In the summer before their senior year, Coby Rendell and her friends take a beach trip together. Around a campfire on a foggy June night, Coby, Rhiannon, Yvette and the others share their darkest secrets, before a tragic accident shatters the bond between them…Twelve years later Coby attends a birthday party reunion that ends in horror when Yvette’s sister’s lifeless body is discovered in a hot tub. Soon others in the original group of tale-tellers begin meeting similar fates-unfortunate ‘accidents’ shrinking their numbers one by one…Conflicted by her growing feelings for Danner Lockwood, the investigating detective, Coby races to unravel a mystery buried in the past. But someone is watching her every move – someone prepared to kill again and again to protect a shocking truth…
Twelve year’s ago. . .
The night Lucas Moore died we were all telling secrets…
Just after school was out at the end of junior year. Coby Rendell had been seventeen, well, at the time all the girls were either seventeen or eighteen. None of them had wanted to be at the beach party where it all started. They weren’t even really friends, and they never had been. It was just that their dads had formed friendships back when the girls were all in grade school and they’d never gotten the memo that their daughters didn’t care whether they hung out together or not.
But the beach trip had happened anyway. And so there they were, sitting in a circle on the sand around the sputtering flames of a campfire that was feeding on driftwood and the pilfered sticks from a broken-down laurel hedge near Coby’s dad’s beachfront home. They’d added some leftover brown paper grocery bags that they’d discovered stacked on shelves in the garage to use as kindling, and now the fire smoked and crackled and burned their eyes.
They were seated directly on the sand. June sand. Coby could feel the damp and chilling cold seep through the bottom of her capris. She wished she’d worn jeans. Even with the fire’s warmth she shivered – they all shivered – and they stared at each other through drifting smoke that the wind occasionally, gleefully, snatched away and then tossed back into their faces, rife with sand. Several of the girls had pulled their sleeping bags around themselves like blankets, and the collective thought on their minds was whether they really, really, really wanted to spend the night on the beach or go back to the house where it was warm and light.
But nobody wanted to be the first one to wuss out first. There was some strange need to prove something to each other that no one was copping to. They’d told themselves they were here to have fun. F.U.N. So, maybe they weren’t the best of friends. So, maybe they didn’t even really like or know each other. It didn’t matter. They’d been on soccer teams, and softball teams and participated in student body functions and pep rallies together and they’d weathered the years of grade school, junior high, and now high school together. And though it was their fathers who’d bonded in those early years, forming a group of Dads and Daughters, organizing trips and functions for them all, clinging to their male-bonding while the girls drifted further and further away from their second-grade selves, the girls let it happen and went along with it. They had determined, by tacit understanding, that they could keep up the facade for their dads’ sakes by handling this beach trip and even pretending they were having a good time. Maybe they even would.
The fact was they were facing their senior year. The last year of high school before they would all be launched into adulthood where a whole new horizon awaited them. For some, it might be a tragedy, but for Coby it was all she’d been waiting for: the beginning of a welcome future where she could shake off the sticky remnants of her youth and run toward something totally new and fabulous.
She was lost in happy thoughts about this unwritten future when Genevieve Knapp slowly stood up across the campfire from Coby, her right hand cupping the flame of a candle that she held in her left. Coby regarded her suspiciously. What the hell was this? Genevieve was cool, blonde and one of the most outspoken of their group, and the way she was standing regally, chin jutted out, did not inspire confidence. Coby glanced to her left, to petite Ellen Marshall, and they exchanged a worried look.
“It’s time to play Pass The Candle,” Genevieve intoned. She gazed in turn at each of them seated in the circle around the ragged campfire that had been dug into a pit in the sand. With the wind snatching at her hair and the smoke funneling around her, she looked like some kind of spectral being arisen from the ashes.
Pass The Candle? Coby didn’t much like the sound of that.
One of the girls, Dana Sainer, a small, bird-like brunette, coughed several times and waved away the smoke. She blinked up at Genevieve. “What?” she asked.
“Yeah, what?” Rhiannon Gallworth cut in. “What does that mean?” Rhiannon had dark eyes and pale skin and a doe-like look about her that was belied by her sharp chin and faintly militant manner.
“Yeah,” Coby said, not to be outdone.
“We’ve all known each other since forever, but do we really know each other?” Genevieve asked, in lieu of answering directly. “Everyone has secrets. Some we can’t wait to tell. Some we never want anyone to know. This is about those secrets that are buried deep. Each of us needs to tell one now. Our deepest, darkest secret. And once told, it never leaves the circle of this group.”
“Like, oh, sure,” Coby sputtered, half laughing. She expected all the others to go along with her on this, but no one said word. They all looked at each other, or the fire, or the ground, or the ocean, its dull roar a constant background noise.
Overhead there was a three-quarter moon and stars glimmered, as if offering their own comments. Coby looked skyward herself, thinking, Good God, before the wind tossed more sand into her eyes, forcing her to turn away.
She didn’t want to do this. She wanted to run away screaming, right now. Surreptitiously, she threw a glance at her watch and wondered when she could legitimately leave, but it was too dark to read the tiny clock face.
Rhiannon’s brows were lifted in disbelief, but it was Wynona Greer, whose dishwater brown, pageboy locks fell across her cheeks, obscuring her features except for the tip of her sharp nose, who demanded belligerently, “Oh, yeah? Well, who’s going to start? You?”
“I’ll be last,” Genevieve answered, and there was something about the way she said it that made Coby think she possessed some big secret, or at least thought she did, and wanted to wait to spring it on all of them. But that was kind of Genevieve’s way. High drama, even when there was none. Especially when there was none, actually.
Wynona repeated, “So, who’s going to start, then?”
They all looked in the direction of the determined voice of Yvette Deneuve. Yvette was one of five sisters dubbed the “Ette Sisters” by their friends and classmates because the sisters’ first names all ended with ette: Nicholette, Annette, Yvette, Juliet and Suzette, in that order. All of them were dark-haired, dark-eyed with smooth skin whose tone was a warm mocha color and took after their French father, Jean-Claude Deneuve, one of the dads currently back at the beach house and best friends with Coby’s own dad, Dave Rendell. They were all staying at Coby’s family’s beach house – now her father’s house, since the divorce – and back at that house Coby’s sister, Faith, and Yvette’s sister Annette Deneuve, both a year older than the group on the beach, were hanging out together. In fact Jean-Claude had brought all of his other daughters, too, except Nicholette, the eldest, and Coby suddenly, fervently wished she’d stayed back at the house with the rest of the Ettes.
But Genevieve had been insistent, so here they were.
Now Yvette took the candle. Her dark hair was held back in a ponytail and the candle’s uncertain light cast deep shadows, hollowing out her cheeks. “I’ve kept this secret for years. I’ve never told anyone.” She inhaled and exhaled several times, as if seriously considering backing down, then said quickly, “I had a sex with a nineteen year-old neighborhood friend when I was thirteen.”
Coby’s brows lifted in spite of herself. Really? Whoa. That sure sounded like statutory rape!
“You mean like sex, sex?” Wynona asked, looking scandalized. “Or, just a blow job, or something?”
“You want an anatomy lesson?” Yvette demanded. “Yeah, sex, sex. Like in you can get pregnant from it. That kind of sex. Jesus.” With that she thrust the candle to McKenna Sanders who was seated on Yvette’s left, then sat back down, frowning, her arms wrapped around her knees, her chin resting on them.
It was clear to Coby that Yvette was already regretting her revelation, and she totally understood. Coby had no idea what she herself was going to say. What the hell! She didn’t have any deep, dark secrets! But McKenna was only two people to Coby’s right so that meant that after McKenna, then Ellen, it would be Coby’s turn. Inside she gathered herself.
Maybe she should just run away now!
But in the end Coby chose to stay and the results were deadly and life-changing for those who survived.