Keeping Secrets – First Chapter

Chapter 1

It’s here!” Nancy Drew heard Kara Verbeck shout over the blaring music and laughter coming from Suite 301. But when Nancy stepped through the doorway, Kara squinted at her in disappointment. “Oh, it’s you.”

Nancy dropped her backpack and gave Kara a mock-injured look. “It’s nice to see you, too, roomie.”

“Don’t take it personally, Nance,” Liz Bader said. “We thought you were the pizzas.”

Liz and Kara, both wearing oversize Wilder Women sweatshirts, sat cross-legged on the floor, sharing a huge bag of nacho chips. Their boyfriends, Daniel Frederick and Tim Downing, were slouched down in the couch, their feet propped up on the coffee table. Liz’s friend Jenny Osborne straddled a chair while eating out of a jumbo bag of pretzels.

“We got enough pizza for you, Nancy,” Kara said. “It’s pepperoni.”

“You’re evil, Kara.” Nancy laughed. “You know I can’t resist.”

The dimples in Daniel’s cheeks deepened as he adjusted his tortoise-framed glasses. “We need to fuel up.”

“For what?” Jenny asked.

“What do you mean, for what?” Kara grabbed a pretzel from Jenny’s bag. “Club Z’s grand opening tomorrow night, and the Zeta bash Saturday.”

Everyone in the dorm was psyched for the weekend. Club Z, a new dance club in downtown Weston, was officially opening. It was owned by Jason Lehman, a former Wilder student, and it promised to be the hottest place in town.

“This weekend’s gonna be great.” Nancy’s sky blue eyes narrowed with her smile. “Has Jake been here yet?”

“Nope.” Liz shrugged.

“I saw him heading toward the newspaper about an hour ago,” Daniel said.

“He didn’t call?” Nancy asked.

Kara shook her head. “No, but you know he will.”

Nancy wasn’t so sure. Disappointed, she collapsed on the floor next to Kara. “He should have been here by now,” she tried to say casually.

“Speaking of missing persons,” Liz spoke up, “where’s Eileen? She was supposed to be here with our Club Z invites.” She leaned over to Nancy and lowered her voice to a stage whisper, “This pizza’s mostly for her, you know. A bribe for our invitations. And there’re only so many of them.

“Kara, we live with Eileen. And she’s dating Emmet, whose brother owns the club,” Nancy said. “We have to get in.”

Just then there was a knock on the door.

Liz cupped her ear. “Pizza?” she asked, jumping up.

Jake? Nancy wondered optimistically.

Liz whipped open the door, and a tangy pepperoni-and-cheese breeze swept into the suite. Standing in the doorway was a tall guy in a red-and-blue Presto Pizza uniform, cradling two large pies.

Nancy thought of her boyfriend as she watched her friends swarm around the pizza guy. What’s going on with Jake? Why isn’t he here?

Lately things had been a little tense and confusing with Jake. Nancy didn’t even know if he would show up today. The problem seemed to have started weeks ago when Nancy joined the Focus Film Society and became friends with Terry Schneider, the president of the group. Jake hadn’t exactly been thrilled about it.

Then Nancy took him home to meet her father and was disappointed when Jake didn’t understand why Nancy was upset about Carson Drew’s new girlfriend, Avery Fallon.

Nancy felt a pang as she remembered that weekend. Jake didn’t even try to understand my point of view, she thought. Avery was there the whole time. In my house. Acting as if it was her house. My father doesn’t need me anymore. Why can’t Jake see that that upsets me?

Nancy sighed. Jake and she were drifting apart; they had to find out why. Nancy didn’t want to think about what would happen to their relationship if they couldn’t.

Come on, Jake, Nancy silently pleaded. Don’t blow me off. Let’s go somewhere dark and quiet and romantic. We can work this out.

Pam Miller was just stepping inside the double doors to the African-American Cultural Alliance Center when she noticed a tall, handsome guy on his way out of the building.

“Jesse!” Pam cried, following him back out onto the steps. “Is that you?”

As soon as Jesse Potter turned and saw Pam, his face split into a huge grin. Under his jacket, Pam could see that he was wearing a tight black T-shirt with the words Natural Shades stretched across his muscular chest. He was a representative for Natural Shades Cosmetics, a company that was holding a nationwide contest to find new models to launch a cosmetics line for younger women.

“Pam Miller,” Jesse said easily. “I’ve seen a thousand women since I last saw you, but none of them were beautiful enough to make me forget you. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”

“Thanks.” Pam grinned, blushing a little at Jesse’s compliment. “So, what are you doing at Wilder? We heard that your new model won’t be introduced until Sunday.”

Pam and a number of other Wilder students, including Reva Ross, one of Nancy Drew’s suitemates, had entered the Natural Shades contest. Reps from the cosmetics company had been to the campus to search for likely candidates. Since then both Pam and Reva had been waiting anxiously to see who would be chosen as the company’s Midwest model. Natural Shades had announced that they’d picked a Wilder student as the Midwest representative.

“The announcement is set for Sunday,” Jesse explained. “But you don’t think we’d let a big event like this happen with only a boring announcement, do you?”

“I think there are quite a few Wilder women who would never use the word boring for this announcement,” Pam said, chuckling.

“Of course the announcement of the winner will be exciting,” Jesse agreed. “But the Sunday afternoon tea is only for the press, university big-shots, and the contestants.”

“So what else are you planning?” Pam asked.

“A blowout party, of course.” Jesse said. “Here” — he gestured behind him to the Alliance Center — “on Saturday night. The Natural Shades executives will be there, and we’re inviting all the Wilder women who entered the contest.”

“The night before?” Pam said. “Everyone will be crazy with anticipation.”

“Exactly,” Jesse replied. “Crazy makes for fun parties. Which gives me only three days to get everything ready. So here I am, back at Wilder, the campus of beautiful women and nervous boyfriends.”

Pam winced as she remembered what had happened during her interviews with Jesse. They had turned into a comedy of errors because Pam’s boyfriend, Jamal Lewis, showed up every time Jesse was standing anywhere near her. Jamal had accused Jesse of flirting with Pam, and he’d actually interrupted both of her interviews!

“Come on,” Pam prodded him. “Jamal wasn’t that bad — was he?”

Jesse just raised his eyebrows, saying nothing. Pam put on a pained face. “Well, I’m glad you’re back. And, I have to admit, ever since I heard that a Wilder student had won I’ve been dying to know who it is.”

Jesse smiled. “You’re not asking whether I know anything, are you?”

“Moi?” Pam said, aghast. She clutched her chest in mock horror. “Never, although right now — especially after seeing you here — three days suddenly seems like forever!”

“Don’t worry,” Jesse said. “It’ll fly by. Say, how about meeting me for coffee sometime tomorrow? I’ll need a break.”

Pam paused. Though they’d been joking about the way Jamal had overreacted during the model search, Pam knew that Jamal really was jealous.

“Come on, Pam,” Jesse urged. “I don’t have any other friends here. It’s just friends and just coffee.”

“You’re right,” Pam replied quickly. “I don’t know what I was thinking. I’d love to meet you. Tomorrow at Java Joe’s at eleven?”

“Great,” Jesse said. “I think this could be the beginning of a long friendship.”

Pam threw him a quizzical look, but Jesse just waved and headed off. “See you tomorrow.”

As she watched Jesse head across campus, she could feel the galloping in her heart. A long friendship? Was Jesse hinting that Pam might be the winner?

Pam could hardly wait until her coffee date with Jesse the next day even though she knew Jamal would probably be upset.

Maybe I won’t tell him, she mused. If I am the winner, that would explain why Jesse wants to get to know me — we’d be working together! What could be the harm having coffee with him?

Lifting her chin and taking a last drag on her cigarette, Stephanie Keats gave herself an approving smile in the window of the Wilder Federal Credit Union in downtown Weston before sauntering across the street.

It was a crisp autumn twilight, the sky an endless pink and blue dome. The quaint downtown was cast in a romantic fiery glow. Stephanie knew she’d risen to the occasion: She’d pulled her silky, long dark hair up, off her face, and the pants she wore were pleated and stylishly baggy. Even her makeup was subdued, letting her naturally stunning features — chestnut eyes, high cheekbones, full lips — speak for themselves.

A self-satisfied smile came to her mouth. The whole effect of her appearance was, she knew, adult and classy. Exactly the look that Jonathan Baur, her new boyfriend, appreciated.

“Five of five,” Stephanie murmured, reading the old-fashioned clock suspended above Berrigan’s Department Store, where Jonathan was a floor manager and Stephanie had a part-time job as a salesclerk. He’d be out in five minutes.

Waiting for the traffic to pass, she dropped her cigarette and ground it into the curb with the heel of her pump. Her heart skipped a beat. “I love you, too,” she murmured, wanting to hear how it sounded again. It sounded — well, strange.

The truth was, she’d never spoken those words-and meant them — to anyone, until a couple of weeks ago. After a long string of one-date flings, she had fallen hard for Jonathan. When he told her he loved her, Stephanie, who hadn’t thought she had it in her, had to admit to herself a few days later that she loved him, too. It took her another few to say it though. And even now she wouldn’t put money on her love.

The problem, she thought as she walked toward the store, was that love meant being with only one person. Unfortunately, being with only one man had never been a possibility for Stephanie.

She winced as she remembered the handful of guys she’d fooled around with in the days between Jonathan’s heartfelt confession and her own words of love. Guys whose names she could barely remember.

“Why did I do it?” she asked herself as the clock struck five.

But she knew why.

Jonathan made her feel something new, something scary, and that made her nervous. He knew what he wanted in life — his own retail store . . . and Stephanie.

Loving Jonathan sounded like a great idea. The only problem was that Stephanie had never been able to, or even wanted to, stay committed to anyone. Ever.

“Well, you look absolutely wonderful,” a deep masculine voice said. “Remember me?”

Stephanie turned and swallowed hard at the sight of the tall, blond soccer player in front of her.

“Do I ever,” she said. The name came to her in an instant. “Glen.”

Glen snapped his fingers, his voice dropping to the singsong of a game-show host. “Yes! And for your correct response, you have just won a bonus date with” — he clutched his heart — “yours truly!”

Stephanie couldn’t help but smile. Glen was one of her little “mistakes” from the past week. She somehow had ended up in his arms, and in the heat of the moment, he’d whispered something about being unattached, and not looking for the love of his life. He had been just the thing to make Jonathan’s declaration of love go away.

They’d started kissing, and — well, things progressed from there to some heavy-duty necking behind the refreshment stand at the football game.

“I don’t mean to sound like a bad movie,” Glen said, throwing an arrogant, sidelong glance at Berrigan’s, “but what’s a gorgeous girl like you doing hanging out on street corners?”

Stephanie could feel the attraction building between them. It was like heat. “It is a little chilly out here,” she said with a wry grin.

“I know a great way to get you warmed up,” Glen said.

Stephanie could smell a come-on line a mile away. But she didn’t care. This was fun. This was the old life, the old Stephanie Keats. Thoughts of Jonathan started drifting away like wisps of smoke on the soft breeze.

She looked into Glen’s eyes. “Oh? And what would that be?”

Glen took a half-step closer. His breath warmed her face. She lifted her mouth, her eyes closing.

“I think right about here is where we left things off,” Glen whispered.

His lips pressed against hers, and Stephanie felt herself melting. All at once she had the feeling that someone was watching them. She twisted free and turned around. Before her stood a tall, dark, and handsome man, his hands jammed deep in the pockets of his overcoat. Brown eyes flashed darkly.

Stephanie gasped, “Jonathan!”

“I know I’m late.” Jake winced, holding his hands up as Nancy stood beside the door to the suite.

Boyishly handsome in his usual denim and cowboy boots, he took in the room — pizza boxes and pretzel and chip bags littered the floor. “What did I miss?”

“Preparty party,” Nancy replied, her face breaking into a smile. “Don’t worry. I saved you a couple of slices.”

“I was just going to fix up the lead on an article,” he started to explain, “and, well, you know me — “

Nancy said, “You’re only an hour late. But you made it in time for the five-thirty news.”

Jake clutched Nancy’s hands. “Forget about the news. I’d rather look at you. You’re beautiful.”

Jake was pleased to see Nancy’s face light up at his words.

“I was up all last night, and I’m sure I look it. But I love the compliment. Eat.” Nancy walked over to the coffee table and slid two slices of pizza on a paper plate and held them out to him.

Jake walked all the way into the lounge and waved at the others gathered there. “Hi, guys.”

“The mystery man,” Liz teased. “I voted to eat your pizza, but Nancy threatened our lives.”

“And now for the news,” the anchorman announced.

Jake sat next to Nancy on the couch, the plate of pizza slices almost forgotten on the coffee table, and lifted his hands behind his head. Nancy rested her head in the crook of his neck.

“I can’t believe Gail is going to be on TV,” he said.

Gail Gardeski was the editor-in-chief of the Wilder Times, the campus newspaper, where Nancy and Jake were both reporters.

“You guys have to fill me in on this case,” Liz said.

“It’s really creepy because a convicted sex of fender is back on the streets,” Nancy said.

“Alleged sex offender,” Jake corrected her. “And that’s the problem. Three years ago a guy named Cal Evanson was convicted of sexually molesting and robbing three women in Weston — “

“It terrified all the women in town and on campus,” Nancy interrupted.

“Wonderful,” Liz quipped.

“Evanson always insisted he was innocent,” Jake continued. “He said that he had been convicted because his lawyer was too inexperienced. So last year, from jail, he hired a new lawyer. This new guy discovered that one of the cops in the investigation might have planted a piece of key evidence and possibly coerced one of the victims into identifying Cal Evanson as her attacker.”

“It was enough for reasonable doubt, and the judge tossed out the guilty verdict three weeks ago,” Nancy said. “Evanson is out on bail while he waits for a new trial.”

“So he’s actually out of prison,” Liz said, tightening her grip on her knees. “This is creepy! I’m not going anywhere alone at night.”

“Shh, Gail’s interview is on,” Jake said.

Gail was seated in the news studio across from a reporter. She was small and bone-thin, and looked professional and composed behind her wire-rimmed glasses.

“Ms. Gardeski,” the interviewer began, “local journalists, as well as citizens of Weston and Wilder University students, are all hotly debating the guilt of Cal Evanson.”

“And the Wilder Times, our campus newspaper, is working on related articles,” Gail replied.

Jake caught Nancy glancing at him and locked her in a smile. She slipped an arm behind his back and squeezed his middle. No matter what was going on between them, Jake knew, they shared a passion for their newspaper work and for each other.

Putting an arm around her, he pulled her closer. Smiling, she collapsed against him.

“And you, or one of your reporters,” the TV interviewer continued, “have taken new statements from a victim of these assaults, Liana Schmidt — “

“Liana Schmidt, that’s right,” Gail replied.

“But the big news is that you are publishing an article in tomorrow’s Wilder Times that mentions information from a previously unknown source that confirms the DA’s belief that Evanson is really guilty of the attacks.”

Jake and Nancy sat bolt upright.

“Did you know about this?” Nancy asked.

Astounded, Jake shook his head. “That must be what Gail’s been working on so hard.”

“What we want to know,” the TV interviewer continued, “and what the DA is sure to want to know himself, is who this unknown source is, what proof he or she has, and why he or she hasn’t come forward before.”

Gail merely shook her head. “I’m afraid that’s privileged information. My source came forward on the condition that his or her identify remain a secret. And as a reporter yourself,” Gail continued, “you know that a reporter’s first obligation, after writing the truth, is to protect her sources.”

“Wow,” Liz said. “She’s tough.”

“And right,” Nancy added.

“And in trouble,” Jake murmured worriedly. “The DA’s going to be all over her.”

“Okay,” Liz said. “I’m thoroughly spooked that this Cal guy is out on the streets. I’m sleeping with the lights on till this is over.”

“Evanson must be under some kind of police surveillance,” Jake assured her. “Besides, no one’s sure he’s the right guy.”

Laughing ruefully, Nancy stared at him unblinking. “You really know how to make a girl feel safe.”

Comments are closed.