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       Platinum, p.1

           Jennifer Lynn Barnes
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  Title Page



  1 Me

  2 Secrets

  3 Contagion

  4 Boys

  5 Lying

  6 Truth

  7 Power

  8 Hurt

  9 Evil

  10 Kiss

  11 It

  12 Tears

  13 Payback

  14 Scandal

  15 Information

  16 Beauty

  17 Payback, Part 2

  18 Possession

  19 Competition

  20 Hurt

  21 The End

  About the Author

  Also by Jennifer Lynn Barnes


  To Laurie,

  who taught me all

  about survival

  of the fittest


  Writing a sequel is definitely an interesting experience. For this one, I owe a huge debt of gratitude to everyone who read Golden and wanted to read more—friends, family, and readers, thank you so much for asking that all-important question: “What’s next?” Special thanks go out to some of my earliest readers, Anne Marie and Maddy Pace.

  I’m also especially grateful to the people I’ve been blessed to work with for the past two years. Many thanks go out to Trish Parcell Watts for designing all of my beautiful covers; Noreen Marchisi, publicist extraordinaire; Web designer Allie Costas; and Holly Fredericks and Dave Barbour, for being behind the project from the start.

  Most of all, thank you to the three people who I just can’t seem to thank enough, no matter how many acknowledgments I write: my editor, Krista Marino, for loving Golden, asking for a sequel, and knowing exactly how to help me make it the best it could possibly be; my agent, Elizabeth Harding, for believing in Golden from day one and for being the best champion any of my novels could hope for; and my mother/first reader/biggest fan, Marsha Barnes—the Gilmore Girls don’t have a thing on the two of us.



  If you want to be popular,

  it’s not nearly as important that you know who you are

  as it is that everyone else does.

  “Lilah Covington

  Is the hottest chick alive

  And she’s mine. Hell yeah.”

  Mrs. Mason looked somewhat scandalized by Brock’s poem, but honestly, if you assign your junior/senior English class the task of writing haikus, knowing full well that half the class is so drenched in testosterone that they can’t see straight, you’re pretty much asking for trouble. Quite frankly, she was lucky Brock had kept it PG.

  Mrs. Mason cleared her throat. “Thank you, Brock,” she said. “That was certainly interesting.”

  Funny, I thought. I was the subject of the poem, and even though I’d rewarded Brock with a coy and promising smile for his efforts, I wouldn’t have called the result “interesting.” A poet my boyfriend was not.

  “Would anyone else like to share their haiku?”

  Three football players raised their hands, and Mrs. Mason’s eye started twitching. Unless she wanted a repeat of The Disturbingly Explicit Haiku Incident of 2005 (don’t ask), she’d need to avoid calling on them. Honestly, the entire English department really should have given up on the idea of an annual poetry unit. What was the point in having us write haikus four years in a row?

  “Actually,” Mrs. Mason said, her eye still twitching as some of the boys started snickering at the genius of their haikus, “let’s try something a little bit different.”

  She picked up a piece of chalk and scribbled two words on the chalkboard.

  I AM…

  “I want you all to take fifteen minutes and write as many sentences as you can that start with these two words,” she said. “These sentences will be the basis of your next poem.”

  The assignment wasn’t exactly revolutionary, but at least she’d had the foresight to skip the annual assignment on limericks.

  Following Mrs. M’s directions, I lazily scribbled the prompt on the top of my page.

  I am…

  Let’s see, I thought, tapping my pen on the edge of my lips, who am I?

  A mishmash of answers flooded my brain.

  I was Lilah Covington.

  I was the most popular girl in the junior class.

  I was craving milk and cookies.

  I was a child born to an unwed teen mother.

  I was the only thing standing between this school and Fuchsia Reynolds’s reign of terror.

  I was secretly addicted to Boy Meets World reruns.

  And, according to Brock’s haiku (which was either mildly endearing or borderline offensive, depending on how well you knew Brock and whether or not you had feminist leanings), I was the hottest chick alive.

  Needless to say, I didn’t think any of those answers were what Mrs. Mason was looking for.

  Without looking at the page, I started doodling as the list of things I had no intention of writing down grew in my mind.

  I was a person who lived by my own rules, but never, ever broke them.

  I was shorter than I wanted to be.

  I was smarter than I let on.

  I was in control.

  And I was slowly but surely losing my mind.

  The moment the thought occurred to me, I drifted into the exact kind of nonsensical daydream that currently had me questioning my own sanity.

  Three girls holding hands. Fresh dirt on an open grave. Pink. Purple. Blue.

  “All right, time’s up!” Mrs. Mason’s voice brought me back to the real world. “Let’s see what you all ended up with.”

  I looked down at my page, expecting to see nothing except doodles, but a single sentence stared back at me.





  If you tell more than one person, it’s not a secret.

  If I guess it before you tell me, it’s not a secret.

  If you lie to me about it, it’s not a secret.

  If you tell me because you think it will make me

  like you better, it’s definitely not a secret.

  And if it’s not a secret,

  you can’t possibly expect me to keep it.

  “So if you had to choose between babysitting for Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie and babysitting for Katie Holmes and Tom Cruise, what would you choose?”

  Fuchsia and I considered the options Tracy had offered us with a great deal of solemnity.

  “Brangelina,” Fuchsia said. “Brad is so much hotter than Tom. And way less weird.”

  I was slightly more practical. “TomKat. They only have one child under the age of ten.”

  Since the boys were in their weekly lunchtime football meeting, Tracy, Fuchsia, and I were left to entertain ourselves, and we’d fallen back on an old standard. The three of us held the record for the longest-standing game of “What Would You Choose?” We’d been playing since my initiation into the group, halfway through the sixth grade.

  “I’ve got one,” I said. “If you had to choose between having one huge boob and one small one…” I grinned wickedly. “…or having three of relatively medium size, what would you choose?”

  Tracy squealed in horror. Fuchsia looked down at her own chest, as if it might offer up some kind of guidance.

  I was totally the queen of “What Would You Choose?”

  Ultimately, Fuchsia, an expert at bra stuffing, opted for the two of mismatched size, and Tracy, ever the follower, agreed a split second later.

  “Hi, Lilah!”

  I turned toward that too-perky voice and immediately identified its owner as someone who unquestionably sat on the other side of the cafeteria.

  “Hi,” I said. Not
hing more, nothing less.

  The girl, who was obviously nervous, spoke again, her voice even more cheerful this time. “I just heard about that poem that Brock wrote you today. It’s just like so…” She sighed. “Romantic.”

  Romantic? Seriously? I tried to determine whether she was sucking up or serious, and couldn’t decide which one was worse.

  Beside me, Fuchsia’s eyes narrowed into slits. The only thing she hated more than Nons daring to defile the Golden side of the cafeteria was being reminded that I had a boyfriend and she didn’t.

  “So if you had to choose,” Fuchsia said, her voice light, playful, and completely soulless, “between being caught dead wearing those shoes”—she flicked her eyes toward the girl’s feet—“or being stuck with a nose as completely horrendous as that one for the rest of your life…” Fuchsia zeroed in on the girl’s face and smirked. “Which one would you choose?”

  “Ewwwww!” Tracy shrieked, making the girl blush crimson. “Neither.”

  “Tracy, you know the rules. You have to pick one or the other, no matter how disgusting the options.” Fuchsia smirked again, and the scene in front of me blurred, until I saw Fuchsia the way she’d looked in the first grade, when she’d informed me that I couldn’t sit at her table at the Father’s Day picnic because I didn’t have a daddy.

  “I do so have a daddy. I just don’t know who he is.”

  I don’t know how long I zoned out for, or how many times the words I’d once spoken played over and over again in my head, but the next thing I knew, Fuchsia was calling my name, and the girl she’d laid the verbal smack-down on was gone.


  I blinked hard, pushing the words out of my mind and forcing myself to see Fuchsia as she was today, not the way she’d been when we were six and I was the town scandal.

  “Yeah?” I said.

  “You never answered.”

  I had to choose one. Those were the rules. I was the one who’d made them up, back when I’d introduced the others to the game, and I never broke my own rules—not in life, and not in “What Would You Choose?”

  “The shoes,” I said. I didn’t elaborate. We’d been having fun, and Fuchsia had ruined it. What else was new?

  “Sooooooo,” Tracy said, drawing out the word. “Guess what I heard.”

  Fuchsia arched her eyebrows and leaned back in her seat. “Do I care?” she asked. She couldn’t take her frustration out on me, so she turned it on Tracy, who winced visibly.

  For someone who’d been friends with Fuchsia since before she could walk, Tracy was surprisingly bad at dealing with her, which, more often than not, left me doing damage control on her behalf.

  “Fine, Fuchsia,” Tracy huffed. “If you don’t want to know, I won’t tell you.”

  Fuchsia looked down at her nails. “Touchy, touchy,” she teased, a smile in her voice, as if she hadn’t just gone off on a girl for daring to remind her that she wasn’t numero uno and hadn’t been since freshman year.

  I gave Fuchsia a look, but didn’t say anything on the off chance that Tracy might actually fight back, preferably by mentioning Fuchsia’s escapades at Parker’s party the weekend before. No such luck. Tracy couldn’t quite handle Fuchsia on a good day, and given the fact that she was still in mourning over her recent breakup, these weren’t exactly the best of Tracy times. As soon as it became apparent that she wasn’t going to stand up for herself, I resigned myself to doing it for her. After all, friends help friends survive other friends.

  Such was my life in between rounds of “What Would You Choose?”

  “What did you hear?” I asked Tracy, throwing her a much-needed bone. Fuchsia shot me an annoyed look, and I stared her down. Clearly, she’d forgotten who she was dealing with here. This wasn’t the first grade, and I wasn’t asking to sit at her table.

  She was sitting at mine.

  “Was it the thing about Jackson?” I added, making my eyes impossibly wide and innocent.

  Wait for it…wait for it…

  Fuchsia leaned forward. “Jackson?” she asked, in what I’m sure she thought was a very subtle way.

  Nothing about Fuchsia Reynolds was actually subtle, least of all the well-known fact that she was pretty desperate for a top-three boyfriend, though technically, that particular fact wasn’t well known except to those of us who had poured her into her bed after Parker’s party. Or at least that particular midnight confession wasn’t well known yet. With Fuchsia, it was best to always hold some crucial piece of information in reserve. “Blackmail” is such an ugly word. I vastly prefer the term “leverage.” And if that offends your moral sensibilities, I would suggest that you try keeping Fuchsia Reynolds in check for a week, and then we’ll talk.

  “I still haven’t told you what I heard,” Tracy whined.

  I turned my attention to her and thoroughly pretended that I’d never mentioned the utterly fictional “thing about Jackson,” relatively sure that Fuchsia would sheath her claws in hopes that I’d offer up some juicy details about her current crush. See? No need to bring up the party, no emotional blackmail, and I’d still managed to keep the peace. Yay for me. I totally deserved a cookie.

  Tracy, looking as proud as a kindergartner giving her first show-and-tell, tossed her dyed blond hair over one shoulder and began to dispense the gossip she’d been trying to tell us for the past three minutes. “I heard that our favorite desperate Non may finally be making a move on her shaggy little would-be boytoy.”

  I bit back a sigh and stared down into my milkshake. The words “favorite” (meaning highly favored or most liked) and “Non” (meaning a social nonentity, a loser, and three-quarters of the student population at Emory High) should never have even been used in the same sentence. At Emory, you couldn’t afford to have a favorite Non, because paying too much attention to the unpopular had a way of making you look pathetic, a la Tracy, who still hadn’t gotten over the fact that the new girl from California was (a) new, (b) a girl, and (c) from California. Unfortunately, when she’d first arrived, Lissy James had also been (d) attracted to Tracy’s then-steady boyfriend, Tate, and (e) socially impaired and utterly incapable of following even the most explicit instructions.

  Double unfortunately, she was also (f ) the daughter of the sister of the man who was dating my mother. What did that make her to me?

  Nothing. Or at least, that’s what I kept telling myself, despite the fact that there was something about Lissy James that put me in “friends protect friends” mode, even though the two of us were anything but. When Lissy had first moved to town, I’d tried to show her the ropes, but eventually I was forced to the conclusion that some people just don’t get it even if you hold the metaphorical ropes up to their faces and point vigorously. With Lissy, I’d done everything short of pretending to climb the ropes myself, mime style.

  “Can we change the subject?” I asked, half wishing I was heartless enough to have let Fuchsia play mind games with Tracy to her heart’s content. “Your Lissy obsession is way past tired, Trace.” I kept my eyes on her until she looked away, silent.

  Normally, I had a little more finesse than this, but when it came to all things related to Lissy James, the James family, or the night they’d somehow decided to let me in on the king-sized family secret, I had a tendency to lose my touch.

  The Sight: a suite of mystical abilities to see what others could not…

  Thinking about it had me glancing over at the other side of the cafeteria and wincing inwardly. I’d introduced her to my friends, my boyfriend, and the primo Goldens, the hottest of the hot, and socially challenged Lissy had practically voluntarily Non-ed herself. Now she was sitting with Nons, eating with Nons, and—if Tracy’s gossip was to be believed—on the verge of dating a Non. I didn’t understand it. Once upon a time, I’d offered her the world, and Lissy had chosen them over me. In all honesty, that still felt less than fabulous on my end.

  Luckily, however, I wasn’t in the business of being honest with anyone, least of all myself.
r />   As if she sensed me looking at her, Lissy glanced up, meeting my gaze. Her eyes flitted up and down my body. If I hadn’t known better, I would have thought she was checking me out, which goes to show just how much she really needed my help, even if she didn’t want it. At Emory High, potential boyfriends were no guarantee against lesbian rumors. Luckily for Lissy, being under my protection was, and even if I hadn’t been strangely and masochistically driven to curb any and all Lissy-centric rumors, I still wouldn’t have been able to deny the fact that I knew the truth in all its twisted, freaky glory.

  Lissy wasn’t checking me out. She was checking out my aura.

  “It’s not like her uncle and your mom are even married.” Tracy’s pouting snapped me back to reality. “What do you care if we talk about her?”

  That was a very good question, and one for which I had absolutely no answer. Lissy had made her decision—why couldn’t I just let her live with the consequences? She didn’t even like me. There was no reason for me to go out on a social limb on her behalf, and the fact that I continually found myself doing it—in direct violation of every rule I’d ever made for myself—was more than a little disturbing.

  Knowing better than to let my thoughts show on my face, I shrugged and answered Tracy’s question as cavalierly as I could. “I don’t care if you talk about her,” I said, the lie slipping easily off my tongue, “but since she could probably talk about you…” I let the threat hang in the air. Tracy had the memory of an amnesiac goldfish, and she needed to be reminded at least once a day that Lissy James wasn’t the only one with a mystical secret.

  Properly chastised, Tracy shut her mouth and ceased Lissy-bashing. Fuchsia looked up from her nails, suddenly interested in the conversation, and across the room, Lissy turned back to the friends she’d chosen over me.

  “Do you know something I don’t?” Fuchsia asked, her eyes narrowing almost imperceptibly.

  Other than everything? I thought.

  “Come on—secrets are no fun, Li,” Fuchsia chanted in a singsong voice. “Especially when they’re Tray-Cee’s.”

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