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Half Truths (Secret Society Book 1), page 1

 

Half Truths (Secret Society Book 1)
 



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Half Truths (Secret Society Book 1)


  Half-Truths

  New York Times Bestselling Author

  Claire Contreras

  © 2019 Claire Contreras

  Cover design By Hang Le

  Edited by Christine Estevez

  Proofread by Janice Owen

  Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of the above author of this book.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or have been used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication/use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  “Come closer, baby. I want to see what you’re made of.”

  Lydia

  Contents

  Preface

  Prologue

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Chapter 32

  Chapter 33

  Chapter 34

  Chapter 35

  Chapter 36

  Chapter 37

  Chapter 38

  Chapter 39

  Chapter 40

  Chapter 41

  Chapter 42

  Chapter 43

  Chapter 44

  Chapter 45

  Chapter 46

  Chapter 47

  Chapter 48

  Chapter 49

  Epilogue

  Afterword

  Also by Claire Contreras

  Preface

  For all intents and purposes, the story is set in a fictitious place and takes place in a fictitious university.

  For those of you who need a little extra detail — my inspiration for this setting is Cornell University in Ithaca, NY.

  I hope you enjoy your time in Ellis University.

  Prologue

  “I wish you’d stay out of it.”

  “I wish you’d stay out of it.” He glared at Lana, sitting in his passenger seat. “You don’t even know what you’re getting involved in.”

  “I know more than you think.”

  He shook his head. They’d been arguing about this for a month. So often that people thought they were a couple. It was a thought that wouldn’t have disturbed him had it not been for what he knew about her and what she was doing. It was stupid of him to think he’d manage to change her mind, but he couldn’t bear the thought of letting her continue on this self-destructive path.

  “I’m trying to help you.” It would be his last attempt at convincing her.

  “I want you to stop helping, period,” she yelled, then lowered her voice. “You should slow down.”

  He eased his foot off the pedal as he took the first curb. He hadn’t ever known Lana to be loud, and chalked it up to the situation she’d put herself in.

  “I’m just saying, he’s no good for you and you’re going to regret—”

  “Pull over.”

  He exhaled. “Will you calm down? I’m not going—”

  “Pull over,” she said, cutting him off again.

  He was getting furious, but tried not to let it show. Once again, trying to be the bigger person in the situation. Before he knew what was happening, her hands were on the steering wheel. She pulled hard to the right. On instinct, he pulled the other way, slamming on the brakes. She pulled once more to the right and between the water on the winding road, the steering wheel battle, and the braking, he lost control of the car. The last thing he saw was the tree right before he slammed into it. His seatbelt caught the impact of his body propelling forward, and the airbag slammed him back into his seat.

  It took him a moment to recover and look over at where Lana had been sitting. He expected to find her sitting there, but her door was ajar and there was no sign of her. His heart pounded in his chest. Had she flown out of the car with the impact of the accident? He scrambled with his seatbelt, but managed to get it off. His door opened with a creak as he stepped out. His entire body seemed to shake as he walked around the car in search of Lana. He could hear water running nearby. A waterfall was near.

  “Lana?” he called out. His breath caught when he spotted her near the edge of the waterfall. His pace picked up slightly, as fast as his injured leg let him. The gorge was miles high and he didn’t need the crashing sound of the water as it cascaded to tell him the only thing that would cushion her fall if she fell . . . if she jumped were rocks.

  “Lana?” He called out her name again, his voice desperate. Could she not hear him above the sound of the running water?

  She glanced back at him, a haunted look in her eyes, and then she jumped.

  Chapter One

  The air was thick with fog and a cold chill that seemed to flow through the turning leaves and straight into my chest. I reached for my inhaler out of the pocket of my jacket, shaking it a few times before pushing three times to inhale–two to open up my chest and one for good measure. Asthma was an affliction I’d recently been diagnosed with. Mild asthma, but asthma nonetheless. I guess that’s what I got for trading the concrete jungle for some nature. Now, even after moving back to my home state, I couldn’t seem to get rid of it. I stopped walking at the end of the sidewalk and waited for the group of people in front of me to finish looking at the campus map before stepping up to it.

  The only thing worse than transferring to a new university was transferring to a new university your senior year. I didn’t know where anything was and this campus was so big it had its own zip code—literally. Even in my thoughts, I shouldn’t have been complaining. It was an Ivy League university people would kill to have the opportunity to attend, and technically it was the one I was supposed to attend before I decided to follow my boyfriend to Duke instead. Now I was boyfriend-less and following my father’s and brothers’ footsteps instead. My mother joked that I’d swapped herds, trading one boy for another, as if I was a sheep. I found it difficult to argue her point, even if hearing it upset me.

  One thing I couldn’t argue with was the fact that my father had been right about a lot of things. Like when he told me I would regret following a boyfriend to college and that the minute we broke up I’d run home crying and begging to enroll here instead. The breakup wasn’t exactly what made me run home crying and begging to transfer, though I couldn’t deny it playing a part. It was my brother’s accident that had done it for me. My brother, who’d been my best friend my entire life and the most vibrant person I knew, suffered an accident that made him miss graduation, give up being captain of the hockey team, and run home
with his tail between his legs. Since his return home, he’d been put on anti-depressants and was going to the therapist three times a week. A therapist, who was my mother’s colleague, and was constantly giving the news that my brother still wasn’t speaking to him. That made it worse. He’d only discuss certain things with us, but nothing of substance, and definitely nothing with relation to the accident. It was as if he’d blocked the memory out completely, or was trying to. My parents broached the subject carefully at first, but had now moved on to not saying anything at all, out of fear that they’d trigger him. Behind closed doors, when I knew he wasn’t listening, I asked my parents questions about that went unanswered and ignored and further perpetuated my curiosity and the turmoil I felt over it.

  Nevertheless, my journey to this school had taken a long essay, countless letters of recommendation and my father calling the dean incessantly whilst telling me he told me so every single time he hung up the phone with him, but I’d managed to make it here. Now, I was determined to do quite a few things. Graduating was high on that list, but finding out what happened to my brother—what really happened to him—was my priority, as well as finding out what happened to Lana Ly, the student that seemed to vanish without a trace. The media coverage on her was at a minimum these days, and maybe it was because she’d gone to our high school and it felt like her disappearance hit close to home, but I wanted to at least gain that attention back.

  After all, people didn’t just vanish. Especially not people like Lana Ly. Shaking my head, I picked up the pace. I needed to get to the headquarters of the school paper sooner rather than later. I was already running behind on everything else—meeting my new, albeit temporary roommate, getting the rest of my textbooks, coordinating with the movers my mother hired to bring the rest of my belongings. I was a substantial mess and I needed to get my life in order. Looking down at my phone, I made sure that the little blue dot was still headed in the right direction. That was when I bumped into something, or rather, someone. My phone tumbled out of my hand and I grasped at air as I tried to catch it while stumbling backward. I was preparing myself for the blow, but wasn’t prepared for a shattered phone. I finally caught the phone in mid-air, and the blow never came.

  Just as I thought my ass was about to meet the ground, hands reached out and caught me, straightening me upright. I held on to muscled forearms, blinking up at a cutting jaw and sharp green eyes that looked like they were slicing through me. He had the kind of skin people who liked to sunbathe lusted over, the perfect shade of golden brown, but he didn’t strike me as someone who would lay out in the sun. He didn’t strike me as someone who liked much at all, with the way he was scowling at me and holding my shoulders as if I was contagious.

  “I am so—"

  “Maybe you should reconsider those heels.” He looked pointedly at my shoes.

  “Maybe you should reconsider your manners.” I frowned, stepping back, out of his grasp. “I didn’t bump into you on purpose, you know?”

  “But you bumped into me nonetheless and I’m running late.”

  “So am I.” I threw a hand up and started walking past him. I needed to get there before they shut down for the day and this conversation was going nowhere quick.

  “You’re welcome, by the way,” he shouted.

  I had half a mind to stick my middle finger up, but I just kept walking, refusing to acknowledge him any further. If he was in such a hurry, he shouldn’t be bothered with what I was doing or what kind of shoes I was wearing, though I had to say, my feet were killing me. I’d swapped out my flats for the heels when I was on my way over here, not realizing how much I’d have to walk to get here.

  When I finally arrived at the building that housed the newspaper office, I paused up front. The campus in its entirety felt like a mixture of progress and history. Even though a portion of the campus had been built in the 1800s, most of the buildings I’d been to today were sleek and modern. I’d envisioned the newspaper to be in one of those. This building was quaint, made of brown bricks and white doors, with green ivy that clung to the face of it like a wet toga.

  Because it looked more like a house than a place of business, I paused at the door, wondering if I should knock or just make my way inside. I decided on the latter. A few people were walking by from left to right and right to left, none bothering to take their eyes off the pages in their hands to acknowledge their new intruder. I walked around, hoping to catch someone’s attention. Finally, a woman in a navy pantsuit walked from the back of the building and greeted me.

  “May I help you?”

  “I… yes… hi. I just transferred here and was wondering if there were any openings in the paper. I was going to apply online, but I was in the area so I figured I’d just drop by. I’m a double major, Business and English and worked for the Duke paper for the last three years, so I have experience.” I paused, aware that I was speaking too fast for most people to follow. “So, yeah. That’s why I’m here. My name is Amelia by the way. Amelia Bastón.”

  “Any association to Felipe Bastón?”

  “Um.” I hesitated. “Maybe.”

  “Maybe.” The woman smiled wryly. “That’s definitely a Bastón answer. Felipe was my boyfriend for a short time while we were here. Great human being, lousy boyfriend. He left me for his current wife and they’re still married, so I guess maybe he was just a lousy boyfriend to me.”

  “Yep. That’s my dad. Sorry. The Bastón men can be real bastards.” A weak laugh escaped me.

  “So you’re Amelia.” She assessed me a little longer, tilting her head as she looked at me, as if trying to decide what to do with me. “You do resemble your mother when she was young. I only met her briefly when we were here. As much as it killed me to admit back then, she was stunning. The kind of beauty that made you stop and stare.”

  “Uh. Thanks?”

  “You’re here for a job,” she said. “We should get to that.”

  “Yes, ma’am.”

  “Ella Valentine.” She waved me off. “Call me Ella or Elle. Definitely not ma’am.”

  “Ella then.”

  “Follow me to my office. I’ll see what we can do.”

  I let out a breath, walking down the corridor and past the students walking in and out of cubicles. There was a constant chatter here that I was used to. In my old university’s newsroom, it was the kind of thing that made chasing a story worthwhile. It was the buzz that made my palms sweat and blood pump a little faster. When we reached her office, Ella shut the door behind us. I looked around and took in the plaques on the wall hanging beside her degrees. When she sat behind her desk, I helped myself to the seat across from her.

  “What year are you?”

  “Senior.”

  Her brows rose. “And you just transferred in?”

  “Yes, I know how that looks,” I said. “My goal was to start last spring, but I had to wait until this fall. I was accepted and was supposed to attend here originally, but decided to follow my boyfriend to Duke instead.”

  “Your father must have been thrilled.”

  “That’s an understatement.” I bit back a smile. “He was definitely a lot happier when I told him I would come here.”

  “And you’re closer to home.”

  “Yeah.”

  “How’s he doing? I hope you don’t mind me asking. I can’t remember the last time I saw him.” She pursed her lips as she thought it over. “I did see your mother while I was out to dinner with my daughter a few months ago. She was with one of your brothers, who looked like he was in bad shape, I’m assuming from the accident.”

  “He’s doing well. They’re all doing well,” I said quickly.

  If I liked the idea of being a reporter, it was because I didn’t want to be reported on. Years of my older brothers appearing on Page Six headlines and getting reprimanded for it ruined that for me.

  “Please send them my regards.” She put her elbows on the desk and clasped her hands together. “I take it there’s no longer a boyfriend
in the picture?”

  “No. We broke up.”

  “And you said you were working in the paper down in Carolina? What kind of stories were you working on?”

  “Mostly events and student life. We had a lot of marches and organizations getting together for protests, so I covered those. I would really love to get into more investigative stuff, but to be honest, I’m not sure what’s allowed.”

  “Investigative like what?”

  “Like for instance, Lana Ly. I searched and noticed the paper hasn’t written much on her disappearance.”

  “That’s because we tried and were quickly shut down.” She raised an eyebrow. “There’s money, and then there’s money. Le’s parents have the latter. They don’t want us spewing untrue things, even though we were doing thorough investigations on everything.”

  “Oh.” I sat back slightly.

  “Did you know her?”

  “We went to high school together. We weren’t friends, per se, but friendly.”

  “I’m sorry. The whole town is shaken up about it, but alas, I can’t print anything about it.”

  “That’s understandable, I guess.” I felt myself frown. What was the point of freedom of speech if we couldn’t even keep a student’s memory alive?

 
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