“My father made me swear not to tell you anything,” she said, sounding miserable. “It didn’t seem like we were doing anything so terribly wrong at first. We were just getting you away from Grace and being friendly. I told myself there was no harm in it. But then Ethan started flirting, and I realized there was more to the plan than just being ‘friendly.’”

My throat ached. “Yeah, because why else would a guy like him give a girl like me a second glance?” I asked, and I almost winced at the bitterness in my voice. I reminded myself for the millionth time that I’d known from the start that Ethan’s interest was too good to be true.

Kimber’s eyes widened. “That’s not what I meant!”

“Isn’t it? Because I can’t imagine how else you’d have been so sure it was all some part of this big conspiracy of yours.”

Kimber sank down onto the couch, and she looked so hurt it was hard to remember the ice princess I’d first met. “That’s not it at all,” she said, and I could have sworn she was fighting tears. “It’s just that I’m a cynic, and it was too … convenient that he ‘just happened’ to fall for you under the circumstances.”

I let out a heavy sigh. “From one cynic to another, tell me why I should believe anything you say?”

She looked up at me, and there was a shimmer of tears in those lovely eyes of hers. “I can’t think of one good reason why you’d believe me,” she said with a sniffle. “But I wish you would anyway. I hated having to lie to you, but my dad would have been so furious with me if I disobeyed him. … Ethan can do no wrong in his eyes, but I’m a different story.”

“You told me my dad was still in jail when you knew he was already out.”

She nodded. “It’s what my father told me to say. I argued with him about it. You were bound to find out eventually that we’d lied, and I told him it would undo any good impression we might have made. But he wouldn’t listen to me.” A single tear leaked from the corner of her eye, and she brushed it away.

“Sorry,” she said with another sniffle. “I have no right to cry when you’re the one who got hurt.”

But it was clear that being stuck in the middle had hurt Kimber plenty, too. “You get brownie points for trying to warn me about Ethan, at least,” I told her. And, while she’d betrayed my trust by lying about my father, I couldn’t help remembering the way she’d calmly accepted what I considered to be my shameful secret.

I didn’t want to lose her, I realized with a start. The lie was going to be a sore spot between us for who knew how long, but I didn’t know how I could survive in Avalon without a friend.

My decision made, I met her eyes. “If you promise never to lie to me again, then maybe we can kinda start over.”

She gave me a wide-eyed, hopeful look. “Really?”

“We can give it a shot.”

Her smile was positively brilliant, and there was no missing the relief in her eyes. “Thanks for giving me a second chance,” she said, then startled me by giving me an exuberant hug. She sobered a bit when she let go. “I’d better get out of here before your dad comes home. He might not be too happy to see me right now.”

I hoped Dad wouldn’t be a problem. He’d told me he wouldn’t stop me from talking to Ethan, even though he didn’t approve, which seemed like a good sign.

“Are you doing anything tomorrow?” I asked. “Because I tried to do some shopping today, and it wasn’t much fun on my own.”

Her eyes lit up. “Ooh! Shopping is one of my favorite things. And I can take you to all of the best boutiques.”

“I’m sure we’ll have Finn looking over our shoulders the whole time,” I warned.

She grinned wickedly. “And this would be a bad thing?” she teased. “I got a good look at him before he let me in, and all I can say is, yum!”

“He looks less ‘yum’ and more ‘yikes’ when he’s in Secret Service Man mode,” I warned.

Kimber’s grin was undiminished. “All the better. He can be our little secret.”

A weight lifted off my shoulders as I grinned back at her.

My dad didn’t come home until after seven, by which time my lunch had long been burned out of my system. In other words, I was starving. I’d assumed he’d take me out to dinner, but I wasn’t at all disappointed when I came downstairs and discovered he’d brought Chinese takeout. Yay! I’d get to eat sooner.

There wasn’t actually a dining room in my dad’s house, but he did have a small round table with two chairs hiding in one corner, and that’s where we ate. Finn had left as soon as Dad got home, so it was just the two of us. I thought it was kind of cozy, almost homelike. Until Dad started talking.

“So Finn tells me you ran into Ethan this afternoon,” he said, and the food turned to ashes in my mouth.

I swallowed, then mentally gave myself a kick in the rear. I should have known Finn would give Dad a full report, especially when Ethan made such a big deal about having something important to tell me. I should have spent some time this afternoon deciding what I was going to say to my dad—I was afraid a death threat would make me into even more of a prisoner than I already was—but of course I hadn’t wanted to think about it.

“Yeah,” I said, trying to sound casual as I shoved another bite of sweet-and-sour chicken into my mouth. It still tasted like ashes, but as long as I was chewing, I couldn’t be expected to talk.