow.”
“I was so afraid you were never going to kiss me.”
“I told you I’ve been researching stalking cases, but I’m not loving what I’m finding out. So I’m going to come up with another way.”
“We’re gonna be together again, Keats. On the beach, where we belong. Don’t lose sight of that dream, okay?”
I look out at the waves, the guys surfing, and feel calm.
I feel like he’s right.
“Are you at the beach?” he asks.
“How did you know?”
“I can hear the waves and a seagull.”
“I’m at Manhattan Beach surfing with Mark and the boys. They say hi.”
“How many sunrises have we watched together, Keats?”
“My favorite part of the day.”
“I’m gonna go catch a few waves before we have to go.”
“Show those boys a little chaos.”
Vincent is working out with his trainer, a talented MMA fighter. They are having a fierce sparring match when he hears his phone buzz. The noise breaks his focus, and the trainer uses it to his advantage, sweeping him onto the floor and pinning him. Vincent taps out then checks his phone.
On it is a photo of Lacy wearing a bikini top he’s never seen. Her long legs are encased in a wetsuit, and her hair is wet like she’s just come out of the ocean.
This the girl you’re looking for? She’s at Manhattan Beach.
He replies: It is. I’m on my way. Please detain her. There’s five hundred extra in it for you.
We’ve been surfing for a couple hours when Cooper pulls me aside and says, “I’m starting to get nervous about being here.”
“He knows you like to surf. He probably went everywhere and offered a reward to anyone who tips him off when you show up. I don’t like the way those two guys over there are looking at you.”
I smile. “Maybe they just like my bikini.”
“They took your picture, made a phone call, and seem to be watching you even closer. I’d like to get out of here.”
“If you’re right, we won’t want them to see our car. You go get the car. Drive up two blocks. I’ll meet you.”
“Two blocks? No way. What if Vincent shows up or they try to grab you?”
“Surfers are territorial. All I have to do is say the guys are creeping me out, and that they took my picture. They still think of me as B’s girl. While they confront them, I’ll sneak away.”
Cooper grins at me. “That’s a good plan.”
I walk up to Mark and tell him the guys are creeping me out. He immediately grabs three guys and goes to confront them.
When he does, I take off running.
I hide behind cars, dodge behind a restaurant, and then sprint down a sidewalk.
I see our car ahead, idling at the curb.
I jump in the car, slightly out of breath. “It worked. Go!”
Cooper drives all over, making sure he’s not followed. Then we head back to the hotel, where we get a different rental car, just in case. We order room service and eat it on the deck overlooking the water.
“I could get used to this,” Cooper says, looking out at the beach and down at his huge breakfast.
He flips through the paper while he eats.
“Look at this.”
I read a small piece about how Vincent cut short the Miami tryouts and won’t be back, much to the outrage of fans who had waited in line for up to three days to audition.
“That really sucks for them,” I say, feeling bad.
Cooper cocks his head. “I never paid attention to the name of his film company before. Have you?”
“Uh, no. What is it?”
“A Breath Behind You.”
A shudder runs down my spine. “Think that’s directed at me?”
“I’d say so, considering it spells out ABBY.”
Vincent is just getting on the highway when he gets another text.
Sorry, dude. The girl’s gone.
He responds: What? Why?
The guys she was with saw me take a picture of her. Started some shit. When it was over, she was gone. Do I still get the five hundred?
He slams his hands on the steering wheel. No, you idiot. You don’t.
But then he realizes something. She’s come home.
He turns the car around, calls his man in Malibu, and tells him to get on the beach in front of the house. To walk it all day if he has to. He reminds him to stay in the ocean, so that he doesn’t risk getting picked up for trespassing. And he tells him to grab her first, call him second.
He quickly exits the highway, drives under the bridge and heads the opposite direction toward Malibu. He’s not taking any chances this time.
When she comes home, he’s going to greet her himself . . . but she never shows up. He’s just going to have to hope someone will nominate her for the role.
After class, Annie says, “I forgot to tell you. I heard about this really cool thing online. There’s this guy that’s remaking one of Abby Johnston’s old movies and he’s doing a nationwide search for an actress to play—”
“She’s not interested,” Aiden says firmly to Annie. “Even though we all thought she was amazing, she didn’t enjoy doing the play and won’t be acting again.”
“Really?” Annie gives me a bewildered look.
“Yes, really. I didn’t like it. I want to be a doctor, I think. Although we’re getting back those career surveys next week. Maybe it will tell me what I should do for a job.”
“But, you could make a ton of money. All I’d have to do is nominate you online.”
“Annie, please don’t. I would turn it down. I love Eastbrooke and if I got a movie, I’d have to leave. I’d miss you.”
“I’d miss you too. But what about the money?”
I shrug my shoulder. “I don’t care. If you nominated me, I wouldn’t try out. I wouldn’t even talk to the guy.”
“That’s harsh,” she says, still looking at me funny.
Brooklyn texts Keatyn. And he has a plan.
B: Call me if you have a chance. I want to talk to you about some stuff.
I tell Katie that I’m going to the kitchen to scrounge for a snack, but go in the stairwell and call him.
“So I’ve been researching stalking cases. Want to hear some statistics?”
“I found out that half of all stalkers threaten violence but that only two percent actually kill.”
“So I have a 98% chance of surviving this. I like those odds.”
“Stalking is a felony but often dismissed due to lack of evidence. Do you remember that pop singer that was stalked? The guy told everyone they were secretly engaged. Sort of reminds me of Vincent saying that he’s going to make a movie with Abby, you know?”
“Stalkers also tend to have inflated egos, impersonal sex, no remorse, and superficial charm. But it all comes down to one thing.”
“Control and domination.”
“Garrett already told me all that stuff.”
“Well, I was thinking of something. Possibly a different approach to fighting him.”
“What if we made him feel out of control?”
“I suggested that I do a slutty video or something like Mom’s new movie. I wonder what will happen when it releases. Hopefully it won’t send him over the edge.”
“What if the control had nothing to do with you?”
“How would we do that?”
“My dad’s company is fighting off a hostile takeover.”
“That’s what I think we should do to Vincent. We do a hostile takeover of his production company. Giving us the rights to the film. If that film is as important to him as I think it is, he would fight the takeover like crazy. It might not make him forget you, but it might give him something else to do besides a nationwide search for you. It would keep you safer, longer. Then if we get the rights . . .”
“We could make the film ourselves.”
“Do you know how much his film company is worth?”
“No, but I know someone who can find out for us.”
“He inherited a lot of money when his grandmother died.”
“You inherited a lot of money from your dad, didn’t you?”
“And I have a big trust fund too. And if we didn’t have enough, we’d raise the capital somehow.”
I start to get tears in my eyes, then accidentally let out a little sob.
“Keats, don’t cry.”
“Thanks, B. Everyone has been great in trying to protect me. But I feel like I have no control. I want to fight back.”
“We’ll fight together. I want you back on the beach with me.”
“It’s late here. I need to get some sleep. Let me know what you find out.”
“It will probably be a few weeks. They have to get through their deal first. Night, Keats.”
The next day, Keatyn deletes all of her social media accounts when this happens.
“Speaking of not knowing anyone,” Whitney says, looking me directly in the eye. “It turns out that I’m Facebook friends with a guy from your old school. Such a small world. Funny thing is, though, he doesn’t know you.”
“How would you know where I used to go to school?”
“I’m sure you mentioned it.”
I shake my head. “No, I’m pretty sure I haven’t.”
“Well, I must have seen it somewhere.”
Yeah, like maybe when she broke into the dean’s office.
“I just think it’s a bit odd that he didn’t know you.”
I need to sound unconcerned, so I use my Alpha girl bitch voice to reply. “What’d the guy look like?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean, was he hot? Why would I bother being friends with a guy who wasn’t hot?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t really pay attention. Is that the only reason you hang out with Dawson?”
I laugh and try to change the subject. “Actually, I wanted his brother.”
Peyton tries unsuccessfully to stifle a chuckle as Whitney’s eyes get huge. “You wanted Camden? But you . . .”
“Why would I want Camden? I meant Riley,” I say innocently, but knowing full well that I struck a nerve.
Whitney sneers at Peyton, but Peyton just shrugs a shoulder.
While they stare each other down, I text Cooper because I’m freaking out.
Me: Meet me in your office in ten?
Whitney grabs my phone. “Who are you texting? We’re having a discussion here.” She looks at my phone, sees my text, and can’t disguise the mad crinkle between her eyebrows. “You’re texting him?”
“I just did, yes. I asked him earlier if we could meet to talk about a summer soccer camp.”
“Bullshit,” she counters. “He’s sitting right there. You could’ve walked over and asked him. You’re hiding something. Don’t think Peyton and I don’t know that.”
“I just didn’t want to bother him,” I state as my phone lights up in Whitney’s hand.
She squints her eyes at me. “It seems to me like you and Mr. Steele are together quite a bit.”
“You’ve had meetings with him too.”
I don’t bother to reply. I stand up and say, “I better get going.”
I walk over to where Cooper is sitting, lean down, and say quietly, “Let’s go.”
He gathers his stuff up.
When we get outside, I grab his elbow and pull him around the side of the building.
“What are you doing?”
“We’re hiding. And we’re not going to your office. We need to go somewhere else. Somewhere private. I have a big problem.”
He glances at his watch. “Let’s go to the Teachers’ Lounge. It’s late enough that no one will be in there.”
When we get locked into the room, he says, “What’s the big problem?”
“I need to delete all my old social media. Now that I think about it, I don’t even understand why Garrett didn’t do that in the first place.”
“He was looking for clues and proof anywhere he could. Why do you want to delete it now?”
“Whitney told me that she’s friends with someone from my old school.”
“Your old school?”
“The school that’s in my transcripts. The one I didn’t actually go to.”
He puts his fist up to his chin. “Oh. That could be a problem. How does she even know that? Why did you tell people?”
“I didn’t. But a while ago, someone broke into the school office and accessed my records. I thought at the time it was Vincent, but now I’m almost positive that it was her.”
“She’s a piece of work, that girl. She doesn’t understand the meaning of no.”
“Right. So what if she gets really serious about figuring out who I am? What if somehow she finds an old picture of me and pieces it together? Do you know how many pictures I have on my Facebook page? She’d love nothing more than to tell everyone that I’ve been lying to them. To embarrass me. Ruin me socially. I’m gonna call Garrett.”
“I’ll do it,” Cooper says.
He calls Garrett and fills him in on the situation in a very businesslike manner. He ends the call and then turns to me. “He’s out of town but says that he just informed the office to change your passwords back to your old ones and agrees that deleting them is a good idea at this point.”
Cooper stands up and paces while I log into Twitter. I don’t bother looking at any of it. I just hit Delete and then verify that I’m sure. I do the same for Pinterest, Instagram, Polyvore, and Tumblr.
I do pause, taking a minute to scroll through the magnificence of all the hot guy photos I collected over the years on Tumblr. RiAnne and I dubbed it the Hottie Vault.
I smile. Happy memories of parties, shopping excursions, and days spent by the pool with Vanessa and RiAnne roll through my head. I think back to all the mistakes I made with Brooklyn and realize I probably made plenty with them too. Maybe part of loving yourself is taking responsibility for your actions. Vanessa didn’t make me into a bitch. I’m pretty sure I did that all by myself.
Then I get on Facebook.
This is harder. My cover photo is of me and Brooklyn in Monaco. My profile picture our new matching tattoos.
I scroll down through my wall. No one seems to be commenting anymore or wondering where I am. The mystery of why I left is now old news.
But every week—make that every Saturday morning—there is a post from RiAnne. It simply says, I miss you.
And it touches me. Really touches me.
Maybe if I go back home someday, we’ll be friends again.
I pull up her photos, clicking through pictures of her and Vanessa. At parties. On dates. At Homecoming.
But the pictures look off. Because I’m missing from them.
Since I’m a glutton for punishment, I click on Cush’s profile.
I squint my eyes at his profile picture. It’s a photo of him and a girl dressed up for Homecoming.
I click on the photo to make it bigger because my eyes must be deceiving me.
But they aren’t.
This girl, who is pretty but sort of plain looking, mostly because she isn’t even wearing mascara—to Homecoming, seriously? I mean, I’m all about fresh-faced beauty. I’m fine surfing, working out, or hanging out with no makeup on. But on a special night with a special guy that you are going to have pictures of for the rest of your life?
Come on! At least put on some mascara and some lip gloss!
You know how Vanessa wanted to make the rugby player hotter?
This girlfriend of Cush’s is like the anti-Vanessa. She’s somehow made larger-than-life Cush look plain too.
His slacks and dress shirt are slightly crumpled looking. There’s no product in his hair. And his posture is off. He doesn’t look like the tall, proud, cocky Cushman that I know.
I click through some more photos.
Oh. My. God.
He’s losing his abs.
Seriously. He looks like he’s already gone to college and gotten a beer belly.
What the hell has this girl done to him?
I can’t stop my fingers from typing.
Me: Cush? Where the hell did your abs go?
He’s not showing online, but he messages me back instantly, probably from his phone.
Brandon: Haha. Keatyn, I haven’t talked to you in forever, and that’s the first thing you ask?
Me: I’m sorry. That was rude of me. How’s the Cushman?
Brandon: Well, first off. I’m not that guy anymore. Cushman was a conceited asshole. Everyone here calls me Brandon.
Me: Um. Okay.
Brandon: You said you were somewhere good for you. Are you learning looks and partying aren’t all that important?
Me: I’d say I’m learning that life is all about balance. I have to go. It was nice talking to you, Brandon.
The Cushman is dead.
And I want to cry.
The computer chimes. Cooper stops pacing and looks over my shoulder. “Are you chatting? You’re supposed to be deleting.”
“I am. I just . . .”
RiAnne: Please say hi to me.
RiAnne: Is it really you?
Me: Yes. Thank you for messaging me every week. You are the only friend to do that. It’s so sweet.
RiAnne: Vanessa is still mad you left us, but she’s with me at the coffee shop every Saturday morning when I post it.
Me: Tell me what’s going on. I miss you.
RiAnne: I miss you, too. Vanessa is dating the rugby player. They were Homecoming prince and princess this year.
Me: That’s cool.
RiAnne: And guess what? I was nominated!
Me: That’s a big honor, Ri.
RiAnne: Thanks. Where are you?
Me: I can’t tell you. Random question, but I saw some pictures of V and Bam and there was a guy there. That hot older guy I talked to at the hotel. Do you hang out with him?
RiAnne: We see him at the club sometimes. I think he’s a creeper. But V thinks he’s hot. She’s gone to his house and stuff. Like for the whole weekend. You know.
I want to throw up.
RiAnne: But not lately. She’s actually pretty into rugby. Like she’s gone to all his games. And she hasn’t cheated on him in three weeks, which is a record. Apparently, he’s great in the sack.
Me: I’m glad she’s happy. What about you?
RiAnne: Same. So many guys to kiss, so little time. Lately I have been kissing on Alex Littleton.
Me: Ri!! He is hot!!!
RiAnne: I know, right? I’m all that. We’ve been working out together and I’ve lost 6 1/2 pounds.
Me: Is he a good kisser?
RiAnne: The. Best.
Me: I have to go. I’m deleting my profile.
RiAnne: No! You can’t.
Me: I have to. There is a girl here who hates me, and I don’t want her to know about my old life.
RiAnne: Keatyn, you of anyone ought to be able to handle a mean girl.
Me: Yeah, I know. And I promise, if I ever get back home, I’ll call you.
RiAnne: Pinkie swear?
I get tears in my eyes as I type.
Me: Yeah, Ri. I do.
RiAnne: You know, if you would’ve stood up to Vanessa, like to her face, she would’ve respected you for it.
Me: That’s good advice. You taking it yourself?
RiAnne: Yeah. And I’m much happier. (That, and I’m skinnier than her.)
I don’t reply. I wipe a tear from my eye. Then I do it.
Delete, delete. Yes, I’m sure.
“Done,” I say to Cooper.
“Tonight after curfew, meet me in the small gym. We’ll get to work.”
Vincent logs on to Facebook to look at her wall, like he does every morning. Only, her profile is gone. He enters it again, wondering if somehow he’s been blocked. He checks every social media platform, only to find all of her accounts gone. He logs into his own account and searches her again. Nothing. She’s gone. Her social media footprint is completely gone. The question is, why? Why did she delete it? Or did she? Is this another ploy to keep them apart? Is it because she saw him in Vancouver? Was there something on her social media account that they thought allowed him to find out she would be there? What would make her visit when she did?
He calls the man who watches Tommy and Abby’s home. “Do you know why she came home? On a Monday? Shouldn’t have Tommy and Abby been filming?”
“I don’t know the answer to that exactly. First, a guy showed up. He played in the backyard—”
“What guy showed up?” Vincent asks, interrupting.
“I don’t know his name.”
“What did he look like?” Vincent is trying hard to control his temper.
“Shaggy blonde hair, tall, tan. California surfer-looking, based on his clothes.”
“Are you freaking kidding me? Why didn’t you tell me that?”
“Uh, you just told me to watch for the girl?”
“That was her boyfriend, you idiot! That must have been why she went there.”
“Well, that and for the party, probably.”
“What. Party.” Vincent can barely contain his anger. If there weren’t many miles between them, he would reach out and kill this man with his bare hands. He’s hired an imbecile.
“Birthday. The littlest girl. There was a cake and balloon delivery that morning.”
Vincent presses his face down into his palms, hoping it will keep his head from exploding.
“You still there?” the man asks after a few minutes of silence.
“Yeah. And I’m calling your boss to tell him about your ineptitude at your job.”
“Oh, man. Don’t do that. He’ll kill me!”
“That’s the idea,” Vincent says, slamming down the phone. Then he realizes there is someone else who should have notified him that the boyfriend was going out of town. He calls her.
“It’s my understanding that Mr. Wright took a trip recently to Vancouver? Why was I not informed of this?”
“Because he didn’t tell me he was going,” she pouts.
“Why did he go?”
“He said it was a birthday party for a family friend.”
“Where is he now?”
“We’re both in Portugal.”
“What’s after that?”
“Thanksgiving in Hawaii.”
“And how are you getting along? I’m assuming you’re not as close as you led me to believe if he didn’t bother to tell you where he was going. I will stop paying you immediately if you fail me again.”
“I’m sorry. I was upset, too.”
“If any of his friends visit him, I want to know about it.”
“Oh, well, one did come. When we were in Japan. But it was just a guy friend of his. Damian Moran. He’s in a band.”
“I see,” Vincent’s anger flares again.
“I want to know everything about him. Do you understand me? Anyone he talks to. Anyone from his past. Or even if he starts hanging out with someone new on the tour. I must know about it. If not—”
“Yeah, yeah. I get it,” she says. “You’ll fire me.”
I’ll do more than that, he thinks.
If things aren’t already spiraling out of his control due to idiots, he gets another call. This one from the man who can track anyone through his or her money.
“No trace of her,” he says, without prelude. “Is she on the run from the mob?”
“Her mother’s pissed at me. What can I say,” Vincent lies. “I can’t be tied down to just one woman.”
“A woman’s wrath. I feel ya.”
“Is there anything else we can do?”
“I’ll keep the feelers out there. If anything hits her credit cards, I’ll notify you.”
“Right away?” Vincent asks.
“Yes. My men found her once, but they didn’t notify me soon enough, and she got away. I’m concerned for my daughter’s well being.”
“Sure, man. I’ve got a twelve-year-old. Can’t imagine my wife taking her away from me. I’ll call immediately. Promise. You know, something like this, you might consider getting the cops involved.”
“Thanks, I’ll consider that,” he says, rolling his eyes and slamming down the phone. It’s been a hell of a day.
Even after what happened in Vancouver, Keatyn insists on going to her loft this weekend.
After soccer practice, Cooper herds me into his office and shuts the door.
I’m tired from being up late last night learning an assailant’s attack zones. Muscles I didn’t even know existed are sore.
“You need to lay off on the workouts. I’m so sore from last night. Thank goodness I don’t have dance or a game tonight.”
“Tonight is what I want to talk to you about. Going to New York is not a good idea.”
“Then I’m going with you.”
“No, you’re not.”
“Where are you staying?”
“I’ll be at my loft, Cooper. No one from my old life—not even my family—knows about it. A few people from school have been there but other than that, only Garrett and the guy that handles my money know where it is. I’m safe there.”
“What if someone sees you in the street? Or worse, in front of your loft, and thinks you look like Abby and calls him? He already did auditions there.”
“That’s why New York City is safe. Everyone is too busy to notice me. And I really don’t look that much like her in passing. It’s only the combination of my voice and gestures when people seem to notice. So I won’t talk to anyone. I’ll wear sunglasses.”
“You should be more afraid. How can you not be scared after Vancouver?”
“I am scared, but I can’t let it rule my life. I know we had a close call. I’m grateful that you planned ahead and he couldn’t trace our flights. I know you got out the guns and we all kind of freaked out, but he wasn’t going to forcefully take me in front of all those people.”
“All what people? Me and two pilots? That’s nothing. In Miami, he would have lied his way out of the club. Said you were drunk or sick. He could have drugged you. He could flash a fake badge like I did and say you were a fugitive. No one would think twice. He’s a brilliant liar. Hell, he’s lying to the whole country right now.”
“I gave up everything I love to keep my family and friends safe. Garrett told me I may never get to go back.” I start to cry. “That I have to start a new life. I’m trying so hard to do that.”
He pulls me into a hug, just as Whitney bursts through the door.
I jump and pull out of Cooper’s hug.
“What’s wrong?” Whitney snaps.
Cooper takes control, herding her out of the room and saying harshly, “Don’t ever barge into my office like that again. Do you understand me?”
“But she barged in your office just the other day. Why was that okay?”
“She’s on my soccer team.”
“And I’m in your health class.”
“Make an appointment.” The force that he says it with makes me glad he’s on my side.
Whitney nods obediently and says politely. “I’m sorry, Mr. Steele, I hoped to talk to you about the French Weekend.”
“As you can see, I’m busy. If you don’t stop randomly dropping by without an appointment, I’ll withdraw my help on the project. We clear?”
“Uh, yes, sir.” She turns and walks quickly away.
“And if I open this door and catch you eavesdropping, you’ll be finding yourself in detention.”
He sits on the corner of his desk. “Continuing. You’ve been there how many times before?”
“Just twice. Once with Dawson and once with my friends.”
“And one of those times Vincent was there?”
“Yes. But he was following my mom, not me. And Garrett told me to trust my gut. My gut tells me I’m safe there. For now. Like I am at school.”
“For now,” he adds somberly.
“The loft is where Garrett told me to go if Vincent ever found out I’m here.”
Cooper nods. “I’m just trying to think ahead. Of what could go wrong.”
“What do you think could go wrong?”
“A million things. But, realistically, he’d have to know you were here to know you went there. So then it becomes the possibility that he sees you somewhere there. That’s probably not going to happen randomly. So he’d have someone looking for you. Like he did in Vancouver. Like I’m pretty sure he had on the beach. He’d go to the places he’d expect you to go. Clubs. Shopping. Favorite restaurant. Could he know any of those things about you?”
“I never told him.”
“On Facebook maybe?”
“No. I never posted anything about New York. The only thing could be . . .”
“Could be what?”
“Shoe porn, maybe.”
“What the hell is shoe porn?”
“It’s when you post a photo of a hot shoe on social media. Shoes that other girls will drool over. Kind of like you would over a hot guy.”
Cooper laughs and shakes his head. “Shoe porn. Now I’ve heard everything. So, I’d go to shoe stores, flash a photo of you, give them my card, tell them it’s a hundred bucks if they call me.”
“Would you do that in New York?”
He thinks for a second. “New York. Miami. Near the rehab in Utah. And probably Vancouver. Upscale stores. Shoe department.”
“So I can’t go shoe shopping?”
“No shoe shopping.”
“I can’t . . .”
“Do you want to go by yourself? I like New York. I could come stay with you and Aiden. That’d be cozy.”
“Fine. No shoe shopping.”
“Do you promise? I’m serious. Do you promise?”
I close my eyes and nod. “Yeah. I promise.”
While in New York, Keatyn has some realizations about her family.
Especially after the trip to Vancouver when I realized that Mom hasn’t called me even once. And now I understand why. I’ve become the threat too.
And while Vincent is still out there, I can’t see them again.
And that’s because, Abby is pushing forward with her own plan. Filming will wrap in Vancouver over the coming weeks. The tabloids believe Tommy is having an affair. Some are suggesting he’s had multiple ones—including with their long-time nanny. Which is perfect for what’s going to happen next. When Tommy leaves for New York to start filming the Trinity movie, she will send the girls, the dog, and the nanny with him. She’ll go back to California by herself.
She can’t eat. She can’t sleep. And she knows she’s losing weight. She’s noticing the bones protruding in places they usually don’t. But she can’t worry about that. It will only give the tabloids more fodder. The thought of pushing everyone she loves away is consuming her. But it’s the only way she knows to keep them safe. And although everyone is excited about her upcoming press tour for To Maddie, with Love, she’s scared. Scared of what it’s going to do to Vincent.
But if it really does push him further over the edge, she wants to make sure she’s the one there to catch him. It’s the only way.
Vincent is still holding out hope someone will nominate her—that he will find her that way, but as the weeks continue, he starts to grow weary. He still goes to the club every Thursday night hoping she will be there. Part of him wants to give up.
But when he goes to his grandmother’s house and steps into his secret place, he knows he must keep searching for her. They are like Romeo and Juliet, being kept apart by their families. Star-crossed lovers who will find a way back to each other.
Of that he is sure.