Spencer reached for her beer and took a hearty swig, ignoring their inquisitive stares. The truth was, she’d let her schoolwork go in the past few months—wouldn’t anyone, after their supposed BFF tried to kill them? The last time she checked with her guidance counselor about her class rank, she’d slipped to twenty-seventh place. No one ranked that low ever got into an Ivy.
“I’d rather hang out with you guys,” Spencer said. She didn’t want to think about school on vacation.
Aria, Emily, and Hanna shrugged, then raised their glasses once more. “To us,” Aria said.
“To friendship,” Hanna agreed.
Each of the girls let their minds go to a Zen-like place, and for the first time in days they didn’t automatically think of their horrible past. No A notes blinked in their minds. Rosewood felt like it was in a different solar system.
The DJ put on an old Madonna song, and Spencer rose from her seat. “Let’s dance, guys.”
The others started to jump up, too, but Emily grabbed Spencer’s arm tightly, pulling her back down. “Don’t move.”
“What?” Spencer stared at her. “Why?”
Emily’s eyes were saucers, her gaze fixed on something by the spiral staircase. “Look.”
The girls turned and squinted. A thin blond girl in a bright yellow sundress had appeared on the landing. She had striking blue eyes, pink-lined lips, and a scar over her right eyebrow. Even from where they were sitting they could make out more scars on her body: puckered skin on her arms, lacerations on her neck, withered flesh on her bare legs. But despite the scars, she radiated beauty and confidence.
“What is it?” Aria murmured.
“Do you know her?” Spencer asked.
“Can’t you see?” Emily whispered, her voice quivering. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“What are we supposed to be looking at?” Aria said softly, worriedly.
“That girl.” Emily turned to them, her face pale, her lips bloodless. “It’s . . . Ali.”
TEN MONTHS LATER
Pretty Little Party
A pudgy caterer with impeccably manicured hands thrust a tray of steaming, gooey cheese into Spencer Hastings’s face. “Baked Brie?”
Spencer selected a cracker and took a big bite. Delicious. It wasn’t every day that a caterer served her baked Brie in her very own kitchen, but on this particular Saturday night, her mother was throwing a party to welcome a new family to the neighborhood. Mrs. Hastings hadn’t been in the mood to play hostess the last few months, but she’d had a burst of social enthusiasm.
As if on cue, Veronica Hastings bustled into the room in a cloud of Chanel No. 5, fastening dangling earrings to her earlobes and sliding a large diamond ring onto her right finger. The ring was a recent purchase—her mother had exchanged every piece of jewelry Spencer’s dad had ever bought her for all-new baubles. Her ash-blond hair hung straight and smooth to her chin, her eyes looked wide and huge thanks to expertly applied makeup, and she wore a fitted black sheath dress that showed off her Pilates-toned arms.
“Spencer, your friend’s here to work coat check,” Mrs. Hastings said hurriedly as she put a couple of stray dishes from the sink into the dishwasher and gave the island yet another spray with Fantastik, even though she’d had a team scour the house only an hour before. “Maybe you should see if she needs anything.”
“Who?” Spencer wrinkled her nose. She hadn’t asked anyone to work tonight’s event. Usually her mom hired students from Hollis College, the university down the road, to do it.
Mrs. Hastings let out an impatient sigh and checked her flawless reflection in the stainless steel refrigerator door. “Emily Fields. I’ve set her up by the study.”
Spencer stiffened. Emily was here? She certainly hadn’t invited her.
She couldn’t remember the last time she’d spoken to Emily—it had to be months. But her mother—and the rest of the world—still thought they were close friends. The People magazine cover was to blame—it hit newsstands shortly after the Real Ali tried to kill them and featured Spencer, Emily, Aria, and Hanna entangled in a four-girl hug. VERY PRETTY, BUT DEFINITELY NOT LIARS, the headline said. Recently, a reporter called the Hastings house to request a reunion interview with Spencer—the anniversary of that terrible night in the Poconos was next Saturday, and the public wanted to know how the girls were doing a year later. Spencer had declined. She was sure the others had, too.
Spencer whirled around. Mrs. Hastings was gone, but Spencer’s older sister, Melissa, stood in her place, her body wrapped in a chic gray belted raincoat. A pair of skinny black pants from J. Crew covered her long legs.
“Hey.” Melissa reached out and gave Spencer a big hug, and Spencer got a huge whiff of—what else?—Chanel No. 5. Melissa was a mommy clone, but Spencer tried not to hold it against her.
“It’s so good to see you!” Melissa crooned as if she were a long-lost aunt who hadn’t seen Spencer since she was a toddler, even though they’d gone skiing at Bachelor Gulch, Colorado, two months ago.
Then, someone stepped out from behind her. “Hi, Spencer,” said the man to Melissa’s right. He looked odd in a jacket, tie, and khaki pants with perfectly ironed creases in the legs; Spencer was used to seeing him in a Rosewood Police Department uniform with a gun on his belt. Darren—aka Officer Wilden—had been the lead detective in the Alison DiLaurentis murder investigation. He’d questioned Spencer about the missing Ali—who had actually been Courtney—countless times.
“H-Hey,” Spencer said as Wilden wound his fingers around Melissa’s. The two of them had been dating for almost a year now, but it still seemed like a crazy match. If Melissa and Wilden registered profiles on eHarmony, the service wouldn’t connect them up in a trillion years.
In a previous life, Wilden had been the bad boy of Rosewood Day, the private school in town everyone attended—the kid who wrote dirty messages on the bathroom walls and smoked joints in full view of the gym teacher. Melissa, on the other hand, was the do-gooder valedictorian and Homecoming queen whose idea of getting drunk was eating half an Irish Cream liqueur truffle. Spencer also knew that Wilden grew up in an Amish community in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, but ran away as a teenager. Had he shared that juicy piece of gossip with her sister yet?
“I saw Emily when I came in,” Wilden said. “Are you guys going to watch that crazy made-for-TV movie next weekend?”
“Uh . . .” Spencer pretended to straighten her blouse, not wanting to answer the question. Wilden was referring to Pretty Little Killer, a cheesy cable docu-drama retelling the story of the real Ali’s return, rampage as A, and death. In a parallel life, the four of them would probably watch the movie together, analyzing the girls who’d been chosen to play them, groaning over inaccurate dialogue, and wincing at Ali’s insanity.
But not now. After Jamaica, their friendship began to disintegrate. Nowadays, Spencer couldn’t even be in the same room with any of her old friends without feeling antsy and flushed.
“What are you guys doing here?” Spencer asked, steering the conversation away from the past. “Not that I mind, of course.” She shot Melissa a kind smile. The sisters had had their issues in the past, but they’d tried to put all of that behind them after the fire last year.
“Oh, we’re just stopping by to grab a couple of boxes I left behind in my old room,” Melissa said. “Then we’re off to Kitchens and Beyond. Did I tell you? I’m redoing my kitchen again! I want it to have a more Mediterranean theme. And Darren’s moving in with me!”
Spencer raised an eyebrow at Wilden. “What about your job in Rosewood?” Melissa lived in a luxuriously renovated townhouse on Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia, a gift from their parents for graduating from Penn. “That’s going to be a long commute from Philly every day.”
Wilden grinned. “I resigned from the police force last month. Melissa got me a job working security at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I’ll get to run up those marble stairs like Rocky every day.”
“And protect valuable paintings,” Melissa reminded him.
“Oh.” Wilden tugged at his collar. “Yeah. Right.”
“So who’s this party for, anyway?” Wilden grabbed two glasses from the granite-topped kitchen island and poured himself and Melissa some pinot noir.
Spencer shrugged and gazed into the living room. “A new family that moved into the house across the street. I guess Mom’s trying to make a good impression.”
Wilden straightened. “The Cavanaugh house? Someone bought that place?”
Melissa clucked her tongue. “They must have gotten an amazing deal. I wouldn’t live there if they gave it to me for free.”
“I guess they’re trying to wipe the slate clean,” Spencer mumbled.
“Well, cheers to that.” Melissa tipped the glass to her mouth.
Spencer stared at the streaky patterns in the travertine floor tile. It was pretty crazy that someone bought the Cavanaughs’ old place—both Cavanaugh children had died while living there. Toby committed suicide shortly after he’d returned to Rosewood from reform school. Jenna had been strangled and thrown into a ditch behind the house . . . by Ali—the real Ali.
“So, Spencer.” Wilden turned to her again. “You’ve been keeping a secret.”
Spencer’s head jerked up, her blood pressure jumping. “E-excuse me?” Wilden had a detective’s instincts. Could he tell she was hiding something? Surely he didn’t know about Jamaica. No one could know about that for as long as she lived.
“You got into Princeton!” Wilden cried. “Congratulations!”
Air slowly filled Spencer’s lungs again. “Oh. Yeah. I found out about a month ago.”
“I couldn’t help bragging to him, Spence.” Melissa beamed. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“And early decision, too.” Wilden’s eyebrows rose. “Amazing!”
“Thanks.” But Spencer’s skin felt prickly, like she’d spent too much time in the sun. It had taken a Herculean effort to claw her way back to the top of the class rankings and secure a spot at Princeton. She wasn’t exactly proud of everything she’d done, but she’d made it.
Mrs. Hastings burst back into the kitchen and clapped her hands on Spencer and Melissa’s shoulders. “Why aren’t you two circulating? I’ve been talking about my brilliant daughters for the past ten minutes! I want to show you off!”
“Mom,” Spencer whined, though secretly she felt happy that her mom was proud of both of them, not just Melissa.
Mrs. Hastings just steered Spencer toward the door. Luckily, Mrs. Norwood, a woman Spencer’s mother regularly played tennis with, blocked their way. When she spied Mrs. Hastings, her eyes popped. She grabbed Mrs. Hastings’s wrists. “Veronica! I’ve been dying to talk to you! Well played, darling!”