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The Facade

The Facade

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***#12 BESTSELLER IN THE ENTIRE KINDLE STORE***

Everyone has three lives. A public life, a private life, and a secret life.

Main Tropes

  • Brother’s Best Friend
  • Secret Relationship
  • Sneaking Around
  • Forbidden Romance
  • Kissing Lesson
  • “Who Did This?”
  • Only One Bed
  • Sleepwalking
  • Forced Proximity
  • Boy Next Door

Synopsis

Everyone has three lives. A public life, a private life, and a secret life.

I’m a junior in high school, and yet, I’ve never been on a date.

Everybody says it's because my overprotective brothers scare all the guys away, but I can't help wondering if there's something wrong with me.

That is, until I hear a rumor that I’m secretly dating my brothers’ best friend.

What?

Sure, I used to think Mack was the most perfect guy in the universe, but I got over that crush years ago.

And even though he teases my brothers about taking me to Make-Out Point, there’s no way he’d actually make good on that threat. I’ve only ever been the dorky girl next door to him.

But when Mack’s sleepwalking episodes lead him to staying a few nights on the trundle bed in my room and we talk and share things we never tell anyone else, I start to wonder if a secret relationship is exactly what I want.

My brothers have made it clear that Mack is never allowed near me. But what my brothers don’t know can’t hurt them, right?

Chapter One Look Inside

“Have you guys decided what you’re dressing up as for the Halloween dance?” my friend Scarlett, a senior with auburn hair and high cheekbones, asked Elyse and me when we joined her and her best friend Hunter at the table in the great hall for lunch. 

“I’m not sure,” Elyse said with a shrug. “Usually, Ava and I plan our costumes together, but since she and Carter are coordinating this year, I’m not sure what I’m doing.”

Ava and Elyse were identical twins who had just come to Eden Falls Academy at the beginning of the school year. They had caused quite the stir when they first arrived, catching most of the guys’ attention at our private school since they were new and gorgeous. But things had settled down a bit now that we were almost two months into the school year and Ava had paired off with my older brother Carter.

“Any ideas what you’d like to dress up as? A character from a movie, or something else?” I asked Elyse, hoping to be helpful.

“I was thinking about going as Elizabeth Swan from Pirates of the Caribbean or maybe even Cher from Clueless.”

“You would make the perfect Elizabeth Swan.” Scarlett’s eyes widened with excitement. “You have the perfect bone structure to pull off the Keira Knightley look.”

“You think so?” Elyse asked, her cheeks coloring slightly as Scarlett and I looked at her.

“You would look so good,” I agreed with Scarlett. “Were you thinking of wearing one of the fancy gowns? Or the pirate clothes?”

“One of the gowns,” Elyse said. “My mom has a dress she designed that would be perfect for it.” Elyse and Ava’s mom was a famous fashion designer, and so of course she would have the hookups for something like that.

“Dang, you’re going to look so good. All the guys will be asking you to dance all night,” Scarlett said, her tone envious. “Don’t you think so, Hunter?” She glanced at Hunter who was, as usual, reading something on his phone.

When he didn’t respond, Scarlett nudged him with her elbow.

“Uh, what did you say?” Hunter asked, finally looking up from his phone.

Scarlett eyed Hunter somewhat impatiently and said, “I was saying that Elyse dressing up like Elizabeth Swan is like every guy’s fantasy.”

“Oh…” Hunter narrowed his green eyes and seemed to take in Elyse’s long, brown hair and olive-complected skin for a moment, as if picturing her in eighteenth-century clothes. With a shrug, he said, “I guess I can see it.”

And then, he immediately went back to reading whatever he had up on his phone screen.

Scarlett cast our aloof friend a wary glance, like she wasn’t sure what to think about how distracted he’d been all year. But then she shrugged and turned her brown-eyed gaze to me. “What about you, Cambrielle? Have you picked your costume yet?”

“I just got the last piece of it yesterday,” I said, unable to keep a smile from lifting my lips as I thought about the costume I’d been working on for weeks. Dressing up was one of my favorite things to do, so of course Halloween was one of my favorite holidays. 

“And what are you going to be?” Elyse asked.

My smile turned mischievous. “It’s a secret.”

“It’s a secret?” Scarlett asked, her eyes brimming with intrigue just as I’d hoped. “And why is that?”

I shrugged. “I just want to surprise everyone.”

Which was true. I did want to keep the Kelana costume my mom and I had been pulling pieces together for over the past few weeks a secret. Kelana being the main character from my favorite romantic fantasy movie.

Though, what would have been even more true was to say that I wanted to surprise a specific person with my costume. That person being the super-hot and amazing Ben Barnett.

Ben was in the grade above me—a senior like most of my friends—and I’d had a crush on him ever since last spring when he led the boys’ soccer team to the state championships.

There was just something about a guy who could handle a ball and lead his team to victory that was super attractive to me. 

But since I was painfully awkward around guys I liked, I’d never dared do anything about my crush—in fact, I hadn’t even said a single word to him since the school year started. I didn’t go up to high school gods like Ben.

But I had a plan. I was going to channel my inner Kelana at the Halloween dance and under the disguise of my glittery, pink masquerade mask, faerie-queen makeup, and beautiful one-of-a-kind dress, I was going to finally ask him to dance.

And if the dance went well, I was going to ask him out.

Sure, asking Ben out before I revealed my true identity probably wasn’t the greatest plan, but it was all about baby steps at this point. I mean, he would be graduating at the end of the year, and since we were already in the last week of October, there wasn’t a whole lot of time left for me to get up the nerve to make something happen.

And if my plan totally bombed and I completely humiliated myself in front of Ben, no one would be the wiser because no one would know it was me.

“Will you give us any hints about your costume?” Elyse asked, searching my face with her golden-brown eyes. “Is it a real person, or maybe a character from a movie?”

I shook my head. “Sorry, but this secret is going to remain locked down tight until we’re at the party. I’m not even letting Carter or Nash know.”

Carter and Nash were my older brothers who also attended our school.

“Well, aren’t you mysterious,” Scarlett said.

I shrugged. “I guess so.”

Elyse seemed to realize that I wasn’t going to give any hints because she turned to Scarlett and asked her what she was planning to dress up as.

Scarlett poked at her salad with her fork. “I’m trying to convince Hunter here to dress up like an astronaut so I can be the pretty alien he finds on Mars.” She bumped her shoulder against his. “But so far he’s pretty set on not dressing up.”

Hunter glanced over at his best friend with a smirk on his lips and said, “When I’m already dressed as the coolest person in the room, why would I dress up like anything else?”

“Why indeed?” Scarlett shook her head, a slight smile lifting her lips at Hunter’s cocky statement. But when Hunter went back to looking at his phone, she glanced at Elyse and me and said, “I’ll keep working on him.”

The rest of our friends joined us at the table with their lunch trays, so we made room for them. My older brother Carter and his girlfriend, Ava—who was Elyse’s identical twin—sat on the side where Scarlett and Hunter were. 

Carter’s best friend Mack, who was also our next-door neighbor, slipped into the spot on my left. And Elyse scooted closer to me to make room for my other brother Nash.

That’s right, my brothers and I actually chose to sit at the same table during lunch because we got along, strangely enough.

Now how did I come to have two brothers who were both seniors but not twins, despite the fact that they shared the same dirty-blond hair and aqua-blue eyes?

Well, that’s a long story, but basically, we all had the same dad—the famous billionaire businessman Joel Hastings—but while Nash and I were full-blooded siblings born a year apart, my dad got Carter’s mom pregnant a few months before he married my mom, so Carter was only seven months older than Nash.

Yep, my dad wasn’t just good at making money in his early twenties. He was also accomplished at producing heirs as well.

So my dad had three kids all born within a year and a half of each other in addition to being the stepfather to my oldest brother, Ian, who came from my mom’s first marriage.

Things were crazy when we were younger, and my parents had to hire a full-time nanny to help with all the chaos my brothers and I created. But we were all best friends now, and I knew that when Nash and Carter graduated at the end of the year, leaving me all alone for my senior year, I was going to miss them.

I was going to miss all my friends actually, since yep, you guessed it, they were all seniors and I was the only junior among us.

“So I was just asking Cambrielle and Elyse what they were going to wear to the Halloween dance,” Scarlett said once everyone had gotten themselves situated around the table. “What are the rest of you planning to dress up like?”

“I was thinking that I’d probably just go as myself,” Mack’s deep voice sounded from beside me. “I mean, why dress up when I could just go as the coolest person I know?”

“Hey, that’s what I said,” Hunter said with a smile, slipping his phone into his pocket now that the rest of the crew had joined us.

“Great minds.” Mack held out a hand to give Hunter a fist bump across the table.

Hunter bumped his fist against Mack’s knuckles. Bemused, I just shook my head, because while I loved my brothers’ best friends, they did have a certain arrogance to them.

Though, I guess I couldn’t really blame them. They were all basically the princes of Eden Falls Academy—popular, confident, and belonged to the nation’s wealthiest families. And while I was definitely not attracted to my brothers—because ew—I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that Hunter and Mack were super cute.

So cute that when we were all in middle school, I’d totally had a huge crush on Mack.

I’d gotten over that crush eventually, and moved on to liking other guys like Ben, of course. But yeah, Mack, Hunter, and my brothers did have most of the female population at our school crushing on them. 

And yes, they knew it, too.

It must be nice knowing so many people wanted you.

Nash cleared his throat, bringing me back to the present as he answered Scarlett’s question. “I was planning to go as the Phantom.”

“Really?” Elyse turned to my brother with a smile on her glossy pink lips. “The Phantom of the Opera?”

Nash nodded. “I figured I might as well start getting into character early since I’ll be playing him soon.”

Nash and Elyse were both big into the theater program at our school, and while the auditions for the winter musical weren’t for several weeks, Nash was basically a shoo-in for the male lead. He’d already played bigger roles in last year’s musicals—not the lead yet since the drama teacher Miss Crawley liked to fill those with seniors when possible. But only something crazy would keep Nash from winning the part of the Phantom. And I was pretty sure Elyse had a good shot at getting the part of Christine.

As for me, I was still trying to decide if I wanted to audition to be one of the dancers. So far, I’d only worked as a crew member because unlike my brother who was a spotlight hog, I preferred to keep attention away from myself. But I did miss dancing, and since there would be other dancers on the stage with me, I figured it might be time for me to pull out my ballet shoes again.

“Did you already say what you’re going as, Cambrielle?” Mack asked from beside me, breaking me from my thoughts.

“Oh, um.” I licked my lips. “It’s a secret.”

“Really?” Mack raised a dark eyebrow, his brown eyes filling with intrigue the same way Scarlett’s had earlier. “And why’s that?”

Because I need anonymity in order to put myself out there.

“Just for fun,” I said instead. “I figure I’d keep everyone on their toes. Not all of us can go as ourselves like you apparently are.”

“And you’re sure you can’t tell me?” He cocked his head to the side. “You already know I’m great at keeping secrets.”

And when he winked, my cheeks burned because I knew exactly which secret he was referring to.

He must have noticed my blush because a wicked grin slipped onto his lips. In a low voice next to my ear, he whispered, “Which reminds me. Have you gotten your room all ready for me to stay in tonight?”

My eyes widened and I almost gasped out loud before I caught myself. “What?” I glanced around the table to make sure no one heard what he said.

Thankfully, everyone was looking at Carter and Ava as Ava told them all about the costumes they were considering.

“I’m kidding.” Mack chuckled, apparently loving my reaction. “I already know I’m staying in Ian’s room. Your dad obviously doesn’t know that I already spent a few nights in your room last month.”

“And we’re going to keep it that way.” I gave him a warning look before making sure our friends—and most importantly, my brothers—were still paying us no attention.

“Should I be offended that you want to keep me your dirty little secret?” Mack whispered in my ear, making chills race from my neck and down my whole body.

I shivered uncontrollably and whispered back, “Since my dad and brothers would kill you if they ever caught wind of that, then yes, I’m pretty sure I’ll be taking that secret to the grave.”

Mack pouted. “That’s no fun.”

I raised an eyebrow. “Well, since I’d like to see you graduate instead of have you come to an untimely death because my family found out, I think it’s fine to not be fun.”

Not that anything scandalous had happened those few nights he’d slept in my room. Sadly for me, the only times I’d ever been kissed had happened during a game of Spin the Bottle.

What had actually happened was that Mack started sleepwalking again when his parents went to New York for the first round of special treatments for his mom’s brain tumor. I had found him asleep on the bank of my family’s pond one morning when I’d taken my horse out for a sunrise ride. 

When I’d gone up to him to ask why he was sleeping there, he had tried to play it off—pretend like he’d just gone on an early morning swim with the fish but got tired afterwards. But I had overheard Mrs. Aarden telling my mom about Mack’s sleepwalking episodes since her diagnosis, so I knew better than to believe him.

And when I heard footsteps on the path outside my open balcony window the next night, I hurried down to help him before he could end up in the pond again.

When it happened a third night and he still wouldn’t ask my brothers or anyone else for help, I decided to sneak him up into my bedroom so that if he had another episode, I could catch him when he first got up instead of having to chase him through the woods between our houses.

He came to my room the rest of that week, climbing up the tree by my balcony just after my parents and brothers had gone to bed for the night. And starting out in my room had apparently done the trick because he ended up not sleepwalking any of the nights he stayed on the trundle bed beside me—maybe his subconscious knew he had help close by and he was safe. 

And so even though my family probably would have freaked out if they’d known I had a seventeen-year-old guy—one I’d had a major crush on at one point—sleeping just a few feet away from me at night, I was glad that he’d at least trusted me to help him when he wouldn’t tell my brothers.

“What time are you coming over, anyway?” I asked Mack as he wolfed down some of his teriyaki chicken.

He swallowed his bite of food and wiped his mouth with a napkin before saying, “They’re heading out after my dad gets off work, so I’ll probably be there before dinner.”

There was a hint of anxiety in his eyes at the mention of his parents leaving. And I hated seeing it because I hated that his family was even dealing with this. Dealing with the possibility of his mom not being here to watch him graduate.

Whenever I saw the fear in Mack’s eyes, I wanted to give him a hug and tell him that everything would be okay. But since he didn’t seem to ever want to bring attention to what was going on in his personal life—always preferring to make everyone laugh instead of talking about his family’s crisis—I just gave him what I hoped was an understanding smile and said, “Well, my mom and Marie planned to have your favorite pork burritos for dinner, so we’ll keep you well fed while your parents are in New York.”

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