Acting Brave (Fenbrook Academy #3)

By: Helena Newbury

Acknowledgments



Thank you to:

Aubrey, Andra, Emily, Julianne and Maria for their feedback.



My awesome street team: Emily, Harman, Heidi, Jasmine, Jodi, Lisa and Solmarie



Phil Marley, Devon Mayson and Harry May for the cover photo



And—as always—Liz, my editor.



But thank you most of all to my readers, who made this series a success.





Prologue



Three Years Ago





Emma





The Greyhound sped through the night; I huddled in my seat and didn’t move.

Firstly, I didn’t want to interact with any of the other passengers: some sleeping, some talking, some drunk. I didn’t want anyone to ask what the matter was. So I stayed still, the hood of my sweatshirt almost hiding my fact, and hunkered down, staring out of the window.

Outside were endless plains—Ohio, I figured, by now. Every mile pushed Chicago a little further behind us, but it was like being an ant crawling away from a huge, hovering foot that could come down and crush me at any time. A mile didn’t make a difference. A thousand miles wouldn’t make a difference. So, secondly, I sat there frozen, sick with fear, waiting for his car to blast past the bus. Even if I didn’t see it happen, I’d still tense up every time we stopped, in case he’d somehow gotten ahead of us and was waiting for me.

But the main reason I didn’t move is that I couldn’t. Twisting shifted my ribs, which I figured were cracked again. Standing meant the bruises on my thighs and ass woke up and started throbbing again, a wash of raw pain that brought tears to me eyes.

So I sat there like a statue and I waited.

And I prayed he’d never find me.



***



All cities are ugly at dawn. The flaws hidden by the night—the drunks and the addicts and the homeless—are still there, but now cruelly exposed. The streets are clogged with overflowing trashcans and the air’s alive with last night’s discarded strip club flyers.

New York was beautiful. In my eyes, there were no flaws. Everything was fresh and clean and new, because I was seventeen hours away from Chicago. I watched the sun turn the windows of skyscrapers into gleaming gold. My own reflection, a slightly top-heavy girl with her red hair pulled back into a ponytail, was barely visible, and I was glad of that.

I had a lot to do. I even had a list. But I allowed myself two indulgences, a little celebration of having made it out. First, a warm sourdough pretzel from a street vendor, together with a cup of coffee that was the best thing I’d tasted in days.

Second, I shouldered my pathetically small backpack and hiked all the way down to Battery Park. I stood and looked out at the Statue of Liberty and, once I’d checked that I was the only person in sight, I did something I hadn’t allowed myself to do for a long time. I cried.



***



The first thing I needed was a place to stay. Chicago had taught me that money can buy anything, if you find the right sort of person. Even in a strange city, my life had attuned me to be able to find them. A sort of homing instinct that took me straight to a seedy motel where there wouldn’t be any questions.

I hadn’t slept for two nights and I was practically hallucinating. But before I crashed out, there was one last thing I had to do. I pulled the Polaroid camera from my backpack and took off all my clothes. And then, using the self-timer, I took photos of everything he’d done to me.



***



In the room, the threadbare curtains safely closed, I opened my backpack and looked underneath the concealing layer of clothes. Six thick rolls of greasy bills. Enough to pay my tuition and rent a place—not a nice place, but a place—for at least a few months, until I could find a job. By September, when the academic year started, I could be all settled in.

You can’t just change your name. You have to alert people by putting your intended change in the local newspapers for a set period of time, so that people can still find you.

I didn’t want anyone to find me.

I knew that I needed to meet with a judge to get a special court order that would allow me to make the change without telling the press, and then seal the order so that no one could find out. To do that, I had to explain why my safety was in danger. And there was no way I was going to tell the truth.

Fortunately, I’d become an excellent liar—or actress, if you prefer. It’s basically the same thing.

First, know your audience. The judge, sitting slightly impatiently in his book-lined chambers, looked to be in his sixties. The photos on his desk told me he had children and grandchildren. The dusty computer and the overworked assistant told me he didn’t like technology. A family man, then, and a traditionalist. He’d have strong views, which would make it easier.

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