A dark, moody, boarding-school murder mystery teens won’t be able to put down.
Katie never thought she’d be the girl with the popular boyfriend. She also never thought he would cheat on her—but the proof is in the photo that people at their boarding school can’t stop talking about. Mark swears he doesn’t remember anything. But Rose, the girl in the photo, is missing, and Mark is in big trouble. Because it looks like Rose isn’t just gone . . . she’s dead.
Maybe Mark was stupid, but that doesn’t mean he’s a killer.
Katie needs to find out what really happened, and her digging turns up more than she bargained for, not just about Mark but about someone she loves like a sister: Tessa, her best friend. At Whitney Prep, it’s easy to keep secrets . . . especially the cold-blooded kind.
“I’ll read anything by Susan McBride.” —#1 New York Times bestselling author Charlaine Harris
People are saying GOOD THINGS about VERY BAD THINGS . . .
“A compelling mystery that will suck readers in and keep them turning the pages to reach the exciting conclusion.” —Joelle Charbonneau, New York Times bestselling author of The Testing
"Fans of the Pretty Little Liars series will appreciate the high drama and plot twists."—School Library Journal
"Fast-paced, well-crafted . . . this will be a popular book."—VOYA
“A white-knuckled climax.”—Booklist
“An eerie psychodrama.”—The Bulletin of the Center for Children’s Books
“The venerable yet sinister school, complete with a web of subterranean steam tunnels, is as absorbing as the tightly wound mystery.”—Publishers Weekly
An Excerpt fromVery Bad Things
“ ‘The moon is distant from the sea, and yet with amber hands, she leads him, docile as a boy, along appointed sands. . . .’ ”
Katie Barton stopped. “C’mon, think,” she told herself. She had to recite the Emily Dickinson poem for a lit class the next morning. It was almost midnight, and she was having a hard time staying awake. Her brain felt like mush. She wished she’d smuggled in some coffee, even if it was the rank stuff from the cafeteria. Trying hard to focus, she squinted at the sputtering light over the metal desk, buried in the midst of the library’s upper stacks.
The stained-glass windows above the bookshelves had gone dark hours ago. The Whitney Prep library stayed open till midnight during midterms, and Katie was often the last one out the doors. She’d tried to study in her dorm, but she couldn’t escape the noisy girls at Amelia House. Besides, she liked the quiet and the smell of dusty old books.
It’s hopeless, she thought, and laid her head on her arms, closing her eyes. Forget Emily Dickinson.
Instead, she pictured the big grin on Mark’s face when the hockey team had clinched a spot in the state championship. He’d grabbed her hard and kissed her right in front of all of Whitney. “I’m the king of the world!” he’d said, and laughed. Katie had gotten chills. She was almost afraid someone would pinch her and she’d realize she had imagined it. Everything about being with Mark felt too good to be true. When it was still pitch-dark this morning, he’d texted her to meet him behind her dorm. Despite the risk of getting caught, Katie had snuck out. They’d huddled together on the bench in the shadow of Amelia House, shivering as they’d held on to each other. For a few hours, they’d whispered and kissed until the sky was streaked with pink.
It was no wonder she was so tired. She could hardly keep her eyes open. . . .
Did someone say her name? The floor made the tiniest creak, creak.
“Mark?” she said groggily.
The soft tread on the old floors stopped. She heard quiet breaths behind her. Then something brushed her hair with the lightness of a moth. She jerked around in her chair, her heart thudding.
Katie blinked into the darkness, hearing hushed footsteps, as if a mouse were scurrying across the wood. The bulb above the desk flickered and dimmed. She touched the pad of her laptop, waking up the screen to give herself more light, but her cozy niche in the stacks was still cloaked in shadows. She peered around, sure that someone else was there.
“Mrs. Ticknor?” she said. Only she didn’t detect the librarian’s telltale lavender perfume. She thought she smelled roses.
I’m so exhausted, I’m hallucinating, she told herself.
Or else she’d briefly dreamed that dream again, the one that always felt so real.
The hairs on her neck prickled. She reached down for her book bag, but instead of canvas, her fingertips touched something both silky soft and sharp enough to pierce her skin.
“Oh!” She drew her finger to her mouth, tasting blood.
Petals and thorns.
Her pulse thudded in her ears as she retrieved a rose from the floor. Its stem was freshly clipped, the petals damp. Suddenly, she was wide awake.
“Who’s there?” she asked the shadows, heart slapping hard against her ribs. “Tessa?” She said her roommate’s name. “Quit messing with me. It’s not funny!”
Katie waited for laughter, but there was none.
She thought she saw something pale move in the dark, and she dropped the rose. She snatched up her things and shoved them into her bag. Pushing back her chair, she ran through the dimly lit aisles.
Halfway down the stairs, she bumped into Mrs. Ticknor. “Oh, good, Miss Barton!” The librarian’s heavy perfume enveloped Katie in a lavender cloud. “I was just coming up to find you. The library’s closing, and you’re the last one here.”
“No.” Katie shook her head. “Someone else was in the stacks.”
“That’s not possible,” Mrs. Ticknor said, and gave her a funny look. “It’s just you and me--”
But Katie was already on her way out the door.
The glow from her iPhone screen lit a spark in the dark as Katie read the message one more time. “I love you, too,” she whispered, figuring she’d spoken too softly to be heard. But her roommate had bat ears.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake,” Tessa Lupinski grumbled from the other bed, and Katie let the screen go black. “Would you just call the guy and get it over with?”
“I can’t.” Katie sighed.
“Then go to sleep!” Tessa replied. “You should be counting sheep, not texting sappy love notes.” She cleared her throat. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways! Do I love thee more than a slap shot? Nay, a power-play goal, or a cross-check?”
“Stop.” Katie tried not to laugh.
“No,” Katie said, though she wanted to. “It’s after one. He’s probably gone to bed.”
“Ha!” Tessa snorted. “You know he’s still partying with the hockey jocks in the headmaster’s house.” Then she added in a singsong voice, “While the headmaster’s away, his son’s Neanderthal friends will play. Isn’t that how it goes?”
“They’re just pumped about going to state.” Katie glanced at her phone again. “Mark’s dad is in Chicago till tomorrow, and even the maid’s off. The house is totally empty. It’s not like they’ll get busted.”
“Really? I’m sure the rowing team thought the same thing when they partied in the boathouse last fall. I don’t think getting stoned and taking out the boats bare-assed has ever been an approved activity in the Whitney rule book.”
Someone had posted pictures online, and even the Barnard Gazette had gotten wind of it. The headmaster hadn’t been any more pleased about that than the rowing team’s angry parents.
Tessa snickered. “Not exactly what Ivy League schools want to discuss in admissions interviews.”
Katie rolled her eyes. “No one’s going to get Mark in trouble.”
“You think he’s too big to fail?”
“Way too big,” Katie said, because it was true.
Mark Summers wasn’t just the star center on the Whitney Prep hockey team--the keystone of the Soaring Eagles’ athletic program--he was also the son of Dr. Gregory Summers, the headmaster of Whitney Preparatory Academy. Summers raised millions for the school, traveling across the country and abroad to visit blue-blooded alums. No one was going to mess with him or his son. So if anyone ratted out Mark about the hockey club drinking at the headmaster’s house, it wouldn’t be her boyfriend who would suffer. Mark could get away with murder at Whitney.
“I hate that,” Tessa groaned, as if reading her mind.
“That the rich are different. If we broke the rules, we’d be out on our butts.”
“Which is why we’re the last ones out of the library during exams,” Katie said, thinking of the night during midterms two weeks ago when someone had left her a rose in the stacks. She’d never said anything to Tessa. She still wondered if her roommate had been screwing with her. She’d once told Tessa about her weird dream, and Tessa had given her a look and told her to lay off the Mountain Dew before bedtime. No, if Tessa had crept into the library with the rose, she would have fessed up already, making a crack about how fast Katie had fled the stacks. So Katie had convinced herself that Mark had bribed a freshman to bring her the flower. When they’d first gotten together, he’d given her a rose, cutting it off the rosebush himself. Maybe he just wanted to remind her of that. She wanted to believe it was that.
“Do you ever feel like Mark hooked up with you because you’re everything he’s not?” Tessa said out of the blue. “I mean, he’s had his whole life handed to him on a silver platter, and he was dating that bitch Joelle Needham before you. What if he thought it’d be fun to go slumming?”
“Thanks for that,” Katie muttered. It was annoying how Tessa always went back to the same place.
“You know what I mean.”
Yeah, she knew, because she’d had her own doubts about Mark at first. But she didn’t anymore. She hated that Tessa wouldn’t let her forget how insecure she’d been.
Katie lay still, biting her lip to keep from saying something she’d regret. She knew that her relationship with Mark made Tessa feel left out. Before Mark, she and Tessa had been inseparable. But it had been different these past few months since Katie and Mark had gotten together. Katie couldn’t hide the fact that she’d rather be with Mark than anyone else. It was no wonder that Tessa felt hurt.
She chose her words carefully. “No one’s forcing Mark to be with me. If I wasn’t what he wanted, I couldn’t stop him from dumping me like he dropped Joelle when she cheated on him.”
“You can sound all casual about it,” Tessa said through the dark, “but if he broke up with you, you’d die and you know it.”
Katie wanted to deny it, but Tessa was right.
Mark was special. He was the guy all the girls drooled over and all the guys wanted to be. Which is why Katie had been stunned to see him standing in the back of the room at a poetry slam she’d helped organize in January. She remembered his eyes on her when she’d gotten up to read; how her hands had sweated so much that when she’d passed the microphone to Bea Lively, Bea had wiped it on her jeans. Afterward, Mark had hung around, asking if she wanted to grab coffee at the student center. Katie had babbled like an idiot the whole time. But Mark didn’t seem to mind. They actually had a lot in common. They’d both lost a parent--Katie’s dad had died when she was twelve and Mark’s mom had walked out when he was a little kid. They’d met up again for coffee after that and then for a late-night showing of Psycho in the school auditorium, where he’d first put his arm around her. Katie had tried to keep it from Tessa, knowing she’d doubt Mark’s motives. But it was hard to keep anything from her roommate. “All guys like him want is sex,” Tessa had said the minute she found out.
“That’s not true,” Katie had defended him, because she didn’t believe it. Mark didn’t pressure her. He was actually really romantic. He sent her sweet texts just to say “i miss u.” They took walks in the woods, holding hands and talking about everything under the sun. He’d even snuck her into the school’s ice rink after hours. He’d helped her lace up her skates and held her up while she slipped and slid across the ice, giggling all the while.
Just last month, they were in the media room of the headmaster’s house, watching a movie on the wide-screen. Mark had brought out a silver flask. “This is what fifty-year-old whiskey tastes like,” he’d said, laughing when Katie had taken her first sip and winced. They’d passed it back and forth for a while (well, Katie had mostly passed it back); then Mark had looked her in the eye and asked, “Do you trust me?” When she’d answered, “Yes,” he’d retrieved a flashlight and taken her hand, leading her into the unfinished part of the basement where there was a door marked machine room--do not enter. Inside, it was filled with dusty old water tanks and an ancient boiler. “Follow me,” Mark had said, going around the boiler and pushing aside an old grate. Then he’d ducked through a hole in the wall. “C’mon,” he’d said, extending his hand to her. “I’ll take care of you.”
Katie wasn’t sure what she was doing. Her heart was beating so wildly she couldn’t think straight. She hadn’t sipped enough whiskey to be drunk, but she felt amped up and giddy. Wasn’t just being with Mark taking a risk? Every time she was with him, she fell harder. Who could say he wouldn’t break her heart? She’d been so buttoned-up since she’d come to Whitney, so afraid of letting herself actually feel anything since her dad had passed away. Maybe it was time she took a bigger leap of faith.
“Okay,” she said, and took his hand, bending down to enter the hole after him. Her feet stumbled over loose mortar, and she breathed in air that smelled stale, like it had been cut off from the outside for a very long time. “What is this place?”
“It’s a secret,” Mark said, drawing her along with him. The beam from the flashlight guided them as they slipped through the old steam tunnels that connected the buildings beneath the campus. “I used to hide down here a lot.” He showed her a storage room cluttered with chalkboards, rolls of yellowed paper, textbooks, and wooden desks from another century. “I was eight when my dad took over at Whitney, after my mom left us. She cheated on him with a student at the college where he was dean,” Mark had admitted. His voice was a little slurred from the whiskey but not enough to hide the bitterness. “There were times when he’d drink too much and get angry.”
“Did he ever hurt you?” Katie had asked.
Mark had shrugged. “He’d scream and punch holes in the walls, that kind of thing. Now he’s just sad. He still misses her, even after everything.”
“I shut down after my dad died when I was twelve. It hurt so bad that I didn’t want to feel anything at all,” Katie had said before she could stop herself. Mark’s confession had struck a chord, and she felt even more connected. “It was like he’d walked out on us, and I guess that’s what he did. He just bailed instead of sticking around to deal with the bad stuff, like we would’ve loved him less because he’d screwed up.”
“I’m sorry.” Mark had sighed and held her hand more tightly. “That sucks.”
“Yeah, it does.”
For a long moment, they’d stood there, fingers entwined, saying nothing.
Then Mark had cleared his throat. “C’mon, let’s go.”
Before Katie knew it, he’d taken her deeper and deeper into the tunnels. Some places were so tight they practically had to crawl on hands and knees. But in the end, where he’d led her was worth it.
He shut off the flashlight and pushed open a grate above them. He helped Katie up through it before climbing after her into the very warm room dappled with moonbeams. The air was heavy with the earthy scent of moss and flowers.
“Are we on another planet?” she joked.
“Almost. We’re in the greenhouse.” Mark drew her deep into the rows of plants, leaves brushing her face as they walked, until they were surrounded by blooming rosebushes. It was like finding paradise at the tail end of winter.
“Do you bring all your girlfriends here?” Katie said, only half teasing.