The Cheating Heart – First Chapter

Chapter 1

“Nancy! it’s so good to see you again.”

Brook Albright turned over the book she was reading as she jumped up from her desk chair.

“Hi,” Nancy Drew said from the doorway of Brook’s room at the Theta Pi sorority house.

“Bring your stuff in.” Brook swept her clothes aside, making a clear space on one of the twin beds. “I’m thrilled you’ll be staying with me for a while.”

Nancy stepped into the room with the elegant dormer windows overlooking Emerson College’s leafy campus. “You’ve got a great room this year, Brook.” Nancy had become friendly with the Theta Pi sisters on previous trips to Emerson, when she had visited her boyfriend, Ned Nickerson.

“Well, now that I’m a junior I can choose my room,” Brook said with a confident smile.

Nancy brushed back her shoulder-length red dish blond hair, then tossed her duffel bag on the extra bed and pulled off her yellow cotton sweater. “It sure is hot for the first of September,” she said with a sigh. “Are you having any trouble planning your freshman-open-house day in this heat?”

Brook rolled her eyes. “I’ll say. I’ve been running around like crazy when all I want to do is sit down and sip a soda.”

“I’ll bet the guys at the Omega Chi Epsilon house are sweltering, too.” Nancy grinned, thinking of Ned. He had asked Nancy to come to Emerson to be a hostess for his fraternity’s freshman reception on Saturday.

“Well, we all want to impress the freshmen,” Brook replied. She paused. “I’m sure Ned must be dying to see you. After a summer of togetherness, he must really miss you now that he’s back at school.”

Nancy winced. She hadn’t seen as much of Ned that summer as she’d wanted to, and though Ned hadn’t complained, she felt bad about it. “I’m afraid I was away from River Heights a lot this summer, working on cases,” she told Brook.

“That must be tough — for both of you,” Brook said sympathetically. “If I had a boyfriend at home, it would be hard to leave when school started. But if I had a boyfriend here at school, I’d be dying to get back on campus in the fall. So I guess I’m lucky I’m unattached — it does make moving around much easier.”

Nancy laughed. She’d always liked Brook’s independent spirit. Brook was so attractive, with her wavy auburn hair and dark brown eyes, that Nancy found it hard to believe she had no boyfriend.

“Since you’re so unattached,” Nancy said, “why don’t you join Ned and me Saturday night for the Dillon Patrick concert?”

“I’d love to,” Brook said enthusiastically. “I adore his music.”

“What else is going on this weekend?” Nancy asked.

“Well, there’s a movie in the theater tomorrow night, and on Saturday there’s a crafts fair on campus.”

“Sounds like fun.”

“This is a great time of year to be here,” Brook said. “Classes haven’t started yet. Everyone is just hanging out, seeing old friends after the summer and not worried yet about papers and tests.”

Nancy checked her watch. “It’s getting late. Ned will be wondering where I am. Want to walk down to the Omega Chi house with me?”

Brook hung back. “Three’s a crowd.”

“Oh, come on, there’ll be so many frat brothers there,” Nancy coaxed.

“Okay!” Brook gave in. slipping a bookmark into the novel she had been reading.

The two girls strolled from the Theta Pi house, a graceful white, columned mansion, to the Omega Chi Epsilon fraternity house.

On this late summer afternoon, the majestic old Greek houses lining the road were bustling with activity. From parked cars, students were unloading suitcases, boxes of books, CD players, computers, microwaves, framed posters, armchairs — all the furnishings of college rooms. Music blared from open windows that students poked out of to call to friends they hadn’t seen for three months.

Three of Ned’s fraternity brothers sat sprawled in lawn chairs in front of the house, drinking soda and munching tortilla chips. “Hey, Nancy Drew!” one of the guys called.

“Hi there, Jerry.” Nancy smiled at Ned’s pal Jerry McEntee. “I thought you were supposed to be in training for football. Are you sure chips are on your diet?”

With a grin, Jerry rolled up his sloppy T-shirt and massaged the taut muscles of his tanned stomach. “With a bod like this, I don’t need a training diet,” he bragged. The other two frat brothers groaned loudly and punched Jerry from either side.

Fending them off, Jerry laughed. “So, Nancy, did you bring Bess and George with you this time?” He was referring to Bess Marvin and George Fayne, Nancy’s two best friends from home. They’d visited Emerson with Nancy a few times, and Ned had fixed them up with various Omega Chi brothers.

Nancy shook her head, smiling. “Sorry — George had to play in a tennis tournament this weekend, and Bess was going to a friend’s wedding. Have you seen Ned around?” she asked.

“Probably inside.”

“Thanks, we’ll go check,” Nancy said. With waves, she and Brook headed indoors.

They paused in the large entry hall for a minute. One of the fraternity brothers was running a vacuum cleaner in the living room. He was slender but broad-shouldered, with dark hair and tortoiseshell glasses. Seeing the girls, he switched off the vacuum and called out, “Can I help?”

Nancy couldn’t remember meeting him before, so she introduced herself. “Hi, my name is Nancy Drew. I’m here to visit Ned Nickerson.”

“Oh, hi, Nancy — I’m Paul DiToma. I’m in charge of Saturday’s reception. Ned volunteered you to be a hostess, right?”

“Right,” Nancy said. “By the way, do you two know each other? Brook — Paul — “

Turning to Brook, Paul’s eyes widened. He awkwardly stuck out a hand to shake. “I’m not sure — you look familiar.”

“I’m a Theta Pi,” she explained, studying his lean, handsome face with obvious interest. “Maybe we’ve met at a mixer?”

“I doubt it,” Paul said hesitantly. “I kind of avoid those parties. Everything seems so…set up.”

“I don’t go to many of them, either,” Brook replied. “Maybe we’ve had a class together, then.”

Paul snapped his fingers and grinned. “American Lit Two Twenty-one, Professor Ford,” he said. “You always sat in the front row. You carry your books in a red backpack, right?”

Brook blushed and smiled. “Right. And you were always in the back corner, with your chair tipped back and your feet on the windowsill. I didn’t recognize you without your leather bomber jacket.”

Paul smiled shyly. “Yeah, I love that jacket. But it’s kind of hot to wear it today.”

“Then I’ll just have to recognize you by something else. Your glasses, perhaps?” Brook ventured with a giggle.

Nancy tactfully broke into their conversation. “I’d better let Ned know I’m here. Paul, have you seen him?”

Paul turned back to Nancy. “Let me buzz his room,” he offered, parking the vacuum. He walked over to the intercom and pushed a button.

Jerry and the other two guys walked in the front door, carrying the folded-up chairs under their arms. “Hey, DiToma!” called out the heavier of the two guys. He put on a high, fluty voice and continued, “I’m waiting for you!”

Nancy noticed Paul’s face grow red. “Cut it out, Rich,” he protested.

Jerry explained the joke to Nancy and Brook. “Paul got a note today in the Emersonian, in the personal ads. It said, ‘Paul DiToma: I’m waiting for you.’ We figure it’s got to be from some secret admirer.”

Paul flinched, obviously embarrassed. “Come on, guys, it’s as much a mystery to me as it is to you.” He quickly changed the subject. “Ned doesn’t seem to be answering, Nancy. Want me to look around for him?”

Just then the phone by the front door rang. Rich sprang to pick it up. “Might be your secret admirer, Paul,” he teased as he picked up the receiver. “Hello, Omega Chi…Hey, Nickerson! Perfect timing — your girlfriend just showed up looking for you….What?”

Nancy watched as Rich’s expression changed, and her instinct told her that something was wrong. She reached for the phone, but Rich held on, nodding. “Okay, I’ll tell her. Catch you later.” He hung up abruptly.

“What’s the matter?” Nancy asked.

“I’m sure it’s no big deal,” Rich assured her. “But Ned’s over at Dean Jarvis’s office. He wouldn’t say what was going on. He just asked you to meet him there.”

Nancy nodded. “I’m on my way.” She turned to Brook. “Sorry to run off like this.”

“No problem,” Brook said, stealing a sideways glance at Paul. It was clear she wouldn’t mind staying on to talk to him. “I’ll see you back at my room.”

Nancy walked swiftly out the door, trying hard to believe that Ned wasn’t in trouble. Ned was a star athlete and a popular campus figure, with lots of friends and good grades. He wasn’t the type to give school officials a hard time.

She quickly crossed the campus, heading for the ivy-covered administration building.

When she arrived, the dean’s assistant recognized Nancy from her previous visits to Emerson when she had helped crack some difficult cases. “Hello, Nancy,” she said. Nancy thought she could detect a note of uneasiness in the woman’s voice. “Ned said you’d be meeting him here. Could you wait outside the office? There’s a bench over there.”

As Nancy sat down, she glanced at the half-closed door of the dean’s office. She could glimpse three figures inside. Dean Jarvis, a bear of a man, was sitting at his large wooden desk. She recognized Ned’s tall, broad-shouldered back as he stood facing the desk.

She could also see the back of the third figure, another man. “But I tell you, Dean, there was only one copy,” he was saying loudly and some what hysterically.

“Now, Professor Tavakolian.” Nancy immediately recognized Dean Jarvis’s resonant voice. “You said it was locked up in your file cabinet — “

“Yes, and the only time I unlocked that cabinet was on Monday — when Nickerson was in the room,” the professor continued shrilly. “And then again yesterday, Wednesday, to take out the test. Otherwise, my cabinet was locked up tight. But when I went there this morning to get the answer sheet it was missing! He must have stolen it!”

Then Nancy heard Ned’s voice, sounding baffled. “Why would I want to steal the answers for a freshman English placement test?” he asked. “I’m not a freshman, and I’ve already taken the first-year literature course. What good could it do me to get exempted from it now?”

The professor snorted loudly. “Don’t think that I don’t know the sort of foul play that goes on around a college campus,” he replied scornfully. “True, you don’t need the answers to help yourself. But,” he continued in a low, angry voice, jabbing his finger close to Ned’s face, “there are lots of freshmen who might have been desperate to see the answers to that test. I believe you stole the answers and sold them. Believe me, Ned Nickerson, you’re not going to get away with it!”

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