Chapter 1: How Could She? How Could She?
I DIDN’T EVEN PAY ATTENTION TO where I ran. As fast as I could, I bolted down the lane, away from Emery Flynn. I couldn’t stand being around her for another second, not after what she’d done. Not after she’d protected my classmate and fellow rider, Nina aka the Truth X. Poser. The person who had filmed me without my consent, doctored the video, and leaked it to make it sound as if I hated Emery. My own stepsister knew the truth, but she never spoke up. She just let Nina torment me.
Tears streamed down my cheeks as I skidded to a halt near the hay barn at Foxbury. Riders from my stable and nearby barns packed the grounds, thanks to this weekend’s three-day event. The main barn was the last place I wanted to be right now, even though I wished I could have run to Beau, my horse.
Instead, I darted into the hay barn and scrambled up one of the ladders to the hayloft. I threw myself down behind a tall stack of hay bales and tried to breathe.
How could Emery do this to me? I’d poured my heart out to her and let her in, telling her all the ways the TXP had hurt me and had made me distrust everyone around me except for my closest friends. Except for Emery. I hadn’t thought I’d needed to worry about her.
I wiped my cheeks with the back of my hand, thinking the tears had finally slowed. But a fresh wave of hurt and anger washed over me, and I kept crying.
Every conversation between Emery and me since I’d been back at Saddlehill Academy came back to me.
Why had she done it? Emery could have picked anyone else in Charles House, where she lived with Nina, to befriend. It didn’t have to be Nina, who’d gone from chill and fun to mean and snarky after she’d become tight with Selly Hollis.
And when Emery had found out how Nina had been the one trying to wreck my life, she should have come to me. Period. There were no excuses. After the talks we’d had about how we were trying to become friends so this whole new-stepsisters thing wouldn’t be so awkward and hard, she’d done that.
I wasn’t going to speak to her ever again.
Had she ever really even liked me? Or had she wanted to be Nina’s friend all along and she was just pretending with me to get info to share with Nina?
Below me, boots tapped down the aisle. I held my breath, sure it was Emery wanting to try and talk to me and apologize. I didn’t move, and I stayed with my arms curled around my legs even when I heard someone coming up the ladder to the hayloft.
It wasn’t Emery after all.
“Over here,” I croaked.
Thea Song, one of my two best friends, popped into view as she peered around a stack of hay bales, spotting me.
I burst into a fresh round of tears just seeing a friendly face. Thea was on the loft floor next to me in seconds, wrapping her arms around me.
“I don’t know what happened,” she said, “but Emery came up to me, super upset, and said I should check on you. One of the Lennox Hill riders said she’d seen you run in here.”
“Emery happened,” I said. “She’s known who the TXP is!”
Thea sat back so she could see my face, her eyes wide. “She what now?”
“I got this weird text from the TXP, and it said Emery was hiding something. So I asked her about it. Totally all nonchalant, because I thought it was just the TXP trying to cause trouble and stir stuff up between us. But Emery… she started apologizing and telling me she didn’t mean to hurt me, but she knew who the TXP was.”
“Do I look like I’m joking?” I practically shrieked the question.
Thea winced. “Sorry. I’m in shock. I don’t know what to say right now. Who is it? Who’s the TXP?”
“Nina.” I gritted my teeth. “It was Nina all along.”
“No way! Are you sure?” Thea shook her head. “I can’t believe this. Like, Nina?!”
“I mean, that’s what Emery said, so yeah. I haven’t talked to Nina yet, but you can bet I will.”
“And she told Emery this?” Thea asked. “That she’s the TXP, and she’s been harassing you?”
“Yup. Sounds like she even bragged about it to Emery. And Emery’s been covering for her.”
“This is wild,” Thea said.
“I know.” I rubbed my forehead, feeling the anger start overtaking the hurt and sadness.
Tears welled up in my eyes, but I swallowed hard, trying not to cry. Emery was so not worth my tears.
“I really thought that you two were going to be okay,” Thea said, her brown eyes on mine. “You did the right thing when the TXP video broke. You went straight to Emery and talked to her, even though it was scary and hard to have that convo.” Thea sighed. “I know that wasn’t easy.”
Anger burned in my chest when I thought about that talk with Emery. I’d been so terrified that someone else’s lie was going to ruin our new, budding friendship. Even though it was awkward with my dad marrying her mom, I’d promised myself I’d try. Not just for me, but for my dad. For all of us. But now? Things were a dumpster fire.
“I thought we were good after that too,” I said. “For the rest of the week, she was totally fine toward me. But then, when she wanted to have that talk and told me, ‘You don’t have to keep looking for the TXP, Abby. I believe you, Abby,’ she wasn’t looking out for me. At all.”
“She was looking out for herself.”
“I’m so stupid.”
Thea reached over, taking my hand. “No, you’re not, Abs.”
“I should have known! I was so wrapped up in trying to uncover the TXP’s identity that I missed it.”
“Stop. There was no way for you to have known Emery was involved. You didn’t miss anything.”
“I told Vivi not to put her on our suspect list!”
“Because she’s your stepsister,” Thea said. “Abby, I wouldn’t have put her on my list either. You’re a good person, so you just thought she’d be one too.”
“If this is what happens when I’m a good person, forget it,” I grumbled. “I’m done.”
“I’m serious. I need to go back to school. I don’t want to see Emery right now. Well, ever. But especially not right now.”
Thea stood and stuck out a hand to me. “C’mon. The show’s over today for our team, anyway. As captain, I’ll text Rebecca and tell her we left.”
Oops, right. Rebecca. I cringed a little, hoping word of my argument with Emery wouldn’t reach my riding instructor.
I reached up, clasped Thea’s hand in mine, and let her pull me to my feet.
“Let’s get you back to school,” Thea said.