Attention “Pretty Little Liars” fans: Do I have an almost-weekend treat for you. Sara Shepard, author of the creepastic series, is coming out with a new spine-chilling saga — and we’ve got the cover AND the first chapter right here.
I’m willing to wager your face looks a little like the below at present. Am I right?
Cool. Now compose yourself! We have some reading to do.
“The Perfectionists” — the first book in the series, set to drop in October — has everything that PLL does: murder, romance and TONS of intrigue. It tells the tale of popular jerk Nolan Hotchkiss and a group of girls who want to teach him a lesson — before someone beats them to the punch and he ends up dead. Intrigued yet? I thought so.
“It’s different from ’Pretty Little Liars’ in that the characters in some ways create their own trouble and their own predicament, whereas in ’Pretty Little Liars,’ the girls were kind of bullied,” Shepard told MTV News. “I think a few of the characters are a lot darker and kind of intriguing in that way. There’s more just really scary stuff going on just right from the get-go.”
Well, I won’t string you along any further. Let’s get right into said scary stuff!
IN MANY WAYS, BEACON HEIGHTS, Washington, looks like any affluent suburb: Porch swings creak gently in the evening breeze, the lawns are green and well kept, and all the neighbors know one another. But this satellite of Seattle is anything but average. In Beacon, it’s not enough to be good; you have to be the best.
With perfection comes pressure. Students here are some of the best in the country, and sometimes they have to let off a little steam. What five girls don’t know, though, is that steam can scald just as badly as an open flame.
And someone’s about to get burned.
On Friday night, just as the sun was setting, cars began to pull up to Nolan Hotchkiss’s huge, faux-Italian villa on a peninsula overlooking Lake Washington. The house had wrought iron gates, a circular driveway with a marble fountain, multiple balconies, and a three-tiered, crystal chandelier visible through the front two-story window. All the lights were on, loud bass thumped from inside, and a cheer rose up from the backyard. Kids with liquor spirited from their parents’ cabinets or bottles of wine shoved into their purses sauntered up to the front steps and walked right inside. No need to ring the bell — Mr. and Mrs. Hotchkiss weren’t home.
Too bad. They were missing the biggest party of the year.
Caitlin Martell-Lewis, dressed in her best pair of straight-leg jeans, a green polo that brought out the amber flecks in her eyes, and TOMS houndstooth sneakers, climbed out of an Escalade with her boyfriend, Josh Friday, and his soccer friends Asher Collins and Timothy Burgess. Josh, whose breath already smelled yeasty from the beer he’d drunk at the pregame party, shaded his brown eyes and gaped at the mansion. “This place is freaking sick.”
Ursula Winters, who desperately wanted to be Timothy’s girlfriend — she was also Caitlin’s biggest soccer rival — stepped out of the backseat and adjusted her oversize, dolman-sleeve shirt. “The kid has it all.”
“Except a soul,” Caitlin muttered, limping up the lawn on her still-sore-from-a-soccer-injury ankle. Silence fell over the group as they stepped inside the grand foyer, with its checkerboard floor and a sweeping double staircase. Josh cast her a sideways glance. “What? I was kidding,” Caitlin said with a laugh.
Because if you spoke out against Nolan — if you so much as boycotted his party — you’d be off the Beacon Heights High A-list. But Nolan had as many enemies as friends, and Caitlin hated him most of all. Her heart pounded, thinking about the secret thing she was about to do. She wondered whether the others were there yet.
The den was filled with candles and fat red cushions. Julie Redding held court in the middle of the room. Her auburn hair hung straight and shiny down her back. She wore a strapless Kate Spade dress and bone-colored high heels that showed off her long, lithe legs. One after another, classmates walked up to her and complimented her outfit, her white teeth, her amazing jewelry, that funny thing she’d said in English class the other day. It was par for the course, naturally — everyone always loved Julie. She was the most popular girl in school.
Then Ashley Ferguson, a junior who’d just dyed her hair the same auburn shade as Julie’s, stopped and gave a reverent smile. “You look amazing,” she gushed, same as the others.
“Thank you,” Julie said modestly.
“Where’d you get the dress?” Ashley asked.
Julie’s friend Nyssa Frankel inserted herself between the two. “Why, Ashley?” she snapped. “Are you going to buy the exact same one?”
Julie laughed as Nyssa and Natalie Houma, another of Julie’s friends, high-fived. Ashley set her jaw and stomped away. Julie bit her lip, wondering if she’d been too mean.
There was only one person she wanted to be mean to deliberately tonight.
And that was Nolan.
Meanwhile, Ava Jalali stood with her boyfriend, Alex Cohen, in the Hotchkisses’ reclaimed oak and marble kitchen, nibbling on a carrot stick. She eyed a tower of cupcakes next to the veggie tray longingly. “Remind me why I decided to do a cleanse again?”
“Because you’re insane?” Alex raised his eyebrows mischievously.
Ava gave him an uh-duh look and pushed her smooth, straight, perfect dark hair out of her eyes. She was the type of girl who hated even looking at cross sections of the human body in biology class; she couldn’t stand the idea that she was that ugly and messy inside.
Alex swiped his thumb on the icing and brought his hand toward Ava’s face. “Yummy…”
Ava drew back. “Get that away!” But then she giggled. Alex had moved here in ninth grade. He wasn’t as popular or as rich as some of the other guys, but he always made her laugh. But then the sight of someone in the doorway wiped the smile off her face. Nolan Hotchkiss, the party’s host, stared at her with an almost territorial grin.
He deserves what he’s going to get, she thought darkly.
In the backyard — which had high, swooping arcades that connected one patio to another; huge potted plants; and a long slate walkway that practically ended in the water — Mackenzie Wright rolled up her jeans, removed her toe rings, and plunked her feet into the infinity-edge pool. A lot of people were swimming, including her best friend, Claire Coldwell, and Claire’s boyfriend, Blake Strustek.
Blake spun Claire around and laced his fingers through hers. “Hey, watch the digits,” Claire warned. “They’re my ticket to Juilliard.”
Blake glanced at Mac and rolled his eyes. Mac looked away, almost as if she didn’t like Blake at all.
Or perhaps because she liked him too much.
Then the patio door opened, and Nolan Hotchkiss, the man of the hour, sauntered onto the lawn with a smug, I’m-the-lord-of-this-party look on his face. He strolled to two boys and bumped fists. After a beat, they glanced Mac’s way and started whispering.
Mac sucked in her stomach, feeling their gazes canvass her snub nose, her glasses with their dark hipster frames, and her large, chunky knit scarf. She knew what they were talking about.
Her hatred for Nolan flared up all over again.
Her phone, which sat next to her on the tiled ground, lit up. Mac glanced at the text from her new friend Caitlin Martell-Lewis.
Julie and Ava received the same missives. Like robots, they all stood, excused themselves, and walked to the rendezvous point. Empty cups lay on the ground in the hall. There was a cupcake smashed on the kitchen wall, and the den smelled distinctly of pot. The girls convened by the stairs and exchanged long, nervous glances.
Caitlin cleared her throat. “So.”
Ava pursed her full lips and glanced at her reflection in the enormous mirror. Caitlin rolled back her shoulders and felt for something in her purse. It rattled slightly. Mac checked her own bag to make sure the camera she’d swiped from her mom’s desk was still inside.
Then Julie’s gaze fixed on a figure hovering in the doorway. It was Parker Duvall, her best friend in the world. She’d come, just as Julie hoped she would. As usual, Parker wore a short denim skirt, black lace tights, and an oversize black sweatshirt. When she saw Julie, she poked her face out from the hood, a wide grin spreading across her cheeks and illuminating her scars. Julie tried not to gasp, but it was so rare that Parker allowed anyone to see her face. Parker rushed up to the girls, pulling the hoodie around her face once more.
All five of them glanced around to see if anyone was watching. “I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Mackenzie admitted.
Caitlin’s eyebrows made a V. “You’re not backing out, are you?”
Mac shook her head quickly. “Of course not.”
“Good.” Caitlin glanced at the others. “Are we all still in?”
Parker nodded. After a moment, Julie said yes, too. And Ava, who was touching up her lip gloss, gave a single, decisive nod.
Their gazes turned to Nolan as he wove through the living room. He greeted kids heartily. Slapped friends on the back. Shot a winning smile to a girl who looked like a freshman, and the girl’s eyes widened with shock. Whispered something to a different girl, and her face fell just as quickly.
That was the kind of power Nolan Hotchkiss had over people. He was the most popular guy at school — handsome, athletic, charming, the head of every committee and club he joined. His family was the wealthiest, too — you couldn’t go a mile without seeing the name Hotchkiss on one of the new developments popping up or turn a page in the newspaper without seeing Nolan’s state senator mother cutting a ribbon at a new bakery, day care facility, community park, or library. More than that, there was something about him that basically… hypnotized you. One look, one suggestion, one command, one snarky remark, one blow-off, one public embarrassment, and you were under his thumb for life.
Nolan controlled Beacon, whether you liked it or not. But what’s that saying? “Absolute power corrupts absolutely.” And for all the people who worshipped Nolan, there were those who couldn’t stand him, too. Who wanted him… gone, in fact.
The girls looked at one another and smiled. “All right, then,” Ava said, stepping out into the crowd, toward Nolan. “Let’s do this.”
Like any good party, the bash at the Hotchkiss house lingered into the wee hours of the morning. Leave it to Nolan to have an in with the cops, because no one raided the place for booze or even told them to cut the noise. Shortly after midnight, some party pics were posted online: two girls kissing in the powder room; the school’s biggest prude doing a body shot off the star running back’s chest; one of the stoners grinning sloppily, holding several cupcakes aloft; and the party’s host passed out on a Lovesac beanbag upstairs with something Sharpied on his face.
Partying hard was Nolan’s specialty, after all.
Revelers passed out on the outdoor couch, on the hammock that hung between two big birch trees at the back of the property, and in zigzag shapes on the floor. For several hours, the house was still, the cupcake icing slowly hardening, a tipped-over bottle of wine pooling in the sink, a raccoon digging through some of the trash bags that had been left out in the backyard.
Not everyone awoke when the boy screamed. Not even when that same someone — a junior named Miro — ran down the stairs and screamed what had happened to the 911 dispatcher did all the kids stir.
It was only when the ambulances screeched into the driveway, sirens blaring, lights flashing, walkie-talkies crackling, that all eyes opened. The first thing everyone saw were EMT workers in their reflective jackets busting inside. Miro pointed them to the upper floor. There were boots on the stairs, and then… those same EMT people carrying someone back down. Someone who had Sharpie marker on his face. Someone who was limp and gray.
The EMT worker spoke into his radio. “We have an eighteen-year-old male DOA.”
Was that Nolan? everyone would whisper in horror as they staggered out of the house, horrifically hungover.
And . . . DOA? Dead on arrival?
By Saturday afternoon, the news was everywhere. The Hotchkiss parents returned from their business meeting in Los Angeles that evening to do damage control, but it was too late — the whole town knew that Nolan Hotchkiss had dropped dead at his party, probably from too much fun.
Darker rumors posited that perhaps he’d meant to do it. Beacon was notoriously hard on its offspring, after all, and maybe even golden boy Nolan Hotchkiss had felt the heat.
When Julie woke up Saturday morning and heard the news, her throat closed. Ava picked up the phone three times before talking herself down. Mac stared into space for a long, long time, then burst into hot, quiet tears. And Caitlin, who’d wanted Nolan dead for so long, couldn’t help but feel sorry for his family, even though he had destroyed hers. And Parker? She went to the dock and stared at the water, her face hidden under her hoodie. Her head pounded with an oncoming migraine.
They called one another and spoke in heated whispers. They felt terrible, but they were smart girls. Logical girls. Nolan Hotchkiss was gone; the dictator of Beacon Heights High was no more. That meant no more tears. No more bullying. No more living in fear that he’d expose everyone’s awful secrets — somehow, he’d known so many. And anyway, not a single person had seen them go upstairs with Nolan that night — they’d made sure of it. No one would ever connect them to him.
The problem, though, was that someone had seen. Someone knew what they’d done that night, and so much more.
And someone was going to make them pay.