Authors: Nancy Holder
The WICKED series
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2015 by Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguié
Cover art copyright © 2015 by Svein Nordrum/Getty Images and iStockPhoto
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The rules / by Nancy Holder & Debbie Viguie. — First edition.
Summary: High school junior Robin Brissett accompanies her best friend, Beth, to the hottest party of the year knowing there will be alcohol, drugs, sex, and a scavenger hunt designed to scare and thrill, but this year the school’s elite are not the hunters but the hunted.
ISBN 9780385741002 (hc) — ISBN 9780375989803 (glb) — eBook ISBN 9780375983474
[1. Parties—Fiction. 2. Treasure hunt (Game)—Fiction.] I. Viguie, Debbie. II. Title.
eBook adapted from printed book design by Heather Kelly
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
To Howard Morhaim, my agent and friend.
Words fail me, ironically enough.
Thank you for everything, all these years, every time.
To Nancy Holder, my friend and cohort.
Everyone has Rules.
The Rules they play by.
The Rules they live by.
Here are your Rules:
Play the game.
Break the Rules…
And you die.
Flames raged along the cliff. Pine trees and manzanita bushes ignited with a whirlwind
the steam rising off Robin’s sopping-wet jeans as she zigzagged toward the beach like a desperate rabbit inches ahead of the fire. Salt and embers clogged the air. Her tongue was blistering. Her lungs burning. The hitch in her side ached as if she were being smacked over and over with a baseball bat. Everything stung and burned. She really, really had to stop.
Ringlets of her rich red hair dangled in her eyes as the blood dripped off the tips. She couldn’t see, and she batted at the crazy corkscrews that insisted on bouncing right back. She was still stunned from crashing into the shell wall, lurching drunkenly left and right, fighting her hair, her exhaustion, and her panic.
If she stopped running, she would die.
NEW RULE #2:
Robin’s family had sworn not to let her dad’s accident break them. The hit-and-run had shattered their dreams. Crushed their plans, just like his spine.
“It doesn’t matter,”
her mom said.
“It’s up to us. No one’s going to come to our rescue. We are defined by how we react to setbacks.”
NEW RULE #3:
People you know kill other people you know.
Setbacks send some people on murderous rampages.
No one’s coming. No one’s coming. No one’s coming,
Robin thought as a large pine limb split off a tree trunk, plummeting to the ground inches in front of her. She leaped over it, the heat singeing the bottoms of her boots.
But that wasn’t true.
The killer was coming.
Robin might be limping. Gasping.
But Robin was still running.
And she would not surrender.
Because if she did, someone she knew would kill her.
FOURTEEN HOURS EARLIER
August DeYoung and his sister, Alexa, who had been barely one year older than he, had grown up with just one rule: don’t get caught. Some kids grew up with parents who cared and paid attention. Others had parents who handed down so many rules it was impossible to keep them straight. All August and his sister had learned from their parents was to steer clear of blame. Their last name gave them a free pass. Money smoothed out…situations. Use both to get out of trouble. That was how the rule worked.
Until it didn’t.
Almost three years earlier, back in New York, Alexa had broken the rule—resulting in expulsion, addiction, and a serious breakdown—so their mother and father had yanked August and Alexa out of private school and rehab, respectively, and “moved” to Callabrese, California, a town so tiny that it shared a country club with three other agricultural pit stops also stinking of manure. Although they opened a fine-dining restaurant called DeYoung’s, they hired staff to run it…just as they hired staff to raise their children while they spent ninety percent of their time back in New York.
Alexa tried so hard. But she got caught in the worst way possible.
She had died exactly one year ago today.
And their parents managed to disapprove even of that. August couldn’t remember if they had cried at her funeral.
He stood in front of her crypt, wondering if it would be for the last time. Set on a grassy hill overlooking the San Francisco Bay, the DeYoung tomb looked like a little marble Roman villa, an eight-foot-tall rectangle topped with an angled tiled roof. Four fluted columns anchored the corners, and a sad marble angel drooped on top of each one. The door was black as death and the brass fittings gleamed like halos. The little villa had cost the equivalent of a year’s tuition at Harvard, which Alexa had been expected to attend. But the crypt was a bargain, really, because there was room for a dozen more dead DeYoungs inside it.
They hadn’t buried Alexa in New York or Callabrese. San Francisco was a good address as cemeteries went, and it helped them keep the whole mess quiet.
August was fiercely glad that Lex was finally out of Callabrese, which was nothing but grapevines and torment. Their parents had dumped them in a hellhole. That horrible, hopeless town had killed his sister. And it had been the people she knew, her
They had betrayed her.
He remembered Alexa from the good days, when her light blond hair had glittered and her skin had not been sallow, and whenever you looked at her, she was smiling in a way that made you smile. Tiny and mischievous, like a little mouse. That was the Alexa he missed. But the one he mourned had been nothing like that. Dull eyes, hair of straw, scary thin. No mischief. The trap had sprung on the little mouse.
Once the tomb had been completed about a month after her murder, August had started driving to San Francisco every Saturday morning in his new Porsche. His parents had bought him the car in the hopes of cheering him up. That was their answer to everything: more possessions, more stuff.
It took about an hour to get there. He would buy a bouquet of miniature roses wrapped in tissue paper at Fisherman’s Wharf. He and Alexa used to ditch school and cruise the wharf, eating cracked crab on sourdough bread and guzzling Anchor Steam beer even though they were underage. They’d feed the seagulls and talk about moving to San Francisco once they could leave without being reported as runaways. Lex begged August to just blow it all off and bail out of Callabrese. Not to wait any longer. She couldn’t bear it. She said their parents would never report them because of all the hassle it would cause. He wished to God he’d listened to her.
They used to get their pictures taken in the photo booth and go to the wax museum and send each other on little scavenger hunts all over San Francisco. He didn’t know how many times she had made him find the Yoda statue in the Presidio or pick up something with a sea lion on it. He still had her sea lion collection.
That was how the scavenger hunt tradition had been born. Just for fun. Just to be goofy. Until August got his driver’s license—Lex never learned to drive because she was afraid of cars—they hitchhiked to San Francisco and zoomed all over the city via cable cars and taxis. Alexa causing scenes, leaping into fountains and singing “What Does the Fox Say?” at the top of her lungs in the lobbies of all the exclusive hotels. August trailing behind, handing out money with his apologies, smoothing it over. She wasn’t hurting anybody. Not when she was with him.
But back in Callabrese, the fun faded quickly. She got into the kind of trouble that money could not fix. And her “friends” just made it worse.
She had never had friends in Callabrese. She had users, the so-called cool of the school, taking her down after they watched her flail for a few months to gain their acceptance. She didn’t see that at first she scared them, and then they got off on letting her think they’d given her a place among them, when really, it was just to wind her up and watch her spin.
He learned by example. When she died, he did not have one single friend at their school. Correction: not one single
God, he hated them.
“You’re getting payback, Lex,” August promised her, his fingers closing around the bouquet that dangled at his side. “Tonight.”
And to execute it, he had a better weapon than knives or guns: an IQ of 160, which made him a certifiable genius. After what had happened to Alexa, he was certifiable, all right. He had spent hours planning his revenge, and it would be sweet.
And they didn’t even have a clue that he was using them, manipulating them. Every smile he had flashed, every joke he had laughed at—all lies to throw them off the scent. All a part of his big scheme.
After tonight, they would know exactly what he thought.
But truthfully? Realizing he was about to cross that line scared and saddened him as much as the horrible police visit he’d received one year ago this very night. It had been three a.m. His parents were in Manhattan as usual, so it had been just him and Alexa, two feral children raising each other because their parents couldn’t be bothered.
Only, Alexa hadn’t been home. She wasn’t asleep in her room, as August had assumed. She’d snuck out, not because she had been “wild,” like everybody would say later. She’d just wanted to go to a party. She’d wanted so badly to fit in. She would have done anything.
He was standing beside Abbie Meyers, one of a string of ineffectual housekeepers his parents had hired, when two police detectives rang the bell. They stood there grimly, and the tall one said, “We’re afraid we have some bad news.”
Down at the morgue, he had seen what she looked like dead. The place was ice-cold, and they had a viewing room, where he stood panicking in front of a window. They drew back the curtains like he was there for a slow-motion magic trick, and there she was. Lifeless and gray. She looked like a rotted rubber doll.
He nodded before throwing up. They took that as a positive ID.
August knew he was in a spiral, going down, down, down. He needed help. His parents made extremely halfhearted attempts to make sure he was coping—appointments with one of the most highly regarded shrinks in San Francisco, a couple of dinners together where they mostly checked their cell phones for messages. He thought about telling them he was in trouble. But when he thought about therapists and locked-up wards and all the crap Lex had gone through and died anyway…
She had been found floating facedown, naked, in the country club swimming pool after a night of partying. Someone had taken her there. Someone had left her there. As far as he was concerned, they had killed her.
Back then, August was just a shadow of his former self; he had no one he could talk to. He could die just like Alexa, and no one would even notice. If he was to get to the bottom of what had really happened to her, he needed to be part of the social scene that had rejected them from the start. But he had no idea how to do that.
Then someone came to his rescue.
Her name was Beth Breckenridge, an okay-looking, average sophomore. A girl who got Bs and Cs and wasn’t a standout in anything. She wasn’t beautiful, athletic, artistic, or witty, but somehow she got through his armor. One day she walked up to him and asked how he was doing. He still didn’t really know why he’d even answered her—“Shitty, if you must know”—but he did. They had an actual conversation and began to hang out.
She understood these people. She knew their rules. And she grasped very quickly that he didn’t but that he wanted to. He didn’t tell her why, and she assumed that he simply wanted to be popular. He knew that was what mattered to her, especially because they were older than her. But his wealth mattered even more to Beth, and she was completely up-front about it: he would pay for her mentoring skills with the lovely things only money could buy.
The Pact was born. And with it came the rules.
Beth and August are not boyfriend and girlfriend or friends with benefits.
Beth and August are partners in the acquisition of social real estate.
Beth and August will trust each other, and only each other.
For ten months, the Pact had worked great. They were inseparable. Scheming, ruthless. Relentless and focused. Beth paved the way, making friends and influencing August’s targets by lending an ear or a shoulder, finding out secrets (vulnerabilities), saying what they wanted to hear, doing favors. Doling out the occasional gift that was nothing but a disguised bribe, or as Beth liked to call it, positive reinforcement.
they gave stuff to would give them stuff back: secrets, confidences, gossip. Once you knew how to do it, it was shockingly easy. August became devious and calculating, like Beth. In bits and pieces, he started figuring out what had happened to Alexa the night of her death. He uncovered secrets the others were so desperate to hide. They broke all kinds of rules, including laws and commandments. He had so much dirt on them he could put half of them in jail.
He became popular. And so did she.
Then came the fateful night when he discovered that Beth had broken the rules of the Pact. All this time, he’d thought someone finally had his back, and that was exactly where Beth had been stabbing him.
secret hopes: she’d been dishing all of it to
people who could help her out—out of Callabrese. Out of his life. And in with better-looking suckers.
Like Larson Jones.
August had fished Beth’s phone out of her purse while she was in the bathroom at his house, crunching her password—one he’d seen her punch in hundreds of times—and read through a ton of damning messages.
Albino Man. Whiner. He writes poetry & it SUX. Listen to what he did today:
Betrayals on top of betrayals.
He had locked himself in his room for days. He didn’t eat or sleep. On the fourth day, he started secretly plotting his revenge against all of them. Tonight he would enact it, even on Beth, who had no idea what was coming. He had learned a lot from her. If he could make
suffer, make all of them go through a tenth of what Alexa had gone through, he would count this very last scavenger hunt as his own personal win.
A single tear pearled, but he didn’t let it fall. He was solid frozen steel inside. The softer side of August lay buried with Alexa, and there it would rot.
“Let the games begin,” he whispered.
August placed the baby roses he had brought for her in their holder and climbed back into his car.
JACKSON’S RULE #1:
Never let anyone take what’s yours.
Despite being located in wine country and surrounded by local wineries, Callabrese had seen far better days. The sea fogs could be brisk, even in late May. Although Jackson White’s breath was making ghosts, his sweat was burning him like acid.
In their “clubhouse”—a burned-out brick building that had once been a bookstore—his homeys were staring at him with seventeen pairs of stone-cold killer eyes. The Free Souls had been planning to break into DeYoung’s, the fanciest restaurant in Callabrese, but the cops had caught wind of it. Change of plans. Now they were all gathered together and staring at Jackson in a way that made him uneasy.
“You know we take care of our own,” Macho, their leader, said. “And nobody takes what is ours. I shot this three days ago.”
He handed Jackson his phone, which displayed a picture of a girl grinding on a guy. She had on a baby tee and the world’s tiniest shorts, her black hair balanced on top of her head like a bubble. And that girl was
girl, Thea, who had broken up with him
She had cried and told him she needed her space. Just until things got better at home, because her parents didn’t like him. No, she said, there was no one else. She had sworn it. Staked her life on it.