AUTHOR'S NOTE

Hello there! Alice the author here. Please leave a comment or follow me if you enjoy this story. It would make so happy. I'm also on Instagram and Wattpad under the same username, uxecila, so feel free to look me up. I'll be posting more writing and updates there! :)


CHAPTER 49

The power to the main projector cut off before the video could finish rolling.

As the screen went dark, the room turned pitch black. All around me, my classmates bristled with shock and speculation. No one seemed to know how to react. A moment later, all five of the chandeliers in Sinclairs' ballroom flashed on. The sudden brightness blinded my sight.

My mind was still reeling from the nightmarish visions of mamma's final moments. I didn't know if I could ever unsee them. I had to hand it to Lily. When the bitch set out to destroy a person, she fucking delivered. Her level of vindictiveness had exceeded my wildest imagination. How naive I was to question my own moral compass when Zac and I tried to torment her with memories of Tariq. Such childish antics had merely inspired Lily to retaliate with a ghost of her own. The ghost of my poor dead mamma.

I thought back to when Zac first warned me about Lily. I considered all of the unfortunate kids who had fallen victim to her twisted genius over the years. The labmate she disfigured with acid in middle school. The ex-boyfriend who committed suicide. Now she wanted to add me to her list of conquests. I would've given the girl a standing ovation if only her brand of evil didn't make my gut twist and turn in pure revulsion.

Everyone turned to stare at me as though I had become an object of pity. They triggered my survival instincts to kick in. Fight first, cry later. This default reflex had become ingrained in me shortly after I moved in with my dad—mostly thanks to all the turmoil Trick and Bea and, of course, Mrs. Watson had put me through.

Through sheer force of will, I barricaded the emotional chaos churning in me just enough to center my thoughts. I needed to focus. This wasn't the time nor place for waterworks or breakdowns. I needed to reassess the situation and formulate a new plan within seconds. Zac was still in Mr. Sinclair's study. I refused to lose my shit over mamma until my man got what we fucking came here for.

I scanned everywhere for Lily, but I couldn't locate her in the crowded room.

Who I did end up seeing, though, was Nat clutching onto an unplugged power cord that was connected to the projector. Anguish marred her face. Trick stood by the light switches near the entrance to the ballroom. His expression appeared equally grim. Their loyalty warmed my battered sensibilities and provided a moment of respite from the despair hanging over me.

At this time, Bea rushed to the center of the crowd, mic in hand. Distress also radiated from her in waves. She was practically trembling.

In high-pitched tones, my half-sister blurted out to everyone in attendance, "On behalf of the Fellowship and myself, I-I would like to offer an apology for what just happened! I have no idea how those awful images came to be embedded in our video, but, I assure you, they definitely weren't supposed to be there! As the President of the Fellowship, I take full responsibility for this horrific accident and assure all of you that we'll be investigating this matter further over the next few days. Again, I apologize for ruining your evening."

Bea glanced at me with a worried frown. I tried to neutralize my expression, acting as though everything was fine.

She turned back to the crowd with a fierce expression. "One more thing before I go. Do not, I repeat, do not hound my sister with questions about her mother. Cate has been through enough for one night. If I hear anyone giving her trouble, then myself, one of the the members of the Fellowship, or our brother, Patrick, will personally escort you out of this event."

As Bea turned off her mic and took her leave from center stage, my mouth parted with surprise. Holy fuckballs. Had my half-sister just stood up for me? In front of our peers? The world must really be going mad right now.

Bea walked over and asked in passing, "You gonna be okay?"

"Yes… thank you, Bea."

Four small words. That was all she directed at me and all I offered in response, but I think we both knew how much weight we'd thrown behind each of those words. Bea reached over to squeeze my hand, briefly but encouragingly, before hurrying away to try and salvage the rest of the night for her charity event. I couldn't remember the last time I felt this connected and supported by my sister. It was kind of amazing.

As the string quartet began to play again, my classmates tried their best to get on with the evening. Most people kept averting and diverting their gazes as though the sight of me suddenly made them uncomfortable. I surveyed the room some more. A flash of auburn and a cloud of gossamer caught my eye.

Ah, Lily.

At last, the she-devil came into view, and she wore the facade of innocence like a second skin. Like snakeskin. She was leering at me as well. A touch of concern wrinkled her lovely brow, her lower lip jutted out to form a sympathetic pout, but the self-satisfied glint never left her eyes. Her smugness made me want to hurt her as much as she had hurt me.

The she-devil slithered towards me.

My brain lept into overdrive. My hands balled into fists. Common sense and logic wrestled with my emotional urges. As much as I wanted to confront her about the video, I didn't want to detract again from the success of Bea's fundraising efforts by causing a scene. And, until Zac was safely out of the study, I didn't want to give Lily a chance to ask about his whereabouts by interacting with her in close quarters.

It was going to be tricky as hell to keep tabs on the bitch while maintaining a safe distance. Days ago, Zac told me, in theory, he would only need an hour, tops, to hack into Mr. Sinclair's files, but now, in the thick of reality, we were already approaching the fifty minute mark.

Lily drew closer. I prayed for him to hurry.

Right then, I decided to initiate a little game of cat and mouse with my nemesis. I blasted her with a knowing smile, curling my fingers at her in a come-hither fashion. This seemed to catch Lily off guard. Perhaps she had expected me to fall to pieces after her stupid stunt? Once she recovered from shock, however, a smirk appeared on her lips. I knew she was the type to play games.

I ducked into the throngs of guests, weaving between boys in tuxes and girls in gowns, and geared up to lead her on a merry chase for as long as possible. She quickened her pace. Just to goad her on, I raised my right hand above my head, waving my fingers in the air like a matador taunting a bull. Our arena was confined to the vicinity of the ballroom, and I hoped it would be big enough to occupy her attention until Zac came out.

She chased and I pretended to flee, pausing every now and then to flip her off in increasingly creative ways. We were speed walking at most through the crowd, but the challenge was to keep playing without letting anyone else in on the game. By the looks of it, Lily was enjoying herself but also getting kind of pissed. A few more minutes passed. Finally, I caught sight of Zac emerging from the hallway. Triumph beamed from his face, and relief flooded across mine.

I had successfully run out the clock, and it appeared that my man had accomplished his mission as well.

Up until now, Lily probably saw herself as the cat and me as the mouse in our silly game. Under normal circumstances, a mouse would never allow a cat to catch it, but nothing about this evening felt normal, and I wasn't afraid of sharp fangs because I had claws of my own.

I halted mid-stride, and let Lily catch up to me at last. Short of causing a scene, I was ready to interrogate the shit out of this bitch.

"Hello again, Lily."

In a pleasant voice, she drawled, "Did you enjoy your surprise, Cate?"

"Loved it," I sneered.

She smiled tritely. "I thought you might."

"You put a lot of thought into it, didn't you?"

Lily giggled. "Oh, you have no idea how much I enjoyed putting together this lovely passion project for you, especially after you tried to scare me with my poor, sweet Tariq…"

"I don't know what you're talking about," I lied.

Her expression darkened. "Whether or not you admit it doesn't matter. We both know mine was better. I won. I was hoping to get more of a reaction out of you, though."

"If it makes you feel better, I'm dying on the inside," I offered truthfully.

Her smile waned. She didn't realize that I wasn't being sarcastic. "But I wanted to see you cry."

I shuddered inwardly. Seriously, what was up with this girl? Why was she like this? I decided it was time to switch gears and try to get some real answers out of her.

"How did you get your hands on those photos of my mom?" I demanded.

Lily's eyes rounded out into startled spheres. "Dear me, didn't you know? My daddy knows your daddy, and your daddy owes my daddy quite a few favors. All it took was one phone call, and those photos of your mommy were mine."

This gave me reason to pause. It was certainly the first time I'd ever heard about a potential connection between my dad and Mr. Sinclair. Granted, I knew next to nothing about my dad's professional or personal life, but I tucked this tidbit of information away to be investigated later.

I studied her closely. Was she straight up lying, telling a half-truth, or the actual honest-to-goodness truth? Suddenly, I felt compelled to set my questions about mamma on pause and dive into this new development with our fathers. Zac mentioned to me once that Lily hated her dad. I decided to test out the theory.

"My dad chooses who he lets into his circle very carefully. Your dad must be a good guy."

Lily ground out her next slew of words very aggressively, "You don't know shit, Cate! My father… isn't… good… at all. I hate him so much. I'd send him straight to hell if I could."

My eyebrows shot straight up. Holy crap. Zac hadn't been joking about her daddy issues.

"How did my dad and your dad even meet?"

"Goodness gracious! How can you be so clueless?" Lily sighed like I was boring her and answered me as though she was reciting something from a well-rehearsed script, "They know each other from way back when the investigation was going on at Wyman & Rimmel. My daddy and your daddy worked together to put Zachary's daddy in prison."