Turning happily on my heels, I head out onto the skybridge. Besides, Ethan definitely likes Jess. I can tell by the way I caught him looking at me while I was posing for pictures with a seven-year-old Carmindor, the softness of his gaze, the curl of his lips upward ever so slightly. He must’ve forgotten for a second that I wasn’t the real Jess. Those looks are probably only for her.

That makes me strangely bitter, and I’m not sure why.

He’s right about the paparazzi, however. They’re waiting on the skybridge when I get there and attempt to ask me questions, but I ignore them and walk into the hotel lobby. Are they going to follow me all the way up to the room?

But then a tall, broad black man steps between me and the two trailing paps. In a deep rumble of a voice he asks them to leave. They begin to give him trouble until they see the PRIVATE STAR SECURITY patch on his shirt; then they do a quick U-turn out of the lobby.

“They giving you trouble, Miss Stone?” he asks, as if I’m supposed to know this towering goliath of a man.

I open my mouth, close it, open it again.

I’m saved, thankfully, by a familiar voice. “Hey, Lonny!” Darien calls. “Sorry it took us so long. Elle didn’t know what color Converses to wear.”

He and his girlfriend, Elle Wittimer, cross the lobby when Darien recognizes me with a soft smile. “Hey! Nice to see you again. This is my friend, Lonny Johnson, head of Private Star Security,” he says, motioning to the muscular man. “He’s the one in charge of ExcelsiCon’s security this year. I probably owe my life to him a few times over. He used to be my bodyguard.”

“Still miss it sometimes,” Lonny replies.


“No.” The big guy checks his watch. “And we’re going to be late if we don’t get going. Antonio will kill me if I miss dinner again.”

Elle laughs. She is really pretty—those online smear campaigns lied about absolutely everything. Her hair is box-dyed the perfect shade of Amara red, and her eyes are hazel behind clear glasses. She’s wearing a subtle Starfield T-shirt dress and sparkly Converses. She looks over at me and says, “Would you want to come?”

Yes. But then I remember Vance Reigns asking me to dinner, and it feels like the Hulk has split me in half. Starflame, I wish I had a body double right now.

I put on a plastic smile. “Oh, no, I can’t,” I tell her, trying not to sound like part of my soul has been ripped out of my body. “Thank you, though.”

“You can always call if you change your mind,” Darien replies, folding his fingers through Elle’s, and they follow Lonny out of the hotel and onto the Atlanta street, where they get into a black car and drive away.

I stand there, wishing I’d gone with them and simultaneously missing Milo and Bran—and Harper. I’ve known Harper for years on the internet and what do I do? Let Jess pretend to be me and meet her IRL. I hope Jess didn’t bungle it. I hope Harper doesn’t hate her—um, me. They’ll be going to the Stellar Party tonight, and I wish I could go.

But you have that rad date with Vance, I remind myself. Even though I don’t know how to contact him. Could he just call the hotel phone? Yeah, surely.


I force a pep back into my step, telling myself that I’m coming down with a case of the con crud; it’s not that I’m missing my friends and having massive FOMO while I dig around my purse for my keycard. It’s fine. I’ll just go back to my room and, I don’t know, watch episodes of Starfield? Browse Tumblr’s #sheith and #carmindeuci tags? Play Pokémon Go! around the lobby? I have a few lures left…

I press the button to summon the elevator and glance down at my phone. Nothing. I thought someone would’ve texted me today at least. The #SaveAmara tags are old. No one is talking about it right now.

I make it back to my room, plop down on the bed, and stare at the hotel phone. Vance will call me. Yeah.

I know he will.

THE PARTY IS…NOT WHAT I EXPECTED. I’m not sure what I was thinking when I agreed to go with Harper, but it definitely didn’t involve a gender-bent Elsa and Captain Marvel rapping to the Pokémon rap, or a green-haired fashion designer and her girlfriend modeling cosplay on a wiener dog. Sure, I thought someone would be singing “I’m Looking for a Hero” while everyone else tried to ignore them, but this is different.

There isn’t a bouncer at the door or a DJ spinning sick tunes. There aren’t fancy shrimp cocktails or caviar toasts making the rounds on platters balanced by dour-looking servers. This party is in a hotel suite—I don’t know whose, but hopefully it’s someone Harper knows—with about twenty people. There’s colorful ribbons strung across the walls and plastic wrap over the lights to make them different colors and glowsticks hanging from the ceiling. One of the lamps has been replaced by a blacklight that makes my shoestrings glow, and on the kitchenette bar is a wall of liquor bottles and sodas.

I’m not old enough to drink, I think, and then I realize that neither is anyone else.

This isn’t a party so much as a gathering of friends, and I know absolutely no one. Harper invited me but we’re not really friends, and I’m praying that none of these people know Imogen.

I am incredibly out of my element.

If I would’ve told my morning self that I’d be going to a con party that evening, I would have laughed. I can’t remember the last time I went to a party that wasn’t black-dress or cocktail appropriate. Or a party where I wasn’t expected to be Jessica Stone, hugging the arm of some up-and-coming star to bolster his fame (and perhaps his ego). Or the last pool I floated in where I didn’t have to suck in my stomach or make connections over finger foods or dodge paparazzi on the way out.

This feels like…a dream. Whether it’s a good or a bad one, I honestly have no idea.

My phone vibrates in my back pocket, and I look at the name. Ethan. Probably to ask what I’m doing, whether I’d lost a screw, what my plan was, why I shouldn’t do this—and maybe if I answer him, I won’t regret this later.

Will I regret this later?

Harper turns to me and arches a single eyebrow—why is she so good at that? It’s a look that makes gooseflesh ripple across my skin. I want to study it. I want to trace the curve of her brow and the slight uptick of her mouth.

She is curious, and I am Alice falling into the rabbit hole.

“You look like you’ve never been to a party before.” She leans against my ear to be heard above the ear-bleeding karaoke. “Relax, you’re with friends.”

“My friends?” I ask, trying not to sound too alarmed.

She shrugs. “Maybe? Were you in the Carminara circle on Tumblr?”

“That still sounds like an Italian recipe to me.”

She giggles, and her breath across the small hairs on the back of my neck sends a shiver down my spine. “Come on, let me introduce you.”

“No need to introduce me, I already met her,” interjects a soft voice, the timbre warm and rich, and a young man steps up to greet us. Oh, no. Pointed witch’s hat. Umbrella. Long flowing red robe. His hair is painted now with a shock of gold that accentuates his ebony skin. He was with the beefcake earlier. The one who thought I was Imogen.

Oh no.

He outstretches a hand. “But we didn’t have a chance to trade names. Bran.”

I accept it with a little hesitation. What do I say?

What can I say?

“This is Imogen,” Harper fills in.

He cocks his head a little, and then smiles, as if he knows my secret. No, he does know my secret. “Hey, babe,” he calls behind him to the muscular guy—the one who called me Monster. The room is beginning to spiral. “Your sister’s here—”

“Brother!” I cry forcefully, taking Bran’s shoulder to force him around as I go to greet the tall guy. This is Imogen’s brother?

I shepherd both guys into one of the back bedrooms and slam the door.

Bran pushes his hat out of his face and sips loudly from his SOLO cup. Not the red plastic kind, but a SOLO movie cup, with Alden Ehrenreich’s and Chewbacca’s faces on the front.

I exhale a calming breath and try to explain: “Look, I’m filling in for your sister while she does something for me, okay? Can you two play along?”

Bran and Beefcake exchange the same look, and then Beefcake says, “You didn’t murder her, did you?”

“What? No. Why would I—”

“Because that would be really uncool.”

“I didn’t murder her,” I reinforce, “but I will murder you two if you blow my cover.” I give Beefcake another look. “Or try to. Listen, just trust me and play along, okay?”

“Then what’s my sister doing for you?”

Ah. Of course he would ask that. I try to think up a good excuse, but I’m running on four hours of sleep and am lacking all creativity. They’d probably see through it, anyway, and then text Imogen to get the real story.

Defeated, I pull off my beanie and glasses. “I’m Jessica Stone.”

Bran whistles low. “Have you been rehearsing that?”


They exchange another look before Beefcake says, “We kinda knew who you were since our run-in earlier. I mean, the glasses and beanie obviously work, but I know Monster. She’s my sister. And she definitely doesn’t wear glasses. But she does look a lot like you.”