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Authors: Sara Shepard

Never Have I Ever

The Lying Game #2:
NEVER
HAVE I
EVER

A LYING GAME NOVEL

BY

Sara Shepard

Epigraph

The pure and simple truth is rarely pure and never simple.


OSCAR WILDE

Contents

 
 

Prologue
Life After Death

It’s the little things you miss when you die. The feel of sliding into bed when you’re exhausted, the clean scent in the Arizona air after a storm during monsoon season, the flutter in your stomach when you see your crush walking down the hall. My killer took all those things away from me just before my eighteenth birthday.

And because of fate—and a threat from my murderer—my long-lost twin sister, Emma Paxton, stepped into my life.

When I died two weeks ago, I popped into Emma’s world, a world that was about as different from mine as you could get. From that very first moment I saw what Emma saw, went where she went . . . and watched. I watched as Emma reached out to me on Facebook and as someone posing as me told her to visit. I watched as Emma traveled to Tucson, cautiously hopeful about our reunion. I watched as my friends tackled Emma, thinking she was me, and brought her to a party. I stood beside her when she got the note that said I was dead, warning her that if she didn’t continue to pretend to be me, that if she told anyone who she really was, she’d be dead, too.

I watch today as Emma pulls on my favorite thin white tee and swipes my shimmery NARS blush onto her high cheekbones. I can say nothing as she slides into the skinny jeans I used to live in on weekends and sorts through my cherrywood jewelry box for my favorite silver locket, the one that sends rainbow prisms around the room when it catches the light. And I sit silently by as Emma sends a text confirming brunch plans with my best friends, Charlotte and Madeline, even though I would’ve worded it differently. Still, Emma has the basics of me down cold—almost no one has noticed she isn’t me.

Emma puts my phone down, an uneasy look on her face. “Where are you, Sutton?” she asks aloud in a nervous whisper, as if she knows I’m close.

I wish I could send her a message from beyond the grave:
I’m here. And this is how I died.
Only when I died, my memory died, too. I have glimpses here and there of who I used to be, but only a few solid, fleshed-out moments have bobbed to the surface. My death is as much a mystery to me as it is to Emma. All I know in my heart, in my
bones
, is that someone killed me. And that same someone is watching Emma as closely as I am.

Does this scare me? Yes. But through Emma, I’ve been given a chance to uncover what happened in those final moments before I took my last breath. And the more I discover about who I was and the secrets I kept, the more I realize how much danger surrounds my long-lost twin.

My enemies are everywhere. And sometimes, those we least suspect turn out to be our biggest threats.

Chapter 1
Charmed Life

“This way to the terrace.” A tanned, button-nosed hostess grabbed four leather-bound menus and marched through the dining room of La Paloma Country Club in Tucson, Arizona. Emma Paxton, Madeline Vega, Laurel Mercer, and Charlotte Chamberlain followed her, snaking around tables full of men in tan blazers and cowboy hats, women in tennis whites, and children munching on organic turkey sausage.

Emma dropped into a booth on the stucco veranda, staring at the tattoo on the back of the hostess’s neck as she glided away—a Chinese character that probably meant something lame, like
faith
or
harmony
. The terrace had a view of the Catalina Mountains, and every cactus and boulder was in sharp relief in the late-morning sun. A few feet away, golfers stood around a tee, contemplating their drives or checking their BlackBerrys. Before Emma had arrived in Tucson and assumed her twin sister’s life, the closest she’d gotten to setting foot in a country club was working as an attendant at a mini-golf course outside Las Vegas.

I, however, knew this place like the back of my hand. As I sat, invisible, next to my twin, tethered to her always like a balloon tied to a little kid’s wrist, I felt a tingle of memory. The last time I ate at this restaurant, my parents had brought me to celebrate getting straight Bs on my report card—a rarity for me. A whiff of peppers and eggs brought back my favorite meal—huevos rancheros, made with the best chorizo in all of Tucson. What I wouldn’t give for just one bite.

“Four tomato juices with lime wedges,” Madeline chirped to the waitress who’d appeared. When the waitress sauntered off, Madeline straightened her spine into her signature ballet-diva posture, whipped her obsidian black hair over her shoulder, and produced a silver flask from her fringed purse. Liquid sloshed as she shook the container back and forth. “We can make Bloody Marys,” she said with a wink.

Charlotte tucked a piece of red-gold hair behind her freckled ear and grinned.

“A Bloody Mary might knock me out.” Laurel pinched her thumb and forefinger on the bridge of her sun-kissed nose. “I’m still exhausted from last night.”

“The party was definitely a success.” Charlotte inspected her reflection in the back of a spoon. “What do you think, Sutton? Did we properly usher you into adulthood?”

“Like she’d know.” Madeline nudged Emma. “You weren’t even
there
half the time.”

Emma swallowed. She still wasn’t used to the taunting banter between Sutton’s friends, the kind that grew out of years of friendship. Just sixteen and a half days ago, she’d been living as a foster child in Las Vegas, suffering silently with Travis, her vile foster brother, and Clarice, her celeb-obsessed foster mom. But then she discovered an online strangulation video of a girl who looked exactly like her, down to the oval shape of her face, high cheekbones, and blue-green eyes that changed colors depending on the light. After contacting Sutton, the mystery doppelganger, and discovering that they were long-lost identical twins, Emma took a road trip to Tucson, giddy and excited to meet her.

Fast-forward to the very next day when Emma learned that Sutton had been murdered—and that Emma would be next unless she took Sutton’s place. Even though she felt anxious about living a lie, even though her skin prickled every time someone called her “Sutton,” Emma didn’t see any other option. But it didn’t mean she was going to sit silently by and let her sister’s body languish somewhere. She had to find out who killed Sutton—no matter what. Not only was it justice for her twin, but it was the only way for Emma to get her own life back and stand a chance of keeping her new family.

The waitress returned with four glasses of tomato juice, and as soon as her back was turned, Madeline unscrewed the cap of the stainless-steel flask and dumped clear liquid into each cup. Emma ran her tongue over her teeth, her journalism-obsessed mind producing a headline:
Underage Girls Caught Boozing at Local Country Club
. Sutton’s friends . . . well, they lived on the edge. In more ways than one.

“Well, Sutton?” Madeline slid a glass of spiked tomato juice toward Emma. “Are you going to explain why you bailed on your own birthday party?”

Charlotte leaned in. “Or if you told us, would you have to kill us?”

Emma flinched at the word
kill
. Madeline, Charlotte, and Laurel were her number-one suspects in Sutton’s murder. Someone had tried to strangle Emma with Sutton’s locket during a sleepover at Charlotte’s house last week, and whoever had done it was either capable of hacking the house’s many alarms . . . or already inside. And last night, at Sutton’s birthday party, Emma had discovered that her friends were behind Sutton’s strangulation video. It was only a prank; Sutton’s friends were part of a secret club called the Lying Game that prided itself on scaring the crap out of its members and the other kids at school. But what if Sutton’s friends had meant to take things much, much further? They’d been interrupted by Ethan Landry, Emma’s only real friend in Tucson, but maybe they’d finished Sutton off later.

To calm her nerves, Emma took a long sip of spiked tomato juice and summoned her inner Sutton, a girl she’d learned was snarky and sassy and didn’t take shit from anyone. “Aww. Did you miss me? Or were you nervous that someone dragged me away and left me for dead in the desert?” She glanced at the three faces staring back at her, trying to detect anything that looked like an admission of guilt. Madeline picked at her chipped peach nail polish. Charlotte coolly sipped her Bloody Mary. Laurel gazed out at the golf course as if she’d just spotted someone she recognized.

Then Sutton’s iPhone chimed. Emma pulled it out of her bag and checked the screen. She had a text from Ethan.
HOW ARE YOU AFTER LAST NIGHT? LET ME KNOW IF YOU NEED ANYTHING.

Emma shut her eyes and pictured Ethan’s face, his raven hair and lake-blue eyes, and the way he’d looked at her, a way no boy had ever looked at her before. Her body flooded with desire and relief.

“Who’s that from?” Charlotte leaned over the table, nearly impaling her boobs on the cactus arrangement. Emma covered the screen with her hand.

“You’re blushing!” Laurel pointed a finger at Emma. “Is it a new boyfriend? Is that why you ran out on Garrett last night?”

“It’s just Mom.” Emma quickly deleted the text. Sutton’s friends wouldn’t understand why she’d left her birthday bash with Ethan, a mysterious boy who was more interested in stargazing than popularity. But Ethan was the sanest person Emma had met in Tucson so far—and the only person who knew who she really was and why she was here.

“So what exactly happened with Garrett?” Charlotte pursed her glossy, blackberry-tinted lips. From what Emma had gleaned in the past two weeks, Charlotte was the bossiest of their four-girl clique—and also the most insecure about her looks. She wore way too much makeup and talked too loudly, as though no one would listen to what she had to say otherwise.

Emma jabbed the ice at the bottom of her Bloody Mary with her straw. Garrett.
Right.
Garrett Austin was Sutton’s boyfriend—or, more accurately,
ex
-boyfriend. Last night, his birthday gift to Sutton had been his naked, willing body and a pack of Trojans.

It had been painful to see the shattered look on my boyfriend’s face when Emma rejected him. I could only guess at what our time together had been like, but I knew our relationship hadn’t been a joke. Although now he probably thought that’s what it had been to me.

Laurel’s crystal-clear blue eyes narrowed as she took a sip of her drink. “Why did you run out on him? Does he look freaky naked? Does he have a third nipple?”

Emma shook her head. “None of that. It’s my deal, not his.”

Madeline pulled the wrapper off her straw and blew it in Emma’s direction. “Well, you’d better find a rebound. Homecoming’s in two weeks, and you need to snag a date before all the decent guys are spoken for.”

Charlotte snorted. “As if
that’s
ever stopped her?”

Emma flinched. Sutton had stolen Garrett from Charlotte last year.

It didn’t make me the nicest friend, I admit. And from the doodles of Garrett’s name on Charlotte’s notebook and the pictures of him hidden under her bed, she was clearly still pining for him—which gave her a pretty solid reason to want me dead.

A shadow fell over the round table. A man with slicked-back hair and hazel eyes stood above Emma and the others. His blue polo was starched to a crisp and his khakis were perfectly pressed.

“Daddy!” Madeline exclaimed in a shaky voice, her controlled, cool-girl disposition instantly melting away. “I-I didn’t know you were going to be here today!”

Mr. Vega gazed at their half-drunk glasses on the table. His nostrils twitched, as if he could smell the alcohol. The smile remained on his face, but it had a false edge that made Emma uneasy. He reminded her of Cliff, the foster father who sold used cars in a dusty lot near the Utah border and could swing from volatile dad to smarmy, ass-kissing salesman in four seconds flat.

Mr. Vega was silent a moment longer. Then he leaned forward and squeezed the top of Madeline’s bare arm. She flinched slightly.

“Order anything you want, girls,” he said in a low voice. “It’s on me.” He turned with military precision and started toward the brick-arched doorway to the golf course.

“Thanks, Daddy!” Madeline called after him, her voice trembling just slightly.

“That’s sweet,” Charlotte murmured hesitantly after he left, glancing sideways at Madeline.

“Yeah.” Laurel traced her pointer finger around the scalloped edge of her plate, not making eye contact with Madeline.

Everyone looked like they wanted to say more, but no one did . . . or dared. Madeline’s family was rife with secrets. Her brother, Thayer, had run away before Emma arrived in Tucson. Emma kept seeing his missing-person poster everywhere.

For just a moment, she felt a pang of nostalgia for her old life, her
safe
life—a feeling she’d never thought she’d have about her foster-care days. She’d come to Tucson thinking she’d find everything she’d always wished for: a sister, a family to make her whole. Instead, she’d found a family that was broken without even realizing it, a dead twin whose life seemed more complicated by the minute, and potential murderers lurking around every corner.

A flush rose on Emma’s skin, the unspoken tension suddenly too much for her. With a loud scrape, she pushed her chair away from the table. “I’ll be back,” she said, fumbling through the French doors toward the bathroom.

She entered an empty lounge filled with mirrors, plush, cognac-colored leather couches, and a wooden basket containing Nexxus hair spray, Tampax, and little bottles of Purell. Perfume lingered in the air, and classical music played through the stereo speakers.

Emma collapsed in a chair at one of the vanities and inspected her reflection in the mirror. Her oval face, framed by wavy sienna hair, and eyes that looked periwinkle in some lights, ocean-blue in others, stared back at her. They were the very same features as the girl whose image smiled happily from the family portraits in the Mercers’ foyer, the same girl whose clothes felt scratchy against Emma’s skin, as if her body sensed Emma didn’t belong in them.

And around Emma’s neck was Sutton’s silver locket—the same locket the killer used to strangle Emma in Charlotte’s kitchen, the one Emma was sure Sutton had been wearing when she was murdered. Every time she touched the smooth silver surface or saw it glinting in the mirror, it reminded her that all of this, no matter how uncomfortable, was necessary to find her sister’s killer.

The door swished open, and the sounds of the dining room rushed in. Emma whipped around as a blonde, college-age girl in a pink polo with the country club’s logo on the boob crossed the Navajo-carpeted floor. “Uh, are you Sutton Mercer?”

Emma nodded.

The girl reached into the pocket of her khakis. “Someone left this for you.” She proffered a Tiffany-blue ring-sized box. A small tag on the top read
FOR SUTTON
.

Emma stared, a little afraid to touch it. “Who’s it from?”

The girl shrugged. “A messenger dropped it off at the front desk just now. Your friends said you were in here.”

Emma took it hesitantly, and the girl turned and walked out the door. The lid lifted easily, revealing a velvet jewelry box. All kinds of possibilities flashed through Emma’s mind. A small, hopeful part of her wondered if it was from Ethan. Or, more awkwardly, maybe it was from Garrett, trying to win her back.

The box opened with a creak. Inside was a gleaming silver charm in the shape of a locomotive engine.

Emma ran her fingers over it. A shard of paper poked up from the velvet pouch inside the lid. She pulled out a tiny rolled-up scroll to find a note written in block letters.

THE OTHERS MIGHT NOT WANT TO REMEMBER THE TRAIN PRANK, BUT I’LL BE SEIZED BY THE MEMORY ALWAYS. THANKS!

Emma jammed the note back into the box and shut it.
Train prank.
Last night, in Laurel’s bedroom, she’d frantically skimmed through at least fifty Lying Game pranks. None of them had to do with a train.

The train charm etched itself in my mind and suddenly, a faint glimmer came to me. A train’s whistle shrieking in the distance. A scream, and then whirling lights. Was it . . . were we . . . ?

But as quickly as it arrived, the memory sped away.

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