Vicious, p.1
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       Vicious, p.1

         Part #16 of Pretty Little Liars series by Sara Shepard
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Vicious


  DEDICATION

  To Henry

  EPIGRAPH

  If you want a happy ending,

  that depends, of course,

  on where you stop your story.

  —ORSON WELLES

  CONTENTS

  Dedication

  Epigraph

  Identity Crisis

  1. Bad News, and More Bad News

  2. Spencer’s New Tutor

  3. The Interrogation

  4. Beach Trip!

  5. Emily Takes the Plunge

  6. Rescue Efforts

  7. Funeral for a Friend

  8. Escape Artist

  9. Spencer Follows Up

  10. Touchdown

  11. You Shoulda Put a Lacrosse Bracelet on It

  12. Courtroom Drama

  13. How to Plan a Wedding in Five Days

  14. Little Dutch Girl

  15. Spencer’s Ups and Downs

  16. Doomed

  17. International Intrigue

  18. The Jewel in the Crown

  19. Cease and Desist

  20. Final Statements

  21. One Last Hurrah

  22. A Sober Return

  23. I Do!

  24. Does She Stay or Does She Go?

  25. So Much for a Honeymoon

  26. Prison Blues

  27. The Biggest Surprise Witness of All

  28. Back On Dune Street

  29. 8901 Hyacinth Drive

  30. Not Going Down Without a Fight

  31. The Gang’s All Here

  32. A Clean Slate

  33. Spencer Embraces it All

  34. The Joys of Marriage

  35. Real Life

  36. Behind Closed Doors

  Acknowledgments

  Back Ads

  About the Author

  Credits

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  IDENTITY CRISIS

  Have you ever dreamed about starting a new life? Running away from your school, your town, your home, even your family and friends, and starting over somewhere else. Changing how you look, what you like, who you are. In a new place, you’d have no baggage. Your past and future would be a blank canvas. Of course, you’d also no longer be you, and that might mess with your head. And it would suck to have the people back home worry about you, going so far as to, say, put your face on a milk carton. Which is why it’s just a fantasy.

  But for one manipulative girl from Rosewood, it isn’t a fantasy. It’s survival.

  And to her four enemies, it might mean the end of their pretty little lives—forever.

  The first thing Alison DiLaurentis noticed when she woke up was how buttery-soft her sheets were. Her down pillow was fluffy, and her blanket smelled like fresh fabric softener. A band of sun streaming in from the window warmed her legs, and a bird chirped euphorically in the trees. It was like she was sleeping in paradise.

  She sat up and stretched, then broke into a grin as it hit her again. She was free.

  Score another win for Ali D.

  She picked up the remote and turned on the small television at the foot of the bed, which was already set to CNN. The same story she’d been following last night was on the news again: Pretty Little Murderers Go to Trial. Last year’s school pictures of Spencer Hastings, Aria Montgomery, Emily Fields, and Hanna Marin were splashed across the screen. The reporters recounted the tantalizing tale of how the four girls had brutally murdered Alison DiLaurentis and were now on trial, facing life in prison.

  Ali’s smile broadened. This was playing out exactly as she’d planned.

  “Traces of Alison’s blood were found in an abandoned pool house in Ashland, Pennsylvania. The police are working hard to find her body,” a reporter was saying. “Investigators also found a journal of Alison’s, in the woods outside the pool house. It details how the girls methodically captured and tortured her.”

  A short man with curly gray hair and wire-framed glasses popped onto the screen. Seth Rubens, read the caption under his name. Defense Attorney. He was the lawyer representing the girls. “Not only did my clients not torture Alison,” he said, “they also had nothing to do with her murder. The trial will prove—”

  The newscast cut him off mid-sentence. “Opening statements for their trial will start next Tuesday. Stay here for full coverage.”

  Ali flopped back on the bed and wiggled her toes. So far, so good. Everyone bought that she was really dead, and everyone thought those bitches had killed her. It had been a bold move, but she’d pulled it off. She’d even done it mostly alone.

  It had been risky returning to Rosewood, Pennsylvania, after her last scheme to bring her sister’s old friends down had failed. But it had pissed her off that things had gone so wrong . . . again. After all, she’d plotted everything so meticulously: her boyfriend and accomplice, Nicholas, had painstakingly infiltrated the girls’ lives the previous summer. First he’d used his massive trust fund to fly to Jamaica and set up an elaborate hoax for all the girls. Then he’d bounced to Philly to target Spencer, to Iceland to ensnare Aria in an international incident, and back to Philly again to gather secrets about the other two. When shit started to go down and the Liars spiraled out of control, Ali and Nick started rumors that the bitches had a suicide pact—and spread it to the press, to kids at school via Facebook, even to random people around Rosewood. Knowing the girls were looking for Ali, Ali and Nick laid out clues to her whereabouts, luring them to the basement of a ramshackle building in Rosewood. The girls were supposed to die down there. The cops were supposed to come after it was all over, when Ali and Nick had safely escaped, and think it was a group suicide.

  But that wasn’t how it had happened. Somehow, the girls had been saved, and the cops had hauled Nick off to prison. Ali had gotten away, but worry plagued her. How long would Nick stick to the lie they’d agreed upon: that Ali had died in the fire in the Poconos a year ago and that he’d gone after Spencer, Aria, Emily, and Hanna alone? Prison probably sucked, especially for a rich kid who was used to sleeping on zillion-thread-count sheets and who’d had to shoplift a sound machine from Target because he needed white noise even when on the lam.

  After all that, drums still beat in Ali’s head, overpowering all thoughts of lying low. You have to get them, she thought. You have to finish this.

  And so she had. First she penned a journal, a story so brilliantly crafted it probably would have received an A+ in AP English. She twisted her relationship with Nick into something sordid and abusive, poor little sick Ali dragged into a murderous rampage with no way of escape. Nick killed my sister. Nick killed Ian. Nick set fire to Spencer’s woods. Nick killed Jenna Cavanaugh. It was all Nick’s idea, and he’d pulled Ali along for the ride.

  She wrote that Nick had barely cared for her after the Poconos fire and forced her to take part in more nefarious activities, threatening to kill her if she told anyone or tried to leave. She wrote about clawing her way out of that basement to get away from him. Several entries talked about how wonderful it felt to be free—but how scary, too. She wrote that she’d been hiding in a barn in Limerick, Pennsylvania, though actually she’d been in the pool house at Nick’s parents’ vacation home in Ashland . . . which would play into the second part of her plan.

  She’d also written whole chapters about the Liars, creating a different picture of them than what the public assumed. My sister’s dear old friends, she called them, splattering salt water on the diary to look like tears. I hope they forgive me and understand that I wasn’t the one behind all this. I’ve wanted to tell them so many times. Ali wrote that she wanted to go to the cops with her story, but she was afraid they wouldn’t believe her. She wrote about wanting to anonymously turn in the journal, but she didn’t know who to trust.

  As her coup de grâce, s
he detailed how the Liars had tracked her down, finding her in the barn and tying her up. She begged them to listen to her side of the story, but the Liars threw her in Spencer’s trunk and dragged her away—although, really, she hadn’t been dragged anywhere, and was still at the pool house, waiting for them to find her. Writing this with my hands tied up, Ali had penned, actually tying her hands together so her handwriting was properly sloppy. And: This journal is my only friend. And: I’ve tried to tell them the truth again and again, but they just won’t listen. They’re crazy. All of them. I know they’re going to kill me. I’m never getting out of here alive. Her last entry was two choppy sentences: I think today is going to be the day. I’m so scared.

  It was kismet: The date of the last entry jibed almost perfectly with when the Liars really did find the pool house. Ali knew they’d come—she’d planted that receipt in the pocket of the hoodie she let Emily tear off her for that very reason. To sufficiently hook them, she made sure the place smelled overpoweringly of the vanilla soap she used. She knew they’d come inside the pool house and touch everything, leaving their fingerprints everywhere. They fell for every one of Ali’s tricks as though she had them under a spell. Sure, there were a few surprises—like the cameras they set up in the trees—but even those she made work to her advantage, especially when Emily had her colossal freak-out on-screen. The prosecution team would log that into evidence.

  Now, Ali sat down at the laptop propped up on a small desk in the corner and opened a website. A huge banner saying Hang the Liars! splashed across the top of the page. We Are Your Ali Cats, Ali! Letting out a little coo of happiness, she leaned forward and kissed the screen. The Ali Cats, a special fan club that had started last year, were completely devoted to her. They had been the sweetest surprise in all of this. Ali loved them, her special helpers, her extra credit. Some of them were dedicated enough to risk everything for her. She wished she could write to them and thank each one of them.

  After reading a few posts from Ali Cats all over the country, clamoring for the Liars to go to prison for the rest of their lives, Ali shut the laptop and moved to the closet. All her new clothes—mostly white or pale-colored shirts, shorts, and skirts in several sizes larger than she was used to—hung in a neat row. The stuff totally wasn’t her . . . but that was the price she had to pay. As she slid the hangers from one side of the rod to the next, she felt a small, nagging twinge inside her. This latest escape had come at a bit of a price. She’d had to get rid of a few of the Ali Cats—but that was necessary. And then there was Nick. She’d had a few dreams of him escaping from prison, finding her, and demanding to know how she could have blamed him for everything. But betraying him was necessary, too.

  A knock sounded at the door. Ali whipped around, her heart pounding hard. “It’s just me,” came a voice. “Are you up?”

  Ali’s heart slowed down. “Uh, yeah,” she said.

  “I was just about to go out and get some breakfast. You want anything? Pancakes, maybe, like yesterday? An omelet?”

  Ali thought a moment. “Both,” she decided. “And some bacon,” she added. “And grapefruit juice, if you can find some.”

  A shadow flickered under the door. “Okay,” came the voice. “Be back soon.”

  Ali listened as the footsteps grew softer. She turned back to her closet and pulled on a white T-shirt and a long, white, gauzy skirt, which was beyond hideous but fit her expanding hips. She glanced at herself in the mirror and almost didn’t recognize the girl looking back, a larger, unwieldy creature with mousy-brown hair and blotchy, messed-up skin. It was only a temporary situation, though—soon enough, she would go back to being beautiful. This was who she needed to be right now: someone other than herself. A nobody. A nothing. A ghost, which made it even more appropriate that most of her new clothes were white.

  Outside, a car swished past. A boat horn honked. As Ali thought of her imminent breakfast, all the wary twinges faded away. How unbelievably luxurious that deciding what she would eat was her one and only concern! All that other stuff? She didn’t feel shitty about it at all. Only the strong survive, after all. And soon enough, she’d have a new life. A better one than what she’d had in a long, long time.

  And those four bitches would have no life at all.

  1

  BAD NEWS, AND MORE BAD NEWS

  On a balmy Thursday morning in mid-June, Emily Fields sat next to her best friends Hanna Marin, Spencer Hastings, and Aria Montgomery in a large, airy conference room that overlooked the Philadelphia waterfront. The room smelled like coffee and Danishes, and the office bustled with the sounds of ringing phones, whirring printers, and click-clacking high heels on female attorneys rushing off to court. When Seth Rubens, their new lawyer, cleared his throat, Emily looked up. By his pained expression, she suspected she wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

  “Your case doesn’t look good.” Rubens stirred his coffee with a thin wooden stick. He had bags under his eyes, and he wore the same cologne as Emily’s dad, a summery scent called Royall Bay Rhum. The smell used to cheer Emily up, but not anymore.

  “The district attorney has gathered a lot of evidence against you for Alison’s murder,” he went on. “You being on the scene when the crime happened. The shoddy cleanup job. Your prints all over the house. The tooth they found at the scene. Emily’s, er, episode”—here he glanced nervously at Emily—“prior to the event. I’m happy to represent you, and I’ll do all I can, but I don’t want to give you false hope.”

  Emily slumped down. Ever since their arrest for the murder of Alison DiLaurentis—also known as A, their longtime enemy, almost-killer, and diabolical text-messager—Emily had lost ten pounds, couldn’t stop crying, and thought she was going crazy. They were all out on bail after only a few hours in jail, but their trial would begin in five days. Emily had been through six lawyers, and her friends had done the same. None of the lawyers had given them hope—including Rubens, who’d allegedly gotten mafia bosses out of mass-killing charges.

  Aria leaned forward and looked the lawyer square in the eye. “How many times can we explain this? Ali set us up. She knew we were staking out that pool house. She knew we were getting desperate. That blood was on the floor when we got there. And we were upstairs when whoever it was cleaned it up.”

  Rubens looked at them tiredly. “But you didn’t see who that was, did you?”

  Emily picked at her thumbnail. And then, suddenly, she heard a giddy, taunting, crystal-clear voice: You didn’t. You know I’ve got you right where I want you.

  It was Ali’s voice, but no one else seemed to hear it. Emily felt another barb of worry. She’d started to hear Ali a few days ago, and her voice was growing louder.

  She thought about the lawyer’s question. In their hunt for Ali, they’d targeted a house in Ashland, Pennsylvania, the property of Ali’s boyfriend Nick Maxwell’s parents. At the very back of the property was a dilapidated pool house, the perfect place for Ali to hide out and plot her next move against them. They’d started to monitor the place, but then Spencer unwittingly told her friend Greg that they’d set up surveillance cameras. In a horrible turn of events, Greg ended up being an Ali Cat, one of Ali’s online minions. Their camera feed of the cabin was disconnected almost the second Spencer broke the news.

  As soon as that happened, Emily and the others drove up to Ashland to see if Ali was at the pool house, dismantling the cameras. But all they found was blood on the floor. They’d gone inside to look around, then heard a slam and run upstairs. The smell of bleach had wafted through the air, and someone—surely Ali, though they hadn’t seen for certain—stomped around in the kitchen, messily cleaning it up. When they came back downstairs, the house was empty. Then they’d called 911. Little did they know the police would blame them.

  But that’s just what happened: The cops came, swabbed for evidence, and deemed that the blood type matched Ali’s. They’d also found a tooth that matched Ali’s dental records. Then they accused the girls of trying to clean up
the crime scene—their prints were all over the place, after all, and they’d been in the house. The surveillance cameras had recorded the girls sneaking in the door moments before.

  You’re totally mine.

  There was Ali’s voice again. Emily blinked hard. She looked around at her friends, wondering if they heard their own versions of Ali’s taunts in their heads.

  “And the dress?” Aria asked, referring to the dress they’d found in the pool house’s upstairs loft. It had also been covered in blood.

  The lawyer checked his notes. “Forensics says it only has A-positive blood on it—Ali’s blood type. I wouldn’t bring it up. It doesn’t really help your case.”

  Emily sat up straighter. “Couldn’t Ali have cut herself, spread her blood around the pool house, and then cleaned it up? She could have pulled and planted that tooth, too. She was in The Preserve for years. She’s crazy.”

  Not as crazy as you! the Ali in Emily’s head tittered. Emily made a face, wanting Ali’s voice out. Then she noticed Hanna looking at her curiously.

  The lawyer sighed. “If we had evidence of Alison in that pool house—alive—at the same time you were there, we might be able to make that case. But all we have is a video of you girls sneaking in through the front door. Ali isn’t there.”

  “Ali probably snuck in through a window,” Spencer piped up. “In the back, maybe. There were no cameras there.”

  The lawyer stared at his palms. “There’s no evidence supporting that. I had the police dust for prints on the windowsills around the property, and they found nothing.”

  “She could have used gloves,” Hanna tried.

  Rubens clicked his pen. “This is all circumstantial evidence, and we have to consider that it’s coming from you four girls and that you are somewhat notorious, er, characters.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, your nickname is the Pretty Little Liars. You’ve been caught in lies before—very public lies. You were on trial for killing a girl in Jamaica, and you confessed to at least pushing her off a balcony. And everyone knows what Alison did to you and how much motive you’d have to get rid of her. And like I said, there was Emily’s episode . . .”

 
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