convinced me. He made you, Mason, and Logan sound like a scene from The Exorcist.”
“You weren’t going to come to college…at all?”
“No. The modeling thing was true. My contract ended with an agency, and I was going to sign a new one, but he got in my head. He said I was perfect, that I would be ingratiated with you immediately.” Her shoulders dropped another inch, closing together. Her size seemed to shrink from a six-foot-one model to a tiny little girl. Her hair fell over her shoulder, and she grabbed a chunk of it, wrapping it into her sleeve, as she began picking at the end of her shirt. “He picked me because of Heather.”
“What?” I was so far behind. “Heather?”
“I’m just like her. That’s why he picked me. Said my personality was like your best friend. There was no way you couldn’t not trust me. He said you’d trust me without realizing it even. I’m so sorry, Sam. I really am.” She waited a second. Her shoulders lifted as she took in some air. She started again, “He wanted me to come clean because he wanted me to further gain your trust. It was all a part of some mind game he’s playing with you guys.”
“Okay.” I frowned. A headache was forming behind my temples. “How was that supposed to gain my trust?”
“He said that it was going to come out anyway. He wanted me to tell you before it did, and he said that we could spin it. The whole changing-the-key thing—that was part of the charade. He was supposed to show up. I was supposed to get mad at him. Someone would use me against him, but he didn’t think it’d be you. He thought Mason would try to get information from me. Not you. None of his plans have gone the way he said they would.” Her chest heaved up and held. She fisted her hands in her shirt. Her shoulders dropped, and a sob wrenched out.
My chair was a few feet from me, and I slowly edged closer before sitting. I never turned away from her. It wasn’t that I thought Summer would move against me. I didn’t want to spook her. She’d run away, and I wanted more answers. She was right. The charade was done.
“Summer.” I held on to the back of my chair. My nails dug into it. “Tell me what was the truth.”
“What I’ve already said. I do like you.” She looked up now. Her tears left trails through her makeup, running down her face. Her mascara was in clumps under her eyelids. “And I do like football. I always have, but all my weirdness around Mason wasn’t because of his stats. It was because of my brother. He made Mason out to be a villain. Park said he hated Mason because Mason wanted to destroy everything for him. Sebastian even said that Mason would try to hit on me. Park wanted me to sleep with Mason.”
My eyes got big with that one, but I held back. I couldn’t scare her away.
“But Mason didn’t. It’s so obvious how much he loves you and Logan.” She sighed. “Park said that Logan would hit on me, too, and he did, but it wasn’t like how Park said it would be. Logan…there’s more to him. He’s not the asshole my brother portrayed him to be.” A defiant glint showed across her features. “And I don’t regret sleeping with him. My brother isn’t entitled to know everything. It’s none of his business.”
She was going to spill more about Logan. I needed to know more about Sebastian, how it pertained to me.
I urged gently, “Summer, what else was a lie?”
Her head went back down. More sniffles wheezed from her, mixed with tears. “I don’t know why I’m a mess. I mean, it’s you. You’re not even mad. I’d be livid, knowing my roommate was lying to me. I love you. You have no idea. I can’t be your friend, but I want to be. My brother said it’s him or you, but fuck him.” That defiant look was back.
“I’m leaving, Sam.” She gestured to the box and bag and around the room. A sad and bitter laugh left her. “Not that you couldn’t see that yourself, but I’m leaving school permanently. My mom is going back to New York. I’m going with her. I’m going to go back into modeling.” She paused, glancing up at me from underneath her eyelids. “If you ever come out there, please call me. I’d love to see you again. Or you could stay with us. My mom’s not like my dad. She’s not involved with that college group they have. She doesn’t believe in using their connections. She said it’s all one big scandal that’s waiting to be taken down anyway.”
My mind was buzzing. I needed to get an invite to Sebastian’s party, and Summer was the only avenue for that to happen. But she was leaving…
My shoulders slumped down.
“I’m supposed to invite you to his party tomorrow.”
My head popped up. “What?”
“I know. I know.” She waved at me, wiping at her nose. “It’s completely stupid, but Park said to make it happen. He doesn’t know I’m leaving. I should be in New York by the time he finds out, and it’ll be too late. He doesn’t dare take our mom on. He has our dad wrapped around his finger, and Molly, too, but not our mom. My mom loves Park, but she thinks he’s a manipulative weasel, which he is.” She groaned. “There it is. That’s the last of my confessions. I’m sorry, Sam, but I told Park everything you told me. He already knew about Garrett because we know him, obviously, but Park knows everything else. He knows about your other dad, David, and also Malinda. He knows about Mark. He knows Analise is in a psych place, but to be fair, he knew about your mom before I told him. I have no clue how. Wait.” Her lips puckered up, and her forehead bunched together. “Your mom went to college with all of them, didn’t she?”
“All of whom?”
“My dad, my mom, your parents, Professor Baun.” She waved her hand in the air. “There’s more, but you know about all of that, right?”
I cocked my head to the side. My fingers were digging into the chair now. I didn’t dare show her my card. I wanted her to spill everything, so I murmured, “Oh, yeah.”
“That’s the other reason for me, you know. You’re in The Network by default, like me. Your mom, too, but all her stuff is known I guess. There’s not much they can blackmail her with.” A dry chuckle slid from her lips. “Oh. Hold on.” Digging in her bag, she pulled out a flash drive and handed it to me. “That’s for you.”
“What is it?”
Her eyes fell on it, now in my hands, and she was quiet for a moment. She shrugged. “It’s whatever you want it to be.”
That sounded ominous. “Summer?”
Her jaw was firm, and she wiped the last of the tears from her face. “After what they did to Logan, I can’t be a part of this anymore. I’ve done nothing in my life for them to blackmail me with, so I’m walking away now.” She indicated the flash drive. “That’s for you to do with as you please. If you can decrypt it, it’s yours.”
Oh, holy shit.
I didn’t dare breathe.
She’d realize she was making a mistake. That was her family in the end.
As if hearing my thoughts, Summer shook her head. “I don’t know what’s on it, but it’s important. I took it out of Park’s safety deposit box. I know he’s my brother, but I can’t support him anymore. He’s going down a dangerous path. Whether he wants to look at it this way or not, this is my way of trying to save him. He deserves whatever happens to him.” Her chin started to tremble again. “It might even save him from something worse.”
She stood, still not looking at me. Gathering her bag and box, she held them. She didn’t leave. She didn’t do anything. She waited by the bed for a moment before she dumped them. “Oh, to hell with it.”
Her arms wrapped around me in the next second. I was pulled in for a tight hug.
She buried her head into my neck, saying, “I am so sorry for everything my brother has already done and anything he does.”
I was so shocked at the turn of events. My arm was crushed against my chest. My fingers hadn’t closed around the flash drive yet. I was still holding it in the palm of my hand.
She hugged me again before she moved back. Her hand closed my fingers over the flash drive. “Use this. Whatever is on it, use it. I hope it helps you.”
She went back to her bag and
box. She was leaving.
I almost shouted, “Wait!”
She stopped at the door, turning back.
I said, “Where’s his party tomorrow?”
Her eyebrows bunched together. She started shaking her head. “No, no, no. Don’t go there, Sam.”
I shoved the flash drive in my pocket and rolled back my shoulders. “Tell me where it is. I’ll go without you.”
“No, Sam. I can’t. Park…he’s…he has something planned for you tomorrow. Don’t go.” Her eyes were pleading. “I mean it. Don’t go, Sam. Please.”
“I’m not going in blind. I know he has something planned. My eyes have been wide open this whole time.”
“They weren’t. Not with me.”
“Not at first, no, but once you told me, they were. You might think you’ve spied on me, but you haven’t really. Sebastian could’ve found out any of that information himself.”
“No, Sam. I told him things that I know you wouldn’t have wanted me to.” She clasped the box to her chest, holding tightly. “I have to go. I’m sorry, Sam. I really am. Don’t go to that party tomorrow.”
She left. The door slammed shut behind her. I went after her, but the phone started to ring behind me. We both used our cell phones, but the dorm installed a landline. I never used it and was going to ignore it this time, too, but a thought occurred, and I held back.
Picking up the receiver, I asked, “Hello?”
“Is my sister there?”
It was Sebastian.
I gritted my teeth but replied in a cheerful voice, “Nope, but she just talked me into going to a party you’re throwing tomorrow?”
“Oh, good. That’s what I was calling about. Now,” his voice dipped down, “Samantha, I know that there’s been some bad blood between us, but I want to make things right. You’re friends with my sister. Your father is close to my family, and we’ve all been supporting your mother.”
The last statement churned my blood. I gripped the phone tighter. “What do you mean?”
“Just that this silly battle I have with Mason and Logan doesn’t need to extend to you and me. I mean, we’re practically family anyway.” He laughed into the phone.
The smugness had me seeing red.
“It must have been difficult to go through everything you have. You don’t just have Mason and Logan to lean on, you know. There’s a whole network of people you can lean on. We’ll support you through anything. That sounds good, doesn’t it?”
It sounded condescending. I went with it. “Oh, yeah.” My sarcasm was kept in check. Sugary sweetness here. “I’ll take any support I can get.”
“See? I know my sister was hesitant to bring you in, but I think it’s time you found out about everyone else. I wasn’t lying when I said there’s a whole network of people you can call family. In fact, you’re more connected than Mason and Logan are. I think you have a really great future ahead of you.”
“Oh,” fucker, “yeah, that sounds wonderful.” My knuckles were white. I had to keep from breaking the phone. “Hey, can you let me know where the party is? Your sister seemed distracted when I asked for the directions, and I just wanted to double check with you.”
“Sure. Are you ready?”
After jotting it down, I signed off with a cheerful, Fuck you, in my head.
I dialed Mason immediately after.
As soon as he answered, I said, “We have a problem.”
Sam said Garrett and his wife were staying with the Sebastians. I figured I needed somewhere more private than my house to have this meeting so I booked a suite at a hotel. This was all Sam’s idea. Once we hatched the plan with Nate and Logan, we were good to go until she woke up in the middle of the night.
“What’s wrong?” I sat up next to her, rubbing her back under her shirt.
Tears ran down her cheeks and she raised her knees up, hugging them to her. She rested her cheek against her knee and looked at me. There was such sadness in her gaze, and it tugged at me, sinking deep in my chest. Wiping some of the wetness from her face, I asked again, “What’s wrong? Tell me.”
I frowned. Her dad? My hand paused on her back. “What about him?”
“He’s a part of all of this.” She sniffled, but she didn’t pull away from her knee. She just kept looking up at me. She wasn’t seeing me. She was seeing him. My jaw clenched, realizing that. The sadness was for him.
I asked, “What do you want to do?”
She hesitated and her teeth sank down on her bottom lip.
My hand rested against her cheek, and I said softly, “No more lies. No more trying to protect each other. What do you want to do? We’ll do it together. What are you thinking?”
Her head lifted, and a surge of strength flared over her features. Her chin lifted. Her eyes took on a fierce determination, and her entire body grew stronger. She said, “We take the flash drive to him. We make him do the dirty work for us.”
It was a gamble.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
She nodded. Her eyes were lidded with fear, but she murmured, “We have to try. He is my father, after all.”
Garrett was connected to whatever was on Summer’s flash drive. We still didn’t unencrypt it, but he was involved. He could warn them against us, before we even made our move, but this was Sam’s call. She wanted to go to her biological father first. And he was here.
The hotel door buzzed.
Sam was sitting in the corner of the room, wringing her hands together, and chewing the inside of her cheek for the last hour. She sucked in her breath and her eyes whipped to mine. I nodded, standing from my seat, and I crossed the room to open the door.
Garrett was on the other side. No welcoming smile came. No question lurking in his depths. He skimmed over my face and then looked inside for his daughter. Once he saw her, he looked back to me. He was waiting for me to invite him in. I nodded, stepping back, and he came inside. Shutting the door behind him, as he stopped behind a couch, I passed him to stand beside Samantha. We were on one side of the room. He was on the other, his hands fell to rest onto the couch. He let out one short breath before clearing his throat. “I take it this isn’t a social call?”
Sam stood next to me, her hand slipping into mine. She wanted me to be the spokesman, but I knew some of the talking had to come from her. In a way, Sam was exposing herself completely here. Garrett came into her life twice, and left twice. This was his last and final chance. If he rejected her again, that was it. She hadn’t shared that sentiment with me, but she’d been quiet the entire morning. She barely said a word. I knew Sam. I knew what this was going to do to her and if he chose wrong, I’d make him pay.
He looked from me to Sam, lingering on her. “Sam?”
She held my hand in a death grip, but her voice was sturdy. “Give him the flash drive.”
“What?” Confusion crossed over Garrett’s face.
But she was talking to me. I tossed it on the coffee table between us.
He didn’t grab it. He just looked at it. “What is that?”
I waited. When Sam didn’t say anything more, I moved forward. It was my turn. She would jump in when she was ready. “It’s information on whatever you’re involved in with the Sebastians.”
I waited with my eyes narrowed. He wasn’t showing much. Sam inherited some of her emotionless expressions from him, I saw that now, but he was rocked. My gut was telling me that, even though I couldn’t tell from observing him. I felt it, though. My gut was never wrong.
“You heard me.” I added, “It’s encrypted, whatever it is, but it came to us straight from Park Sebastian’s safety deposit box.”
“You’re lying.” His nostrils flared, just an inch.
I tried to tell if he was pissed or scared. I didn’t know this dad of Sam’s, so I couldn’t get a good read on him. Again, I had to rely on my gut. I didn’t think he was pissed. I hoped not,
for Sam’s sake. “You can take it with you. It’s a copy. We have more, but we were given that by someone close to Sebastian.”
Garrett still didn’t move to pick it up. He switched so he was watching me instead. I felt his gaze probing me. He was trying to figure out if I was bluffing or not. I wasn’t. I let him see that. There was no hesitation. I wasn’t hoping he’d buy a lie. I wasn’t doing anything. The only thing I was nervous about was what he did when he left this room, but as to what was on the flash drive—even though I didn’t know what it was, I knew it was important.
Another beat passed as Garrett was studying me, then his scrutiny dropped. His shoulders slumped down and he raised a hand to wipe at his face. He let out a deep pocket of oxygen. “If that’s what I think it is, you both could be in a lot of trouble.”
“That’s why we called you.” Sam’s hand loosened. It fell from