Fans of Cora Carmack (Losing It) and Tammara Weber (Easy) will devour the original New Adult novels: Secret Society Girl, Under the Rose, Rites of Spring (Break), and Tap & Gown.
Secret Society Girl
At an elite university, Amy Haskel has been initiated into the country’s most notorious secret society. But in this power-hungry world where new blood is at the mercy of old money, hooking up with the wrong people could be fatal.
Elite Eli University junior Amy Haskel never expected to be tapped into Rose & Grave, the country’s most powerful–and notorious–secret society. She isn’t rich, politically connected, or…well, male.
So when Amy receives the distinctive black-lined invitation with the Rose & Grave seal, she’s blown away. Could they really mean her?
Whisked off into an initiation rite that’s a blend of Harry Potter and Alfred Hitchcock, Amy awakens the next day to a new reality and a whole new set of “friends”–from the gorgeous son of a conservative governor to an Afrocentric lesbian activist whose society name is Thorndike. And that’s when Amy starts to discover the truth about getting what you wish for. Because Rose & Grave is quickly taking her away from her familiar world of classes and keggers, fueling a feud, and undermining a very promising friendship with benefits. And that’s before Amy finds out that her first duty as a member of Rose & Grave is to take on a conspiracy of money and power that could, quite possibly, ruin her whole life.
A smart, sexy introduction to the life and times of a young woman in way over her head, Secret Society Girl is a charming and witty debut from a writer who knows her turf — and isn’t afraid to tell all …
- Named to the 2007 New York Public Library’s Books for the Teen Age List
- A Target Bookmark Pick, Summer 2007
Read an Excerpt
It all began on a day in late April of my junior year. I was in my dorm room, for once, trying to squeeze in a load of laundry between a tuna salad sandwich in the dining hall and my afternoon lecture on War and Peace, or as I like to think of it, WAP. (That’s not an acronym, by the way, but onomatopoeia. It’s the sound the hefty volume makes when I drop it on my desk.) Professor Muravcek’s lectures tended toward the impenetrable side and I wanted to spend some time brushing up on my notes. I was tilting toward a B in that class, which was unacceptable if I wanted to graduate with honors in the major. However, it was either laundry or rushing out that night to buy a new package of underwear. You know you’re desperate when trekking downtown to GAP Body is easier than waiting for a free dryer.
But neither Tide nor Tolstoy was in the cards for me that afternoon. I’d just finished disentangling my disentangling my fuchsia lace thong (Friday night date panties) from the legs of my “going out jeans” and was on my way out the door with a load of darks when the phone rang.
Crap. It was probably my mom. She seemed to have a divine sense of when I’d be in my room.
I balanced the basket on my hip and picked up the phone. “Hello?”
“Amy Maureen Haskel?”
“You got her,” I said, shaking one of my balled-up gym socks free.
“Your presence is required at 750 College Street, room 400, at two o’clock this afternoon.”
Two o’clock was in fifteen minutes. “Who is this?”
“750 College Street, room 400. Two p.m.” And then the line went dead.
I plopped back onto the faded couch, strewing tank tops and pj bottoms across the floor. Talk about rotten timing. There was no question in my mind who it was on the other end of the phone. Quill & Ink was the “literary” senior society on campus, the usual refuge for scribblers of all varieties. It boasted several well-known writers amongst its alumni, and as the current editor-in-chief of the campus literary magazine, I knew I was a shoo-in, just like my predecessor Glenda Foster had been before me. That is, I would be if I made it to the afternoon’s impromptu interview.
I was going to have to have a long talk with Glenda. She was in the Russian Novel class, too, and knew I was struggling, yet still scheduled my society interview during lecture time!
Society interviews were always arranged on super-short notice. Part of the test was to see if you could get there. I hadn’t yet figured out what they did if the prospective tap didn’t answer her phone–if she was busy, for example, enduring both the crime and the punishment of Professor Muravcek’s soporific speaking voice.
Laundry all but forgotten, I hurried back into my room. Though the interview would be merely a formality, I fully intended to follow along with society pomp and circumstance and dress up. (Societies are all about the spectacle.) My suit was crammed in the back of my closet behind my ski jacket and the flared velvet getup I’d worn to February’s seventies-themed Boogie Night. I hadn’t worn my suit since January’s spate of internship interviews, during which I’d landed a posh (insert eye roll here) summer job xeroxing form rejections at Horton. It needed a good lint brushing, but otherwise, it was okay. I paired it with a fresh cotton shell, and went spelunking for a pair of panty hose sans runs. On the third dip into my underwear drawer, I found one. When, oh, when will I learn to throw away unusable nylons? (Not today, apparently.) I stuffed the other two pairs back in the drawer and wrestled the third onto my legs. I needed to shave, but the nylons would cover that.
In January, I’d gotten my light brown hair cut into one of those shoulder-length, multilayered bobs I was positive was the height of fashion for the Manhattan literati. (It wasn’t.) The downside of the cut was that, even with three months’ growth, it took twenty minutes with a blow dryer and a big round brush to make it look halfway decent. I didn’t have that kind of time right now, so I was relegated to ponytail-ville.
I slipped into my black pumps and clopped through my suite’s early Gothic–complete with lead-veined windows–common room. We have one of the sweetest setups in the whole residential college–two sizeable singles connected by a wood-lined common room that featured a non-working, but darn pretty, fireplace. Only downside is the slightly pockmarked hardwood floor. Have I mentioned how much I hate heels? The door to the suite opened before I could turn the knob. My suitemate and best friend, Lydia Travinecek, entered, balancing an armload of dusty library books, a travel mug of coffee, and her dry cleaning. Lydia is always more organized than I am. She has time for lunch, homework, and trouser pleats. It’s like she’s a lawyer already.
She looked me up and down. “Quill?”
I shrugged. “Who else?” Quill & Ink wasn’t a secret society in the traditional sense. Heck, they didn’t even have one of those giant stone tombs like the big societies used to hold their meetings–just a one-bedroom apartment above Starbucks. She nodded curtly, and flopped the dry-cleaning bags over the back of our couch. Two days ago, Lydia had hurried out of here in her own carefully pressed suit. “Good luck, not that you’ll need it. Hasn’t every Lit Mag editor gotten into Quill & Ink since, like, the Stone Age?”
Pretty much. I pushed back the tiny thread of annoyance that Lydia hadn’t yet told me what society had been courting her. It was silly; I knew that when Tap Night came around and she was picked by her society (whatever one it was), Lydia would drop the secrecy routine.
She took a paper sack out of her messenger bag and held up a bottle of Finlandia Mango in triumph. “Check it out. I thought we’d go tropical with our Gumdrop Drops tomorrow.” Gumdrop Drops had become a weekly ritual in our suite since Lydia turned twenty-one last August (I didn’t go legal until December). A bottle of vodka, two shot glasses, and a bag of Brach’s Spice Drops to use as chasers were all we needed for a party. I wondered briefly what would happen to the tradition once we were both in our respective societies and had other obligations on Thursday nights (all the secret societies meet on Thursdays and Sundays).
“Awesome! Can’t wait. Gotta run.” I waved good-bye and clopped out of the suite, down the stairs, and into the sunny April afternoon. Connecticut had finally decided to get with the program and realize it was spring.
I just knew Lydia would be tapped. She’d been vying for election into one of the more prestigious societies since the moment she’d stepped on campus as a freshman. She honestly felt that it was the only way to get anywhere at this school. I thought the attitude was a bit out-of-date, myself. This wasn’t the twenties, when you were tapped into a society straight out of graduating from Andover or one of the other elite prep schools, and every student on campus was white, male, and rich beyond the dreams of avarice.
In those days, failure to receive election into one of the big secret societies was tantamount to permanent social ostracizing. Forget the leather-furnished office on Wall Street, forget the vacation home in Newport. Your kids probably wouldn’t even get into Exeter!
But the world didn’t work like that anymore. Now most of the societies had diverse membership rosters that reflected a modern student body composed of kids from every walk of life. There was no doubt in my mind that come Tap Night, even without the benefit of blue blood, Lydia would be elected into one of the best societies on campus–Dragon’s Head, perhaps, or Book & Key. In fact, the only secret society I knew she would not get into was Rose & Grave, the oldest and most notorious society in the country. But that was because all the members–known as “Diggers”–were men.
As for me, I was joining Quill & Ink for the same reason that I did everything else–it would look good on my resume. I was already well acquainted with the other literary types on campus. They were all my nearest and dearest. We didn’t need the formality of a society like Quill & Ink to cement our bond. What we did need was the networking and resume puffing it would provide us. You know how it goes. If there’s an organization to head, an award to win, a connection to pursue–you’ve got to do it. Otherwise everyone would wonder why you didn’t, and your whole carefully constructed C.V. of success would topple like a ninety-eight pound freshman at a kegger. This was it, 750 College Street. And, according to my watch, I had a little over ninety seconds to make it into the room. And yet, when at last I arrived, slightly puffing, at the darkened classroom on the fourth floor, the first words out of the mouth of the person who laser-pointed me to my seat were: “You’re late.”
I looked at my watch again, though I couldn’t see the hands in the dark. “I–”
The shadowed man sitting at the nearest table pointed something at me that glowed with a green 2:01 in digital numbers.
“This is an atomic clock. You were forty-eight seconds late.”
“Are you joking?” I squinted, trying in vain to see his face through the gloom. Since all of our classrooms are equipped with motion-detecting lights, I was surprised that they managed to pull this off. They’d draped the windows with black hangings, and though each of the dozen people seated about the room appeared to have a book light in front of their place, the most I could make out was a jawline here, the curve of a nose there. Wow, they’d gone all out. Must be the writers’ creative juices at work.
“Are we joking, Ms. Haskel?” Shadow Guy #2 said with what I swear was a sneer. I didn’t even need to see it. “Do you believe there is anything about this process that is a joke?”
Not until now. But come on, what was this, Eyes Wide Shut? “No, sir.”
I strained my neck to see if I could recognize Glenda’s features amongst the group, but I couldn’t make her out. Where was she? Oh, let me guess. War and Peace. I was so going to swipe her lecture notes!
“Let me assure you, Ms. Haskel,” Shadow Guy #2 went on, “that we take our election procedure very seriously. Punctuality is of utmost importance to us. So is electing a person who can be trusted to obey the mandates of the society, no matter how minor they might seem.”
Whoa. So forty-eight seconds and I’d screwed the pooch? I sat up in my seat. “I understand that, sir, and can assure you that I will take my position in the society very seriously.” I paused, weighing the advisability of my next words. “I didn’t know I was supposed to invest in an atomic watch. Do I get one of those when I join?”
I giggled nervously. “What about a grandfather clock? I heard every member of Rose & Grave gets one at graduation.” Quill, however, didn’t quite have the endowment for such lavish presents. Maybe they could swing a Timex.
Still nothing. Um, was this thing on? “Though I suppose that a grandfather clock would be hard to lug around.” Lame, lame, lame. “And probably not atomic.” Shut up, Amy. Man, I was crashing and burning here.
We sat in silence for a full ten seconds. And then someone three rows back spoke up. “Ms. Haskel, if you could answer a few questions for us.” I saw a shuffling of papers. “I have here your transcript. It states that sophomore year you received a B— in Dust Pages: Ethiopian Immigrant Narrative of the Mid-20th Century West.”
“Do you have an explanation for that performance?”
Yeah, beware of classes bearing colons. In this case, the prof was a prick who thought that everything in the text that was even remotely cylindrical was some sort of phallic representation, and unless our term papers explored the ongoing problem of feminine penis envy, we’d completely missed the mark.
I think he had bedroom issues.
The B— was my single black mark in my English major, or would be as long as I kicked all 1,472 pages of WAP ass in my Russian Novel final.
“I’m more of a New Critic than a Freudian analyst,” I began, choosing the time-honored liberal arts tradition of obfuscation. If you can’t beat ’em, confuse ’em. “The signifiers of the primary texts in the class”–man, even I didn’t know what I was saying by this point–”lent themselves to readings more in keeping with the works of Said, Levi-Strauss, and . . .” Crap. I ran out of steam. Okay, pick an old standby. “. . . Aristotle’s theories as laid out in Poetics.”
Ha, question that! I was an English major. I could bullshit with the best of them.
The third-row shadow smiled, and I could see that someone had a very talented orthodontist. His choppers were as bright and even as a movie star’s. “Good answer.” Then he cleared his throat.
All the lights blinked on and off. Twice.
Shadow-Who-Smiles shuffled a few more papers. “Do you remember Beverly Campbell?”
“My third-grade teacher?” I’d had to think about that one for a minute. Glenda had not warned me of any of this. No doubt she was sitting pretty right now, taking notes about the bleak Siberian winter in her usual purple gel pen. And here I was, getting grilled by Quill & Ink for heaven knew what reason. Wasn’t I supposed to be a sure thing?
Furthermore, it was official: I didn’t recognize any of these people’s voices. Had they brought in alumni to conduct the interviews? “If we asked Beverly Campbell about you, what would she say?”
“That I was good with phonics.” Enough of this. “Come on, it was third grade.”
“What about Janine Harper?” Fourth grade. “Marilyn Mahan.” Fifth. “James Field, Tracy Cole, Debra Blumenthal.” Shadow-Who-Smiles proceeded to name every homeroom teacher I’d ever had. It was more than a little freaky.
“Can I ask you a question?” I said, interrupting his recitation in tenth grade.
“Congressional confirmation hearings wouldn’t care this much about my early childhood. Why do you?”
Quill was a second-rate society at best, more concerned with getting its members into J-school than taking over the world–the reported purpose of real secret societies. What was up with the Da Vinci Code act?
Shadow Guy #2 spoke up. “What are your ambitions, Ms. Haskel?”
I kinda wanted to write the Great American Novel. But not even Quill & Ink would find that a satisfactory answer. Not goal-oriented enough. Not feasible. There aren’t enough Nobel Prizes in Literature to go around. Plus, I wasn’t sure I had any Great American Ideas. So, once again, with the fallback plan. “To be a media magnate.” There, that should hold them.
“You’re lying.” Shadow-Who-Smiles was no longer showing me his pearly whites.
“What makes you say that?” I folded my hands in my lap. And why did they care? I’d have bet each and every one of these people had a frustrated novelist buried deep inside. Shadow-Who-Smiles (though he wasn’t right now) picked up another piece of paper and began to read aloud. It was the first page of my unfinished novel–the one that no one but Lydia and I knew about. The one that existed only on my laptop’s hard drive, back in my room.
“Hey!” I shouted, and he stopped. “Where did you get that? Did you hack my computer or something?”
Everything got really quiet. I thought I could hear the atomic clock whirring away. Who were these people? “We have everything you’ve ever done, Ms. Haskel,” Shadow Guy #2 said. He lifted a manila envelope from the table in front of him. “This is your FBI file.”
My mouth dropped open. I have an FBI file? Why would I have an FBI file? I’d never done a summer internship at the White House or the Pentagon. My dad is an accountant, not a politician. I didn’t need security clearance. And even if I did, how the heck did these people get their hands on it?
There was only one answer. They were playing me. I shook my head, leaned back in my chair, and laughed. “Right, my FBI file. The Federal Bureau of I-Don’t-Think-So. Look, I’m glad I’ve given you guys a good laugh, but since you aren’t the Men in Black, can we please get back to the interview now?” There was a long pause, then all the lights on the tables blinked again. This time, most of them blinked once, except for the one in front of Shadow-Who-Smiles.
“I think,” said Shadow Guy #2, “that the interview is over.”
“No!” said Shadow-Who-Smiles.
“She’s not what we’re looking for.”
“I don’t agree.”
Hold the phone. I sat forward. “Guys, I’m not quite clear what’s going on here. Where’s Glenda?”
Shadow Guy #2 tilted his head until I got a glimpse of pale cheekbone. “Glenda?”
“Yeah, Glenda. Glenda Foster, the old Lit Mag editor? The girl who is sponsoring me for this society? The girl who is too taken with Russian literature to show up this afternoon?” Again with the silence, though this one was punctuated with a few snickers. Finally, Shadow-Who-Smiles (and he was definitely doing it again!) spoke up. “Glenda Foster is not a member of this organization.”
Who were these people?!?
Okay, to be fair, there was still one little corner in my mind that was shouting that Glenda had been lying to me all year, and that she wasn’t a member of Quill & Ink after all. But it was a pretty minuscule corner, the one where all of my most paranoid tendencies live. The rest of my head was busy spinning. I’d been taking this process rather lightly because, hey, it was Quill & Ink. Not a big deal, and I was a sure bet anyway. But they obviously weren’t Quill & Ink. I was out of my depth, for one of the first times in my life. And I didn’t have a clue what I was supposed to do.
“I think we’re done here,” Shadow Guy #2 said.
“No, we’re not,” insisted Shadow-Who-Smiles.
Shadow Guy #2 turned around and I caught a glimpse of perfectly shaved neck. “She’s not what we want. We have to be serious about this.”
“I can be serious!” I leaned forward and smacked my hand down on Shadow Guy #2’s notes. I saw his mouth drop open. Oops. “Sorry,” I said, sitting back and folding my hands demurely.
“I was a little–confused.”
“Can I ask who you people are?”
This time, they all laughed, before Shadow Guy #2 said, “No.”
“So you get a list of my middle-school study-hall proctors and I get squat?”
“That’s why we call it a secret society.” Shadow-Who-Smiles cleared his throat.
Shadow-Who-Smiles flicked his light on and off a few times, and all the members began shuffling the papers on their desks. I wondered what the signal meant.
Okey-doke. I figured I’d humiliated myself enough for one afternoon. I rose from my seat. “Am I free to go?”
“One moment, Ms. Haskel.” Shadow-Who-Smiles put his hand out, and I was surprised that I could see it. Apparently, my eyes were adjusting to the dark. “Tell us. What do you have to offer this organization?”
I bit my tongue to keep from snapping back with, And what organization is that? Okay, so they weren’t Quill & Ink. Someone else was courting me, and I’d royally screwed up any chance I might have had to impress—whoever. The real question was, did I care? After all, this wasn’t my thing. Lydia was the one who wanted to get into a secret society—any prestigious secret society. I just wanted to be in Quill & Ink, so I could keep tabs on which literary agents were hiring assistants and whether or not Cosmopolitan needed interns. And finally, the absurdity of the whole situation hit me. All the juniors who, like me, had spent an hour in a darkened classroom, answering vague questions about their ambitions and accomplishments for a bunch of shadowy strangers–they hadn’t the foggiest clue to whom they were spilling their guts. Lydia, for all her secretive, superior smugness, didn’t know if she was being courted by Dragon’s Head or punk’d by a bunch of rowdy frat boys. And neither did I.
What did I have to offer this mysterious, unidentified organization? Aside from the finger, which I lifted, to little effect in the darkness.
I straightened my skirt, stuck out my chin, and laughed. “You already know what I have to offer. Straight As in the major, except for that little snafu with Ethiopian Immigrant Narrative; the editorship of the Lit Magazine; participation and leadership in any number of other small campus publications; and thirty pages of a badly written novel. I don’t do drugs, I’ve never been arrested, and from what I hear, I’m not too shabby in bed. Not that any of you people will ever have the opportunity to discover that firsthand.” (Though, to be honest, I’d have no way of knowing, now would I?)
Then I turned on my heel and marched out. And as I exited into the hall, head held high, I thought I caught the flicker of a dozen tiny booklights.
Under the Rose
Now a senior at Eli University, Amy is looking her future squarely in the eye–until someone starts selling society secrets. When a female member mysteriously disappears and a series of bizarre messages suggests conspiracy within the ranks, no member of Rose & Grave is safe . . . or above suspicion.
On Amy’s side, the other women in Rose & Grave remain loyal. Against her? A group of Rose & Grave’s überpowerful patriarchs who want their old boys’ club back. As new developments in her love life threaten to explode, and the search for the missing girl takes a disturbing turn, Amy will need to use every society maneuver she’s ever learned in order to stay one step ahead. Even if it means turning to old adversaries for help–or looking for her real enemies closer than she’d thought.
- A Target Bookmark Pick, Summer 2007
Read an Excerpt
I hereby confess: We aren’t like other college students.
It was shopping period at Eli University, and lest you think this is one of those books about fashion, let me enlighten you. The students at Eli were not shopping for Prada, but for Proust; they weren’t hunting for good bargains, but rather, for gut classes; and they would happily surrender Fendi at forty percent off to secure a Fractals section that wasn’t all the way up on Science Hill.
As a senior, I found this shopping period especially poignant. It was my penultimate chance to discover the hidden gem seminar, the one I’d look back on in the cold, post-Eli future as being one of those bright college days the song* speaks of. My last chance, in many cases, to take the famous lectures given by the college’s most notorious luminaries.
“What? You didn’t take Herbert Branch’s Shakespeare class?” future employers will say with incredulity. “Why, Amy Haskel, what were you doing there at Eli?”
And I will not be able to tell them, because I swore an oath never to reveal the truth: that while other Literature majors were shopping the Branch class, I was crouching in the shadows on a cold stone floor, garbed in a long black hooded robe and a skull-shaped mask, rehearsing an esoteric initiation ritual that required me to lie in wait for an innocent classmate to wander by so I could leap out, pelt his face with phosphorescent dust, and yell “Boo.”
As if I’d admit to something like that anyway.
“Hey, Lil’ Demon!” I called down the stairs. “I sort of wanted to shop a seminar this afternoon, so can we non-speaking parts adjourn for the day?”
Keyser Soze, a.k.a. Joshua Silver, popped up from behind a tower of human remains. “The Branch class? I wanted to take that, too.” Figures. Branch was a brand-name professor at Eli, and it would suit Josh’s political aspirations to add the scholar’s reputation to his C.V.
Lil’ Demon, currently levitating over a pool of blood, raised one perfectly plucked eyebrow and blew a strand of chestnut brown hair (she’d had it dyed over the summer) out of her eyes. “I should have gone union,” she said with a sniff. “You people just don’t understand show business.”
(By the way, that thing in Us Weekly about Lil’ Demon over the Fourth of July weekend is categorically untrue. Odile Dumas wasn’t “servicing” any ex–boy-band members in Tijuana; she was with me and the other Diggers at a patriarch’s pool party on Fire Island. And, say what you will about the starlet, she has better taste than to get down with a bunch of scrawny tenors. If that were her style, we had more than enough singing groups right here on campus.)
Thorndike, poised below her and wielding a wicked-looking pitchfork, tapped Lil’ Demon on her Pilates-honed and designer jeans–encrusted behind. “Can’t let the Teamsters in the tomb,” she reminded her. Demetria “Thorndike” Robinson was our resident power-to-the-people expert, so she’d know. “But I’m with them anyway,” she continued. “There’s this Racial Strata of the 21st Century symposium I wanted to hit at three.”
A chorus of voices erupted from the other costumed participants about classes they were missing. Bond, our club’s British contingent, wanted to ensure his seniors-first spot in a college poetry seminar, Frodo needed to go to a board meeting of the Eli Film Society, Big Demon had scheduled some physical therapy at the gym, Kismet was tutoring Swahili, and Graverobber, who I don’t think I’d ever witnessed in an Eli classroom, needed to see a man about a horse. Which he owned.
Lil’ Demon sighed, unhooked herself from her safety harness, and dropped to the floor. “Fine, but don’t blame me if the new initiates think they’re getting shafted on their ceremony.”
“With these special effects, I doubt it,” I replied. Lil’ Demon had somehow managed to cajole some FX guy at her studio into lending us a bunch of old monster-movie stuff for the initiation we were holding tomorrow for the Rose & Grave taps who had been abroad during our junior year. No offense to previous clubs—society jargon for each year’s class—and their sublime efforts at scaring the pants off the neophytes, but there was something about stuffing the taps into the same coffin that had once housed Bela Lugosi that added a certain air of authenticity to the proceedings. It would be one hell of a night, rehearsal or not.
I shoved the mask off my face and breathed in cool air. Acting was so not my thing. Some might say I lacked the basic requirement: the ability to conceal my true emotions at any given time. Others would argue I didn’t have the necessary charisma.
Someone tugged at my hood. “Hey, ‘boo.”
Speaking of charisma . . . I turned to see Puck grinning at me from beneath his hood. Of course Lil’ Demon wouldn’t hide that face under a disgusting mask. Who’d want to cover up a masterpiece like George Harrison Prescott? “Are you going to that thing at the Master’s house later?”
If you’re going, I thought. “There’s supposed to be free cookies,” I said. “And booze.” Somehow, we’d moved away from the railing, back into one of the corners. We have a funny habit of doing that. Puck leaned against one of the skull sconces gracing the wall and his robe fell open, revealing a very faded, much washed T-shirt, and a whole lot of check-out-how-much-lifting-I’ve-done-this-summer shoulders. Ah, George. I like his shoulders. I like the way they connect his arms to his chest. I like the arms and the chest they connect. I like his collarbones. I like the way he kissed me in the bar last spring. . . .
“Bugaboo!” Soze shouted from the landing. “Are we going to the Branch class or what?” Bugaboo. That’s me. “Yes!” I called back, but I didn’t take my eyes off Puck. “Why wouldn’t you go?” I asked him.
“They do this thing . . . a presentation on the history of Prescott College.” He rolled his eyes. I like his eyes. They’d looked like copper pennies when he asked me to go to bed with him. “I think I’ve got it down pat by now.”
They hadn’t even blinked when I told him no.
“Because it’s starting in about three minutes!” Soze yelled.
Crap. “Coming!” I cried back down the stairs. I turned back to Puck, forcing myself to remember why I’d told him no. “Yeah, well, I’ve got it down pat after three years of living there, and I’m not even a Prescott.”
I’d said no because he wasn’t just George Harrison Prescott. He was also a “Puck”—society nomenclature for the knight in every club who had slept with the most people.
And right then he was my friend, and what’s more, my society brother. “Look, come early, grab a few beers, then slink out before they get into the lecture.”
He quirked a brow. “Slink out with me?”
Soze stuck his head into the shadows. “Now or never, Bugaboo.”
Tell me about it.
George decided to accompany us to the Shakespeare seminar. Raise your hand if you’re surprised. So off we went, three little Diggers, into the bright sunny world of Eli University that lay beyond our gloomy tomb. George checked to see if the coast was clear, and we sneaked out the side door and proceeded to affect the easy stroll of three students who’d just emerged from the nearby Art and Architecture building.
You see, that’s the real trick of being in Rose & Grave: getting in and out in the light of day without shouting to the world that you’re a member. It’s worth it, though. For the price of a little secrecy and a few bizarre rituals, we’re given a unique connection to fourteen other people we might never have known—or liked, if we did know them. (I plead guilty to one such early prejudice, having held an entirely untenable distaste for one of my fellow members before I actually got to know her. Persephone bless Rose & Grave.)
We cut across High Street and through the gate onto Old Campus, otherwise known as freshman central. The powers that be at Eli think it promotes class bonding if the freshmen aren’t isolated in their assigned residential colleges right off the bat, so they stick them all together in the dorms on our largest and most picturesque quad. Five-sixths of the frosh make their home there. (Two colleges keep their freshmen to themselves, due to space constraints, and trust me, you can tell who those freaks are just by looking at them. A common refrain here is “I don’t know that person. Must be in Strathmore or Christopher Bright Colleges.”)
I’ve been told by my Digger big brother, Malcolm Cabot (a.k.a. Lancelot), that the beginning of term is the most dangerous time for Diggers in terms of secrecy. The Rose & Grave tomb is right across the street from Old Campus, and there are a thousand freshmen who have heard all about secret societies and are dying to stake them out. Today, however, Old Campus was dangerous for another reason: the student activities gauntlet.
“Brace yourself,” Josh said, as we were bombarded with a sheaf of brightly colored brochures. Russian Chorus, Club Crew, The Party of the Right, the Campus Crusade for Christ, the Women’s Center, and the Solar Car team Ad Lucem ( “toward the light” in Latin, because we’re pretentious like that). Every organization on campus was out in full force, promoting their group and trying to make themselves look as sexy as possible for the freshmeat who hadn’t yet filled up their schedule.
“Join the Society for Creative Anachronism!” said a kid in an oversized suit of armor, brandishing a papier-mâché sword in George’s face.
“Too late,” George replied. “I live it.”
Josh rolled his eyes and steered our friend away before he started discussing how creatively anachronistic Rose & Grave could get. (George is our most reluctant Digger, and coming from me, that says a lot.)
Copyright © 2007 by Diana Peterfreund
Rites of Spring (Break)
From “witty and endearing” to “impossible to put down,” the critics have given elite marks to Diana Peterfreund’s Secret Society Girl and Under the Rose. Now, in a wildly captivating new novel, Amy “Bugaboo” Haskel and her fellow Rose & Grave knights are trading cold, gray, hyperintellectual New Haven for an annual rite of spring (well, early March) in Florida.
For Amy, a week of R&R on her secret society’s private island should be all fun in the sun–and an escape from an on-campus feud with a rival society that’s turned disturbingly personal. But along with her SPF 30 and a bikini, Amy is bringing a suitcase full of issues to remote Cavador Key. Graduation from Eli University looms, not to mention buckets of unfinished business with a former flame and–most pressing of all–the sudden, startling transformation of a mysterious Rose & Grave patriarch from sheerly evil to utterly … appealing?
Just when Amy thinks Spring Break can’t get any less relaxing, a wacky “accident” puts everyone on edge. And that’s only the beginning, as Amy starts to suspect that someone has infiltrated the island. With some major Rose & Grave secrets to be exposed, and the potential fallout enough to take down one of America’s most loathsome figureheads, what she can’t know is that the party crasher is deadly serious about making sure “Bugaboo” doesn’t get back to Eli alive…
Read an Excerpt
Some people pledge to lose weight for their New Year’s resolution. Others quit smoking, or promise to do their homework before Sunday night, or swear that they’ll never again, no matter how many pomegranate martinis they’ve imbibed, give in to temptation and drunk-dial their ex-boyfriends, ex-lovers, or ex-friends-with-benefits and invite them over for a nightcap.
Instead of resolving any of the above (and that last one sounded pretty good), I promised to commit a felony.
On December 31st, as the clock struck twelve, I held aloft a glass of champagne and solemnly swore that I’d join my secret society brothers in their quest to steal back one of our treasured relics from a rival society. At the time, I thought it would be a relatively straightforward operation. Sneak into the Dragon’s Head headquarters, snatch back the knee-high stone statue of Orpheus, and hightail it back to Rose & Grave’s High Street tomb, booty in tow.
Dragon’s Head had grown suspicious over Winter Break, indulging their more paranoid sides. I knew from intimate association with my fellow knights that no one in our crew could have tipped them off on purpose, but perhaps we weren’t as discreet as we should have been during one of our many reconnaissance missions to their York Street abode. Perhaps they had as many hidden cameras trained on our tomb as we had on theirs. Whatever the cause, intel showed, clear as infrared, the Dragon’s Head members removing the purloined Orpheus statue from their courtyard late the previous night. If they were worthy of their admission to Eli, they would have hidden it out of reach in their house’s safe, a move that would make things tricky–but not impossible–for us thieves.
Wait a second. Reconnaissance? Infrared? Intel? What’s going on here? I was a Literature major, for crying out loud, not a CIA recruit. And yet, in the nine months since I’d been tapped into Rose & Grave, my inner spygirl had gestated and emerged as a black-clad, code-speaking, secret-handshake-knowing, card-carrying acolyte of the New World Order.
Or at least, the wannabe New World Order. Despite all the 007 talk, this mission of ours cut a little closer to fraternity prank than military coup. But whatever the flavor of the operation, the practicalities were the same: I was spending my first night back on campus lying in the slush in an alleyway behind the Dragon’s Head tomb, waiting for orders, while my black ski mask painfully crushed my ponytail holder against my scalp.
However, that wasn’t what was causing my headache.
“I say we go now,” said the society brother lying in the slush to my left.
“Bond directed us to wait for his signal,” said the one on my right.
“Listen, old-timer,” said Lefty. “Maybe in your day, you sat around waiting for someone to hand you an engraved invitation, but that’s why we’re running the show now. Your ways are out-of-date. Don’t you agree, Bugaboo?”
I shifted in the slush. Time was, I would have made precisely that statement, and had. But last semester I’d been involved in espionage activities with the guy on my right, and he’d proven quite handy in a pinch.
Whereas the guy on my left was mostly all hands and pinches.
“Listen, Junior,” hissed the party on the right from behind his ski mask, “I concur that we don’t see eye-to-eye. About anything. But if you move now, you’re going to throw off the whole group. Wait for the signal.”
The guy on my left rolled his copper-colored eyes and sat up. “I’m no one’s junior,” he threw over his shoulder. “Dad’s middle name isn’t ‘Harrison.’ ” He sprang into a crouch.
Poe leapt across me to grab Puck before he could give our position away, but it was too late. Puck had already jumped to the top of the wall that separated the Dragon’s Head property from the alleyway.
“Middle name should have been Asshole,” Poe grumbled.
In place of a response, I coughed, politely, and he seemed to notice that he was still lying on top of me, his hands resting in places that weren’t exactly public access.
“Oops.” He stood, and brushed snow off of his pants. “Here’s an idea for next year’s taps, Bugaboo,” he said, and pulled me to my feet, making as if to brush snow off me before I gave him a warning swat, “only tap the ones who are interested in keeping your secret operations secret.”
I laid a finger against my ski mask-covered mouth. I was to blame for many things involving George Harrison Prescott, but not this. “Remind me who it was that tapped our dear Puck?”
“I liked it better when you were playing mute.”
“You always have,” I replied, as the alarm went off.
Alarms in most buildings on campus might bring a few offhand observers, perhaps some threatening glares from light sleepers or heavy studiers, and campus security. Alarms at a secret society bring reporters. And since the offices of the Eli Daily News were right next door, I’d say, Winter Break or not, we had approximately eight seconds before our masked countenances turned downright conspicuous.
“Right. New signal.” Poe jumped. I followed, missed the ledge, and proceeded to scrape elbows and knees on the stone as I slid down the wall.
Poe’s face shot over the ledge, silhouetted against the purply-orange sky, a signature of overcast New Haven nights. “Can’t take you anywhere, can I?” He reached down and gave me a hand.
I looked over the wall at the virgin snow on the ground inside. Crap. Could we make the leap all the way over to the cleared walkway in the center of the yard? Did it even matter anymore if the Dragon’s Head knights knew where we came from, now that the alarm was blaring loud enough to be heard up Science Hill?
Poe jumped down from the ledge and landed in the snow, and I saw black-clad figures doing the same all around the yard. Guess not.
We convened at the kitchen entrance near the back. “What brain donor was responsible for moving in early?” asked Thorndike, a.k.a. Demetria Robinson. She was rocking her set of broken-in breaking-and-entering duds and picking the lock on the Dragon’s Head back door.
Poe and I pointed at Puck, who gave us the finger.
Angel arrived. The New York socialite most called Clarissa Cuthbert was almost unrecognizable with her fall of blond hair tucked under her ski mask. “That was . . . unexpected. Lucky almost had the alarm system disabled. Bond’s furious. They’ll be along in a minute.” She stared at our motley crew. “Where are the others?”
“Forced to abort.” Lil’ Demon, known to her legions of fans as bad-girl starlet Odile Dumas, leaned against a wall and attempted to catch her breath. “I tried to wave down Tristram and Frodo, but they were totally zoned out.” She squinted at Poe. “Who brought him?”
I shrugged. “He brought himself, as usual.”
“I don’t blame the boys for getting distracted,” said Angel. “We’ve been waiting for half an hour. I almost forgot what we were doing myself.”
“I think the term is ‘woolgathering,’ ” said Poe.
“Yeah, if you’re my grandmother,” said Thorndike, and the door popped open.
“Wait,” I said. “Wasn’t your grandma a Black Panther?”
“Okay, so not mine, exactly. She skipped the tatting lessons in favor of showing me how to crack safes. Let’s go.”
We slid inside the building, taking up positions in the main hall according to our pre-arranged plan–a plan that now seemed to contain several obvious and glaring holes. Lil’ Demon, in possession of the two-way radio, directed us to keep our headlamps off for the time being and peeked through a scratch in one of the blacked-out windows to assess the damages.
Dragon’s Head, unlike most of the dedicated society buildings on campus, is a retrofitted frat house. Instead of the windowless, mausoleum-like tomb we members of Rose & Grave enjoy, their building is more of a Tudor mansion. Back before all the frats were kicked off campus and the society had taken over the property, you could be a member of the fraternity that called this place home and, in your senior year, of Rose & Grave as well.
To wit: We know every crevice of this house. Because past generations of Rose & Grave ceded their loyalty to us Diggers, we know the location of every secret room, every back stair . . . every emergency exit. And we’d probably need each one if we still wanted to pull this caper off.
“Crowd’s forming,” whispered Lil’ Demon. “Bond says the rest of the crew was forced to give up or be recognized. He’s trying to mingle and keep giving us updates.”
“Perfect,” I said. “So we’re down to what, Ocean’s Six?”
The alarm died.
“Ocean’s Seven,” said Lil’ Demon with a laugh. “Lucky came through after all.”
“Either way,” said Poe, “we’re not going to have time to get Orpheus and get out. I bet they’ve got security on the way. I know their caretaker will have been roused, and any members already on campus.”
“So you think we should abort?” I asked.
“I think it might already be too late to make a clean getaway.”
“Spoilsport.” I almost stuck my tongue out at him, then remembered the mask.
“I think that title belongs to your friend.” He gestured to Puck, who’d taken up residence on one of the leather wingback chairs and looked relaxed enough to pour himself a drink. “He’s the one that got us into this mess.”
True. Okay, time for some decisions. I addressed the group. “Here’s my thought: The same crowd that’s keeping us from getting out might be helpful in preventing the members from getting in. Too many witnesses. I say we’re made whether they catch us inside or outside. So let’s keep to the plan. All in favor?”
There was a chorus of “Aye”s in the darkness. Poe crossed his arms, but his expression was unreadable beneath his mask.
Puck clapped and rubbed his hands together. “I love it. Let’s go get arrested.”
Lil’ Demon looked around. “Where’s Thorndike?”
“Already working,” came a voice over Lil’ Demon’s two-way. “And I’ve got good news and bad news.”
“Lay it on me,” Lil’ Demon said.
Thorndike’s voice crackled through the radio: “The bad news is, I’m not going to be able to open the safe. The good news is, I found something even better.”
“Impossible,” said Poe, shaking his head, so the beam of his headlamp swerved like a lighthouse ray.
“I’m with him,” said Puck. “Weird as that sounds.”
Angel peeked into the hallway and down the stairs. “There’s no way we’re moving it without a dolly and about seven burly men.”
Lil’ Demon stood speechless in front of it. “What . . . what is it?”
To hazard a guess, I’d say the Maltese Dragon. The statue before me was about six feet tall, plated with gold leaf, and encrusted all over with semi-precious jewels. Lapis eyes flickered in the glow of the LED headgear a few of us wore, and ivory fangs jutted out from carnelian jaws. Jade scales mixed in with the gold. It was, without a doubt, the most precious thing in the society’s possession. (It was also way nicer than the tiny marble statue we’d come here to reclaim.)
I’d been through most of their house by now (I can’t call this windowed Tudor a “tomb”) and, nice as it may be, their headquarters held none of the grandeur of the Diggers’ own home base. Their meeting room was cozy and well appointed, but enjoyed neither walls covered with expensive antique oil paintings nor a painted dome ceiling, like ours. Of course, I’d memorized their floor plan, but seeing the rooms in person gave a different impression completely. The whole building had a far less grandiose air than the only other tomb I knew.
It only stood to reason. Dragon’s Head was almost a half century younger than Rose & Grave, and though generally well respected (hey, anything we deign to consider a “rival” is okay by us), it boasted fewer alumni gifts, a smaller trust, and, perhaps as a consequence of both, a lesser cachet in the campus pecking order.
Or at least, it had until this year. The scandals that had rocked Rose & Grave during the last two semesters had tarnished our reputation somewhat. I’m sure the Dragon’s Head’s (or Book & Key’s, or Serpent’s) sales pitch to potential taps this spring would sound something like, “Rose & Grave is going to pot. Look at how many times they’ve been in the tabloids this year. You sure you want to hitch your wagon to that falling star?” Which made tonight’s expedition all the more important. Pull off a good crook, and we’d prove our mettle once again.
Unfortunately, our chances of departing without a police escort, never mind scoring any booty, looked slimmer than the cut of Angel’s jeans.
“Bet it’s heavy,” said Thorndike, leaning a bit on the beast’s long, lithe body. The pedestal base barely jiggled. “But what a coup, huh?”
“Really puts the ‘grand’ in grand larceny.” I shook my head. “There’s no way we can take this with us. Are you sure you can’t open the safe?” I directed the beam of my headlamp toward the enormous safe set into a recess in the far wall.
“Nope,” said Thorndike. “I’ve never even seen a lock like that before. Sorry to let you all down.” Apparently, our safecracker hadn’t spent as much time studying with her grandmother as she had preparing for her SATs. Couldn’t blame her, to tell the truth.
“Great,” said Puck. “All this trouble for nothing.”
“At least you can afford a good lawyer when we get caught,” I said. “I doubt these charges will look good on my graduate school applications.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Angel scoffed. “New Haven cops never take these pranks too seriously.”
Poe, as usual, was standing somewhat away from the rest of the group, studying the peeling wallpaper in the bluish ray from his headlamp. Suddenly, he stiffened. “Someone’s inside. Quick, we’ve got to hide!”
We all froze, straining in an attempt to hear whatever clue Poe had that we weren’t the building’s only occupants. I looked around. Where would we hide? This room was cluttered with various knickknacks and furniture, but nothing that would conceal six college kids (no matter how petite certain starlets were).
But Poe was straining to lift the upright piano in the corner by the safe as quietly as possible. “Someone help him,” I whispered, though I really had no idea what he was trying to do.
So I asked him. “Um, if we’re trying to steal something heavy, I think it’s best we go with the dragon.”
In response, he grabbed my arm and shoved me behind the piano. “Get in.”
There was a thigh-high hole in the wall, and from the cobweb-covered opening came a distinctive draft. Great. Spiders and cold air and blackness. I reeled back against him, standing up. “No way!”
“Now,” he hissed, pushing me back down.
“Crawl space” is a generous term for the damp, grimy cavity my companions and I presently found ourselves crowded into. Poe squished himself inside and began tugging the piano back into place. “It won’t budge,” he said, a note of real fear entering his voice at last.
Angel, who was closest, began pulling on it with him, and as the back of the upright snapped against the wall, the two of them tumbled across the unfinished floorboards and hit the wall opposite with a crack.
We all stopped breathing. Could whoever was downstairs hear that?
“The lights!” Thorndike’s warning came on a breath, and around me, LED headlamps extinguished one by one. And then, from a distance, we heard a rhythmic pounding. Footsteps on the stairs. We lay completely still, heedless of our awkward positions and the way we were all jumbled together in a heap.
“Did they get anything? Search all the rooms.”
A chorus of voices began to ring out from all around us. “All clear here.” “Nothing here.” “I don’t think they even made it up here.” And then, one voice, louder and clearer than all the others. “I’m in the treasure room. They took the cover off the dragon.” A sliver of light sliced into our hole from the crack between the piano and the wall. In its blaze, I saw Poe’s eyes, wide and almost silvery inside the eyeholes of his mask. They met mine and we simply stared at each other for several long moments, not blinking, willing in unison for the light to vanish before it gave away our location.
More voices joined the first. “Did they open the safe?” I heard the rapid-fire clicks of the lock spinning. “They didn’t get it,” a voice said, and someone sighed loudly with relief.
Inside the wall, we were still a long way from that point. I glanced away from Poe, and then, after a decent interval, looked back. He was still staring at me.
“I think they set off the alarm and ran,” said one at last. “They didn’t have the chance to steal anything.”
“We’ll get them back, though,” another cut in, his voice low and threatening. “We can’t let this kind of affront stand without a counterattack.”
Puck jerked in place, and several pairs of arms clamped down on him before he could rally to the Diggers’ defense. “Yes,” said the third voice. “But how? We can’t get into their Inner Temple. We’ve tried.”
They had? That was news. I could feel, in the infinitesimal shifts of my companions, how they were taking this information, and predicted a sudden increase in our tomb’s security. If we had any say in the matter, they’d continue to fail at breaching our sacred spaces.
Another voice joined in. “They aren’t here. We’ve checked all the rooms.”
“Even the back stairs?” said the scary voice. “You know they know where all of our secret places are. Damn frat boys.”
Poe’s eyes glinted slightly, and I fought to keep from giggling.
It seemed like hours later that the Dragon’s Head members finally left the room in darkness, and hours more before any of us felt comfortable enough to move. I spent the time trying not to think about spiderwebs or rats’ nests or how many creepy crawlies were sharing this space with me. I think Thorndike fell asleep. Puck did something that made Angel knee him in the balls. Lil’ Demon almost had a heart attack when her two-way radio beeped on, but she shut if off before anyone could transmit.
Finally, Poe broke the silence. “We should make a break for it . . . soon.”
“How did you know about this place?” I whispered back.
He shrugged, a move I could feel in the close quarters. “Didn’t. But the safe was in a recess. Stood to reason there’d be a space, and I thought I could feel a draft from behind the piano. My main worry was that they knew it was here, too.”
Thorndike roused herself from slumber. “You’re the go-to guy when it comes to secret rooms on campus, man.”
Poe fell silent, and I didn’t blame him. When last he’d commandeered a secret room, it had almost torn our society apart at the seams. Of course, Poe was only one of the men who’d been involved in the society-within-a-society of Elysion last semester, and, as a group, we’d risen up and nipped the experiment in the bud well before Winter Break. Still, I swallowed the impulse to respond on his behalf. If Thorndike was still pissed off, she wasn’t alone, and she was well within her rights.
Also, I wanted to defend Poe like I wanted to make this hole my new summer home.
Slowly, we pushed the piano away from the wall and squeezed out, stretching our cramped limbs and breathing deeply at last. After our long confinement, even the dim glow filtering in around the edges of the window seemed enough to define every detail of the room. We’d spread out, relieved to finally be able to have some space to ourselves. Lil’ Demon was doing lunges, Thorndike had gone back to examining the dragon, and Poe leaned against the wall, his hands pillowed behind his head. Angel once again checked the status of the hallway. “I think they’re still here,” she whispered. “I can hear a television on downstairs.”
Crap. So we were still stuck, and still without a prize for all our trouble. I stared back at the hole behind the piano, and suddenly got a great idea. “Let’s steal the dragon.”
“What?” said Puck. “No. Trying to go forward anyway is what got us into this mess.”
“No, you jumping before the signal is what got us into this mess,” Poe offered from against the wall.
“Forget it, Bugaboo,” said Thorndike. “There’s no way we can get it out of here.”
“So we don’t get it out,” I replied, feeling a grin tugging at the corners of my mask. “Hidden is as good as gone for our purposes. We pull a Thomas Crowne Affair.”
“The original or the remake?” asked Lil’ Demon.
I furrowed my brow. “There’s an original?”
Poe chuckled softly. “Children.”
Hollywood history aside, my plan was quickly ratified and, with no little difficulty and a good deal more noise than we hoped, we got the giant golden dragon hidden inside the crawl space we’d so recently vacated.
“Doesn’t have the same sense of victory as if we actually took the item we’re supposedly stealing,” Angel whispered, when at last we had the piano pushed back in place and the entire area dusted to ensure that our tampering wouldn’t be detected.
“It works, though,” said Thorndike. “When they notice it’s missing, they’ll know it was us. We can still bargain with them to get our little statue back.”
“Don’t celebrate yet,” said Lil’ Demon. “We still need to escape, or did anyone fancy spending the rest of the semester in the Dragon’s Head tomb?”
In the ensuing silence, we all tried not to look at the one patriarch in the room. Poe was, after all, the go-to guy when it came to finding secret passages. We stood in silence for a full ten seconds before his sigh floated over from the position he’d returned to, holding up the wall.
“Okay. I’ll help you guys out, just this once.”
“Did he have to be so holier-than-thou about it?” Angel asked me five minutes later, as we sneaked down the back stairs into the kitchen. “Every time I start to think he might be okay, he turns around and acts like a complete jerk.”
And every time I decided he was a complete jerk, he turned around and did something decent. Poe kept his sheet pretty well balanced.
We broke out into the yard and sprinted quickly for the nearest wall. This time, I made my leap on the first try, but it took three attempts for Poe to reach the ledge. We hauled him over the top and into the safety of the alleyway beyond.
Thorndike pumped her fist in the air. “Success!”
We hurried back to the street, and Lil’ Demon pulled out her walkie-talkie. “I’ll see if they’re still waiting up for us. This calls for pizza and beers, I think.”
“I think they’re paying,” Puck said. He whipped off his ski mask and let out a primal shout to the sky. His hair was plastered to his face and wet with sweat. “Man, what a rush!”
I pulled off my own mask and fluffed my hair. I’m sure I looked just as gross, but I felt just as exhilarated. I wanted to dance, to run, to scream. Angel and Thorndike were tangoing in the snow, and Lil’ Demon laughed and snapped pictures with her cell phone to send to the knights who’d missed out on the adventure. I turned to Poe, grinning. He’d removed his own mask, and ran his fingers through his wet, dark hair, then lifted them into the light. I saw a flash of red before he caught me staring and whipped his hand behind his back.
Euphoria leaching into the air, I rushed over. “You’re hurt. What happened?” I reached for his head and he wrenched it away. “When you cracked your head against the wall in the crawl space . . .”
“Presence of real genius, Bug’boo.”
I shook my head. He’d been hurt all that time, and hadn’t said anything. “If you’re still bleeding . . . My God, Poe. Let’s call Lucky and get her to give us a ride to the hospital.”
He moved another few steps back. ” ‘m fine. Go get your . . . pizza.” He waved vaguely at the retreating group.
“You’re not fine,” I argued. He was slurring his words. He’d been leaning against the wall while we’d been in the treasure room. He hadn’t been able to jump over the ledge. “You’re still bleeding. You could have a concussion. Probably have one.”
“Yo, guys!” Puck called. “Let’s get a move on! There’s a pitcher of beer at Sicily’s with my name on it.”
I looked at the others, then turned back to Poe, holding out my hand. “Come on. Stop being so difficult.”
“Right, ’cause the perfect ending to me tagging along, again, is ruining your vict’ry cel’bration with a trip to the ER.”
I laughed in disbelief, hoping it would set him at ease. “Please. You’re talking crazy. We only made it out tonight because of you.”
He wadded up his ski mask and held it against his head, then turned south, which was not, thankfully, in the direction of his apartment, but rather of Eli-New Haven Hospital. Still, it was a half hour walk, a hike I had no intention of letting him take alone. Or at all.
“Poe, wait up already!” I hurried after him.
“Where are you guys going?” I heard Angel call.
“Check out Bugaboo, hooking up with the freaks,” Puck said. But I barely noticed. In the golden glow of the sodium lights, I could now see that the back of Poe’s black sweater was soaked with a dark liquid I doubted was sweat.
I skidded to a stop on the icy walk before him. “Stop. Now. You’re in no condition to walk.”
He looked at me with unfocused eyes. “Christ, Amy, you’re such a bossy bitch.”
And then he collapsed.
Copyright (c) 2008 by Diana Peterfreund.
Tap & Gown
Top secret societies…bizarre initiation rites…campus love triangles…political shenanigans…Diana Peterfreund has dazzled readers and critics alike with her Ivy league novels, hailed as “impossible to put down”* and “witty and endearing”** In this final installment, Eli University senior Amy “Bugaboo” Haskel and her fellow Diggers are preparing to face real life in worlds far beyond the hallowed halls of Eli.
For Amy the countdown to graduation has begun, and suddenly the perfect ending to a perfectly iconoclastic Eli career is slipping from her grasp. Her new boyfriend’s been made an offer he just can’t refuse. Her fellowship applications haven’t even been filed. And the student she’s chosen to take her place in Rose & Grave – the country’s more powerful and notorious secret society – seems to come complete with a secret life already intact.
Lunging toward the finish line, Amy finds trouble around every corner, from society intrigues and unlikely stalkers to former flames and mandatory science credits. Surely it couldn’t get worse…until Initiation Night explodes into a terrifying scene and into a last test of wits for a young woman just trying to make it out of the Ivy League in one piece.
* Publisher’s Weekly
** New York Observer
Read an Excerpt
CHAPTER ONE: PLEDGES
I hereby confess: I like being his.
I’ve decided that life is a bit like a standardized test. Not putting down an answer because you fear it could be wrong will lower your overall score. Now, as many of my friends (and a few of my enemies) will tell you, I have a tendency to overanalyze. I’m aware of this characteristic within myself, and I do my level best to overcome it. As a result, I have occasionally been known to make snap decisions that, in retrospect, were probably mistakes.
Then I remember what those nice folks at the Princeton Review told me, back when I was a green seventeen-year-old terrified I’d never get into college: Narrow down your options and make an educated guess.
But be careful. You never know where that decision is going to take you.
Almost a year ago, I accepted the tap from Rose & Grave, Eli University’s most powerful, exclusive, and notorious secret society. I knew my life would change. What I didn’t realize was how. I figured my induction into their order would net me some contacts in my preferred field, add extra oomph to my resume, and provide an insurance plan for the future that loomed just beyond my next set of final exams.
What I didn’t expect was that it would open my eyes to a whole world of my own potential. I no longer even wanted the job I’d once hoped Rose & Grave would help me get. I also didn’t count on a host of new friends, some of whom I’d never dreamed of associating with before—a few of whom I’d actively disliked. I certainly never knew how much danger one little club membership could result in, though I’d spent the last year being threatened, thwarted, chased, conspired against, and even once—bizarrely—kidnapped.
But most of all, I didn’t realize that the following March, I’d be sitting on a couch that looked like it had been fished out of the trash, staring at a guy I’d never even have looked twice at, and wondering if I dared answer the following:
Amy Haskel, are you in love?
C)Insufficient Data to Answer This Question
Oh, hell, it’s C, which is why there was no way I was going to let our Spring Break fling end. He couldn’t do the secret hooking-up thing anymore? Fine. We’d try something new.
“I’m really sick of secrets,” I said, and kissed him.
Brilliant as Jamie Orcutt is, it took him several seconds to parse the meaning of my statement. When he did, the kiss turned from hesitant to heated in no time at all.
Somehow we shifted from a relatively decent and G-rated side-to-side to something that rated the sort of parental supervision we had zero interest in at the moment. And, say what you will about how the couch looked, it certainly felt comfortable once I was sandwiched deeply between the cushions and Jamie. I clung to his shoulders as if I were drowning and he knotted his fists into my shirt, sliding the material away from my skin as his mouth moved south over my throat.
“Ja . . .” I said on a sigh, and then, as his tongue flicked over my collarbone, “Puh . . .”
He lifted his head. “You are never going to get it straight, are you?”
“Unlikely.” I slid my hands down his back, to where his sweatshirt ended and his skin was bare. “It’s tough enough to even think of you as Jamie and not as—” Poe. I stopped myself in time to avoid the fine that punished us for using our society code names beyond the confines of the tomb.
“This is troublesome,” he said. “But then again, that’s your society name.” He tapped my nose.
Bugaboo. Yes, and he’d probably had a hand in choosing it, too, now that I thought about it. Malcolm wouldn’t have been so snarky on his own. “You want to know what’s even more troublesome?” I scooted up. “Our real names rhyme.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, they do. I never thought of that.”
“People are going to laugh whenever they say things like, ‘We should invite Amy and Jamie to the party next weekend’ or ‘Let’s go on a double date with Amy and Jamie.’?”
He frowned. “I’m now required to go on double dates with your friends? Maybe this isn’t such a good idea.”
Especially since the majority of said friends had no particular love for him. “I’m just saying, ‘Amy and Jamie’ sounds a bit pathetic.”
But he was smiling. “I was just thinking how nice it sounds.”
I blushed, and just as quickly, the concerns started crowding into my head. What kind of person gets into a relationship less than two months before graduating from college? Was I mad? Jamie was in law school, here, at Eli, for the next two years. I had no idea where I’d be. When I left town at the end of May, there was no way our relationship would be ready for the long-distance thing (if it even lasted until then), and I had no intentions of sticking around New Haven for a boyfriend I’d just started dating. This was silly. I was setting myself up for an even worse heartbreak come commencement.
“I should go,” I said.
“What?” He shook his head in disbelief. “I don’t think so. You can’t just show up on my doorstep, drop this bombshell on me, then disappear.”
“I have work to do . . .” I began vaguely.
“You just got off a twenty-hour car trip.” He caught my hands in his. “You have relaxing to do.” His thumbs slid over the scabs on my wrists and we both winced. He looked down. “I’m glad I wasn’t there that night,” he said softly. “I don’t think I would have trusted myself.”
“You? Mr. In-Control Poe?” Crap.
He wagged his finger at me. “See? You can’t keep it straight. And yeah. I might have killed that kid.”
“You wouldn’t have been alone.” Half my club had wanted to kill Darren Gehry for drugging me and dragging me off in a twisted, dangerous version of what the teenager had convinced himself was a society prank. I was the only person who understood that we might have been to blame for giving him that impression.*
My hands escaped Jamie’s and twisted around each other in my lap. He noticed, in the way he has of noticing everything.
“Stay here for a while,” he said. “I’ll cook something for you and we can talk. You can ask me all those personal questions you’ve been so relentlessly curious about, and I can . . .” He trailed off.
He could what? Give me a foot massage? Seduce me? Lecture me about the importance of tofu in cuisine? He knew everything about me already. He had exhaustively researched my past when they’d tapped me into Rose & Grave. Scary thought. I’d never before dated a guy who could name all my elementary school teachers, who knew every one of my worst fears and how best to exploit them.
It’s kind of like dating your stalker.
“We’re a little past first-date conversation where I’m concerned,” I said. Of course, back when he’d done all that research, he’d felt nothing for me but contempt. In Jamie’s opinion, I hadn’t been good enough for Rose & Grave. He’d changed his mind now, though. Right?
He cupped my face in his hands and kissed me, and all my fears dissolved. “We’re a little past first dates, too.”< /p>
After dinner, Jamie walked me back to the gates of Prescott College. I swiped my proximity card at the sensor and pulled open the door. “Well,” I said.
He rested his hand on the bars. “Well.” A flash of memory: Jamie gripping these same bars last semester as we shouted at each other. I wouldn’t let him in, and I’d left that evening with George. George, with whom I’d been sleeping in a no-strings-attached affair that now seemed beyond alien. Who was that girl, Amy?
“Come up for a minute,” I went on. “You’ve never seen my suite.”
Here’s something new: When Jamie looks at me now, his eyes, those cold gray eyes of his, almost smile. I didn’t know eyes could do that.
We wandered through the courtyard, which remained mostly devoid of students. Spring Break had come to a shuddering stop as folks drifted back to campus. Some of the windows overlooking the courtyard were illuminated, but the suite I shared with Lydia remained dark.
Jamie caught my hand as I crested the steps to my entryway and tugged me back into his arms.
I laughed inside the kiss. “If this is supposed to demonstrate our new ability to kiss in public, you picked a pretty pathetic venue. No one’s here.”
“Baby steps,” he said, as I unlocked the door to the entryway. As I wrestled with the doorknob to our suite, he nibbled along the neckline of my shirt. I flicked on the lights to the common room, but Jamie showed no interest in our décor; he just pulled me onto his lap on the couch and started kissing me for real.
A moment later, someone cleared a throat.
I looked up to see Lydia and Josh standing in the doorway to her bedroom. The former looked amused, the latter, gobsmacked.
“You’re home!” Lydia said, then looked at Jamie. “And you have a guest.”
I slid off Jamie’s lap and we stood, knees knocking against the coffee table. “Just got home,” I said. “I didn’t realize you were here.”
“Clearly,” my best friend replied, not even trying to hide her glee. She shoved her hand at Jamie. “I’m Lydia, Amy’s roommate.”
“I’ve heard about you,” he said. “Jamie Orcutt.”
“Nice to meet you.”
He then turned to Josh. “Jamie,” he said, and stuck out his hand.
Josh shook himself free from shock. “Um, Josh,” he said, a moment too late, and with a complete lack of believability.
Lydia rolled her eyes at the boys. “Give it a rest, you two. I know where Amy spent her Spring Break. Where else could she have met him?”
Jamie looked at me, eyebrows raised in disapproval. But Lydia wasn’t about to let an opportunity like this pass her up. “So, what college are you in, Jamie?”
“I’m at Eli Law, actually,” he said.
“Oh.” Lydia frowned. “I thought you were a…senior.” Meaningfully.
And now Jamie did smile. “I was a…senior. I graduated.” He looked at me. “Your definition ofsecret differs from most people’s.”
I shrugged. “Some things are impossible to hide.”
“Apparently!” Josh blurted.
Everyone stared at him.
“I guess you want to catch up with your friends,” Jamie said at last. “I have some reading to do, anyway.”
I thought of him walking all the way back to his apartment, alone, in the dark. But what could I do? There was no way I was about to invite him to spend the night. He gave me a quick kiss. “I’ll call you.”
As soon as the door closed, Lydia let out a strangled squeal. “Oh my God, Amy!” she grabbed my hands and led me over to the couch. “That was a boyfriend ‘I’ll call you.’ You have a boyfriend. I leave you alone for a two weeks and you have a boyfriend. And he’s cute! And he’s tall! And he’s at Eli Law, which means he’s brilliant, too! Tell me all about it.”
“Lydia,” Josh said. “Leave her alone. She’s had a traumatic week. She’s not—”
“Thinking clearly?” I finished for him. “Is that your theory?”
Lydia waved her hand at him dismissively. “Shoo. We’re having mushy wushy girl talk now.”
But Josh was not the type who could be shooed. “Who else knows?”
I lifted my chin. “Whoever wants to.” George, to start with, and probably anyone else who’d ridden back to Eli with me in the van. “It’s no secret.” Did Josh expect me to make a formal announcement?
“I want to hear everything!” Lydia pressed. “Did all this happen before or after… you know.”
Before or after I was kidnapped, she means. I wonder what else in my life is going to fall under that particular “before or after.” I don’t want it to be like that.
“We’ve known each other for a while,” I said. “And our feelings just…blossomed.”
“Like fungus off rotted meat?” Josh snarked.
Lydia whirled on him. “Would you get out of here? You’re ruining her story.”
“It’s okay, Lyds,” I said. Josh’s reaction was the one I expected. “We can talk about it later. Tell me all about Spain.”
“Spain was great,” Lydia said. “But I need to hear about your adventures.”
“Specifically, the one where you were almost killed,” Josh added.
Ugh. Maybe I should have gone with Jamie.
Copyright (c) 2009 by Diana Peterfreund.
Frequently Asked Questions
“Is it true that, like, 99% of our presidents were in secret societies?”
I haven’t the foggiest. I believe some of the founding fathers were Freemasons — though according to Wikipedia, John Q. Adams, at least, was a vocal opponent. People love to point out the signs and symbols of Freemasonry in some of the emblems of our country, design of our money, etc. But saying you were in a fraternal order in the 18th century is pretty much like saying you were a member of a certain societal class. And then I bet a huge number of our presidents were in fraternities in college. Or do secret societies with Greek letters not count? Other than that, I know that at least Presidents Taft and both Bushes were in Skull & Bones.
“Why is the Ivy League called the Ivy League, and what is it, exactly?”
The phrase originally referred to only an athletic league, like the “Big Ten” or “Division I” or etc. In fact, it is still used that way: Yale sports teams compete within the Ivy League Conference. The teams included are: Harvard, Princeton, Brown, Columbia, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, and Dartmouth. I have heard two stories: that the term came from the ivy on the college building walls, and that the term is a misprint of the fact that originally there were only four (IV) teams in the league: Yale, Princeton, Columbia, and Rutgers. There were other schools that came in and out over the centuries, like (I think) Bowden. Or maybe Bowden was offered a position in the conference and turned it down? There are a lot of rumors and legends. 😉 At any rate, only later did the term come to mean anything other than an athletic competition.
“Is the conspiracy theory website working again?”
Nope, but it will be when the new site launches! (Note to the uninitiated: I made a web site to match the one that plays a major role in Under the Rose. It’s currently unavailable. I guess the powers that be have more influence than we’d thought!)
Why are your books set at “Eli University” instead of Yale?
Because it’s fiction, and it’s fun to make up names for things. No, seriously. Why does Superman work at The Daily Planet in Metropolis, rather than The Chicago Sun? I think it’s much more rare, in fiction, for writers to talk about real companies. In The Devil Wears Prada, Prada might be real, but Runway magazine is not. I’m not trying to pull anything over on the reader; anyone with eyes can see that Eli is extensively based on Yale. Even the name “Eli” is a shout-out. You’ll note in the books that I never talk about Yale. Yale does not exist in the world of the books. I talk about Princeton, or Harvard, or Stanford, or NYU… but in this world, there is no Yale, no other Ivy League college in New Haven. In its place, there is Eli.
The extra layer of fiction gives me leeway, as an author, to not constantly be worried about literal accuracy. I can change geography or traditions or facts to suit the story, because I’m not talking about a real place. Rose & Grave is not Skull & Bones, but its own secret society, composed of a variety of society traditions drawn from collegiate, professional, fraternal, and religious secret societies. Eli is not Yale, nor is it connected to the Yale Corporation. When I’m talking about deans or professors or leaders of campus organizations or rivalries, it’s not real people or real organizations I’m talking about. I make it all up for the sake of the story.
How many books are there in the secret society girl series?
Four. In order: Secret Society Girl, Under the Rose, Rites of Spring (Break), and Tap & Gown.