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Authors: Kylie Adams

Cruel Summer

BOOK: Cruel Summer
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POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

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

Copyright © 2006 by Jon Salem

MTV Music Television and all related titles, logos, and characters are trademarks of MTV Networks, a division of Viacom International Inc.

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.
For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020

ISBN-13: 978-1-4165-2857-9
ISBn-10: 1-4165-2857-1

POCKET and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Visit us on the World Wide Web:
http://www.SimonSays.com

For Karen Thorne,
the best astrologist a neurotic writer
could ask for!

From: Bijou

OMG—there’s blood everywhere!

10:05 pm 5/26/06

Prologue

graduation day

T
he seat was empty.

Unbelievably empty. Heartbreakingly empty. Shockingly empty.

Just one more example of cold, hard proof. Beyond the media coverage, the tears, and the funeral. Proof that a young life had been violently snuffed out before its time.

Bijou Ross approached the podium. She looked out at the audience assembled in the auditorium of the Miami Academy for Creative and Performing Arts.

The audience gazed back at her.

Bijou could feel their anticipation rising, and as the expectant silence boomed, her heartbeat accelerated, pumping hard, leaping around in her chest. The look on her face said she was worried about what words to use.

Here she was—valedictorian, class of 2006. They were waiting for her to communicate. They wanted a speech. They needed some insight. From the girl who’d gotten a literary agent and a book deal months before her cap and gown. Hopes were pinned on her to provide some verbal balm for their souls, to make sense of the insensible. Yet Bijou, the one billed in the yearbook as “most likely to win a Pulitzer,” just stood there with writer’s block. The irony seemed lost on no one.

It was still morning-after-the-hurricane. The murder so fresh in their minds that ears were still ringing from the gunshot. To throw out platitudes for the future would only be wasted breath. They’d all been to the same party, witnessed the same unbelievable act, seen the same pool of blood, heard the same dying declarations. From someone just like them. Young, blessed with talent, and with everything to live for.

Bijou knew this much: The trauma would stay with them. Years from now the pain would linger in dark places, and even as adults, they’d never be quite free of it. Because one of their own had stopped breathing in front of their eyes. And the memory of that would cling forever.

Peering down from the lectern, Bijou found them. Somewhere in the vast crowd. For a moment, her mind plunged into a happier place. The image was technicolor vivid. A Saturday on South Beach. So early that the morning light was crystal white. Bijou had been there to bask in the solitude, to walk on the caramel sand, to think through a plot puzzle for her book.

And they’d been there, too. Vanity, Dante, Max, Pippa, and Christina. Strolling along the edge of the surf, drinking thimblefuls of Cuban coffee from David’s Café, their minds lost in iPod sounds. Oh, yes. The school’s Fabulous Five.

A mist began to build in Bijou’s eyes. There was no way she could continue looking at them and still maintain her composure. As she averted her gaze, a decision was made. That would be the picture seared into her brain to remember them by. The snapshot of all five.

But now there were only four.

Anxiety began to build. Bijou could feel the tension. The mournful silence had stretched on too long. Attention was gridlocked onto her. And she had to get on with it now. From somewhere she would have to dig up the phrases. To find the words that possessed the virtue of both simplicity and sincerity.

Finally, Bijou began to speak, and miraculously, the voice she heard was full of vibrant reassurance. “My fellow graduates, it is a sad day for all of us…”

From: Mimi

You MUST hit Mynt tonight. Lohan is out of control. Come. Be your gorgeous self. Upstage the bitch.

11:03 pm 6/17/05

Chapter One

summer before senior year

V
anity St. John patrolled the velvet rope of Black Sand like a child of Hitler. It was the hot club of the millisecond. She was the hot girl of the moment. A match made in flashbulb heaven.

For fistfuls of cash she didn’t need and a VVIP membership she didn’t want, Vanity had agreed to this two-hour promotional stunt. So here she was playing Celebrity Rope Bitch.

Three guys inched forward to beg entry.

One glance and Vanity knew. Wrong look. Wrong zip code. Wrong everything. With Gestapo precision, she waved them out of the line.

“Yo! What’s up?” The leader of the loser pack had spoken.

Vanity ignored him. She was good at that. Rendering people invisible came easy. Someone in the next gaggle of hopefuls brought a hint of a smile to her glossy lips.

He loped toward her, cockier than Usher on the red carpet. “Hey, baby. I haven’t seen you since that Gap thing.” Jayson James was talking.

Vanity St. John was remembering. Last spring’s print campaign. The male model with the California surfer vibe. The postshoot date that ended with them half-drunk but all over each other in the limousine. And the promised call that never materialized. Ooh, a guy who pulls a disappearing act after a hookup. How original.

She noticed the initials
J.J
. tattooed onto the underside of his left wrist. Oh, yeah. The nickname. It all came flooding back now. This was the corn-fed stud from Iowa. Discovered in Times Square during a senior trip to New York. His West Coast beach dude act was just a pathetic attempt at reinvention. It played better with bookers and advertising creative types.

J.J.’s beautiful baby blues flicked her up and down. No doubt the memory of what they did together was stripping the gears of his one-track mind. But dumb guys could only think so much. Especially a Midwest moron like him. If this one ever needed brain surgery, the doctor would have to say, “Okay, nurse, unzip his pants.”

“I just got a J. Crew shoot in the Hamptons for next week,” he said, flashing her a hopeful look through hooded, lust-filled eyes. “Any chance I’ll see you there?”

“Sorry,” Vanity sniffed. “I don’t do catalog work. Anyway, I’m booked up with D and G.” She unhooked the velvet rope to offer him the A-list access he craved…just as her subtle dig that he was strictly B-grade hit the jasmine-drenched ether of the steamy Miami night.

The frozen expression on J.J.’s face told her that his farm boy mind was tilling the verbal land, trying to determine whether or not he’d just been slammed. Backbreaking work for him. In fact, he already needed a lunch break. Yes, the guy was hot. His Hilfiger boxer brief underwear ads had proven that. But sitting next to him on a long flight? That could possibly kill a girl with boredom.

The other two members of his posse—a dead ringer who had to be J.J.’s brother and a tragic blonde who needed to introduce herself to Proactiv Solution—scooted fast to join him on the other side. God, what a lame crew. Hardly a hand-picked entourage. More like an accidental cluster. J.J. better watch out. By this time next year he could be modeling for International Male and be lucky to have the gig.

Vanity waited for them to pass through, then rehooked the rope with a loud clink of doom.

“Stuck-up bitch!”

She whipped her head around. It was the first group again. Please. Shouldn’t they be back on a bus by now? This was typical, though. It didn’t matter if they were rich, poor, or somewhere in the middle. Latin guys had a tough time with rejection. Vanity had dated and discarded enough of them to know. She blamed their mothers. Too much coddling.

“You let them in! Why not us?” It was the kind of whining you might hear from a little boy who didn’t get chosen for a game of pickup basketball.

“Oh, now that’s sexy,” Vanity cooed with mock breathiness, rolling her eyes skyward.

The crowd within earshot laughed.

This only pissed off the guy more. He grabbed his crotch and yelled,
“Puta barata!”

Vanity wasn’t bilingual, but she knew enough Spanish to understand that he was calling her a cheap whore. Her eyes flashed fire.
“Retrasado,”
she hissed. The only Spanish word she could think of. But it suited him perfectly. English translation: retard.

All of a sudden, Vanity felt guilty, realizing that these idiots didn’t know any better. So she stalked toward them to deliver a lesson in style. Nothing like a little bit of charity work to ease a girl’s conscience.

“You should know better than to show up in shorts and Nike tees,” Vanity barked. “And please—get rid of the gold chains.”

That was all she had the heart to say. How could she tell them the truth? That even if they turned out head-to-toe in cutting-edge Prada, their chance of getting past the rope was still slim to none. Some people just didn’t have
the look.
Too bad. So sad.

It was Friday night in South Beach. The clock had ticked past midnight. But Cinderella was
not
going home. In fact, she was just getting started.

Vanity felt a surge of uninhibited energy. Here, on Collins Avenue, the young warriors were out and ready to fight for their right to party. They were queued up, trailing at least hundreds deep, an endless line of blazing color, burning impatience, and sweating desperation. To get in. To be seen. To do social damage.

And Vanity St. John was the door police. The all-powerful gatekeeper. With one crook of her freshly manicured finger she could make someone’s night…or break it. She gave two Black Sand bouncers the signal. It was time for the clean sweep.

This part could get ugly. That’s why the incredible hulks flanked her on each side, their arms out wide to separate the teen celebutante from the throng of potential club animals steaming up the sidewalk. Their hunger was palpable. They wanted to get on the right side of the red rope. As badly as they wanted to breathe.

Vanity strutted down the gauntlet.

Dumb and Dumber huffed and puffed to keep up with her.

She glanced over the crowd, sizing them up, sorting them out. What a motley crew. And she didn’t mean the bad heavy metal band that wouldn’t go away. If nightlife hounds were walking slabs on their way to the meat market, then bacon was the only choice here. No prime rib within sight.

Vanity managed a patiently polite vibe as she dismissed almost all of them. The nervous. The ugly. The too old. The tourists. The fashion tragedies. But throughout her cold-water-cool process of elimination, she experienced real pangs of sympathy.

If Vanity’s own gene pool (music mogul father, ex-super-model mother) hadn’t been so extraordinary, then she might’ve been just like them. Always segregated from the Beautiful People. Always reminded that she wasn’t quite good enough to join the VIP party. Maybe she’d be happier that way, though. After all, phenomenal looks didn’t exactly guarantee a phenomenal life. And she was living proof of that.

But Vanity pressed on, passing over a barbershop quartet of fraternity boys. Way too bland. They were sports bar ready, not Black Sand worthy.

“Hey, come on! My uncle’s a producer! We’re on the list!”

Vanity regarded the rude one. A Phi Delta Theta with too many Bud Lights on the brain. Mildly cute at best. The kind of Abercrombie mall rat who gets hired during the holiday rush, when the standards are low and the need for warm bodies is high. Somebody had to fold the sweaters.

She made this assessment in less than a blink. By comparison, a nanosecond was a long day. So to the untrained eye, Vanity didn’t so much as twitch a muscle in response.

And then she saw him. A real scene seeker who knew how to accessorize. Only he didn’t do it with bad jewelry. He did it with sculpted muscle. Wearing destroyed-wash True Religion jeans and a ribbed Calvin Klein wife beater, this boy could only do Black Sand good. In a perfect world, the Von Dutch belt buckle would be history. But Vanity forgave him this slight miscue because the razor cuts of his deltoids more than made up for it.

She waved him up to the lip of the party landslide.

Some boys were hot. This one was on fire. Definitely stop-and-stare gorgeous. Obviously of mixed race, too. His skin color captivated her. Vanity guessed Puerto Rican father and black mother. Or maybe the reverse. But of this she could be sure: He was the exact hue of Cuban coffee after adding warm milk. The tuft of hair on his chin jutted out like an exclamation point. If she had to compare, he was a young Lenny Kravitz without the pincushion piercings, save for the single cubic zirconia gleaming from one ear.

“I think you belong in there,” she said, pointing to the steel door that, at least right here and right now, seemed to be the pathway that proved desirability as a human being.

The chosen one hesitated. “What about my friend?”

Vanity turned to see a tall black guy skulking a few feet behind—jeans hanging off his ass, Allen Iverson jersey, Timberland boots. Standard issue. Nothing special. But on a busy night he stood a fifty-fifty chance of getting in. “Sorry.” She said no because she could. “You’ll have to watch him on the dis cam.”

Black Sand was famous for its big-screen television with closed-circuit video honed in on the unfortunates trapped outside.

The buddy took the bad news in stride. “I’m gonna roll, man. Peace.” He flashed the eternal symbol.

His luckier friend didn’t echo the gesture. “Hold up, Vince.” Then he looked at Vanity. “Listen, if my boy can’t come, too, then we’re out of here.”

“How loyal,” Vanity sniffed. “What are you—a golden retriever?” But even as she mocked the gesture, she secretly admired him for sticking by his friend.

He ignored her question and asked his own. “Aren’t you a model or something?”

Model.
As Vanity heard it, the word fell off his pretty lips with the subtle hint that this didn’t exactly top his list of impressive jobs. “I’m more of a
personality,
” she explained in the dense tone usually reserved for a clueless tourist asking for directions.

“And what does a
personality
do?” he asked. But before she could answer, he added, “Besides model.”

The bad noun had become a bad verb. Wow. Clever semantics. In answer, Vanity peered down at him with a haughty glare. She stood at least an inch taller in her Manolo Blahnik heels. The look on her face said quite clearly, “You probably crossed the river from Little Havana to get here. So ask me if I care what you think about models.”

And then she noticed the tattoo on his left arm. While J.J. chose to ink his stupid nickname, this boy had serious things to say with body art. It was a tribute to someone:
L
.
MEDINA
. Complete with birth and death dates and navy rank and serial number. The life span told her that it could be his father, and if so, that he’d lost him at a very young age.

“My dad,” he confirmed, picking up on her curiosity. “He died in Desert Storm.” His voice got caught. And there was real emotion in the eyes that shone like two black infinity pools.

Right away Vanity felt bad for the private rant. For a moment, she studied the ground, uncertain how to respond. Suddenly, her palms began to sweat and her heart picked up speed. God, what was happening? Guys weren’t supposed to do this to her. She was supposed to do it to them.

But this boy was different. He dealt in deep ends. And that put him in another category. Already it seemed like their little spat about his model crack happened a million years ago.

Fear of silence wasn’t a problem for him. He didn’t just steal a glance. He stood there and openly checked her out. Those dark eyes sparkled at her.

Vanity’s emerald green ones sparkled right back. She shook out her long, panther black hair that was flat-ironed to perfection, just as she threw a leg forward to set the best angle of her body. There was pretty. There was beautiful. And there was impossibly gorgeous. She belonged in the rarified orbit of number three. And she knew it.

With a wildly colorful Pucci scarf wrapped over modest breasts and knotted in the back to create an instant halter and glitter gold hot pants drawing a dangerous line between thigh and butt cheek, Vanity was state-of-the-trend. In Miami, bare skin ruled. Homes were where you slept, gyms were where you lived, and indecent exposure fines were only slapped on those whose bodies should be covered up. Vanity’s ensemble tonight was her signature look. Seventeen and dressed to kill grown men. So why wasn’t the boy in front of her dead yet?

“I’m sorry,” Vanity said, suddenly realizing that the bit about his father was still hanging in the air.

He shrugged off the memory. “It was a long time ago.”

But Vanity could sense the pain of the loss tugging at him right now. She wanted to tell him that she knew what it was like. To come straight off the assembly line from the Wounded Childhood Factory. Her own father was still alive, but as a parent, he might as well have been six feet under. That’s how little he cared. Sure, Simon St. John was a music industry legend. His office walls were covered floor-to-ceiling with platinum records. But on the family front, Daddy Dearest didn’t just hit some bad notes. The man bombed miserably.

“I’m Dante Medina.” He put out his hand to her.

She accepted it, her hand melting into his. “Vanity St. John.”

BOOK: Cruel Summer
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