“Or if we are successful young, it’s through a fluke or luck or happenstance and not hard work—and yeah, some of it is luck or a fluke, but not all of it. You have to have at least a little talent, too.”

“Unless you’re a Kardashian,” Harper deadpans.

I snort, having met the youngest of them. “I’ll have a Diet Coke if you have one?” I say instead.

She hands me one from the minifridge. The coffeemaker begins to hum and drip hot water into the pot. She tears open the noodle cups and picks out chopsticks and a plastic fork from her bag, arranging them on the table in front of me. She’s so thorough. I could watch her for hours.

I pick up a teal teddy bear, one of its eyes missing.

“Oh, that’s November. I never go anywhere without him,” she says. “He’s my travel companion.”

“We always need one of those. Mine’s—” I catch myself before I say Ethan, because Imogen doesn’t have Ethan, Jess has Ethan. “Mine’s a good book,” I finish lamely.

She laughs. “Different ones or the same?”

“Same. It’s my favorite. Dog-eared and spine cracked. What kind of books do you read?”

“Manga mostly, some French comics. There are some great webcomics out there—I’m also a sucker for a fanfic. There’s this one General Sond fanfic that I shouldn’t like but starflame do I ever. The author, ThornyRose, is ridiculously good.”

“I can’t say I read much fanfic.”

“Really? I could’ve sworn you said you read her.”

“I mean, not lately,” I quickly deflect. “I’ve been busy, you know. With the Save Amara stuff. Do you always bring ramen to the con?” I try to change the course of the conversation, shifting uncomfortably on the edge of the bed.

Harper laughs. She didn’t notice. Good. “Do I ever! Con food is way too pricey, and I’m a poor starving artist so I don’t have money for all the fancy restaurants around here. My friends say I make the best hotel ramen in the world, and I had promised you I’d make it for you if we ever met in person, and here we are.”

“Here we are,” I echo distantly, trying not to feel upset that it wasn’t a promise made to me, but to Imogen. Why am I upset over something like that? I try to wrestle control of my feelings. I am a professional actress. I’m fine. “You know, that’s pretty high praise. I’ve had a lot of good ramen.”

She holds up a finger. “But you’ve never had my ramen. Passed down from coupon-savvy Hart to Hart, we have perfected the art of the ninety-nine-cent ramen. Observe!”

With a flourish, she takes the carafe and pours steaming water into both cups, closes the lids, and puts our chopsticks on top to keep them down. Then she sets her phone timer for seven minutes.

“Seven minutes in heaven,” I murmur aloud. Aloud. I slap my hands over my mouth, mortified. “I didn’t, that wasn’t what I—”

Harper laughs, and her eyes crinkle, and my heart flutters. “It’d definitely kill some time.”

I can feel my ears getting red, heat and mortification rushing to them. “I—I didn’t mean it. That just reminded me, is all.”

She tilts her head. “My first kiss was a seven-minutes-in-heaven thing. I was at a birthday party in middle school. It was…terrible.”

“My first kiss was…” On the set of Huntress Rising, but I can’t tell her that. “He was older and I was, like, fifteen. His stubble was scratchy and it gave me a rash—and he smelled like weed. He’d been smoking all day.”

“Ugh, that sounds awful.”

I look down at my hands, picking at the cuticle on my thumb. “It definitely wasn’t what I had in mind for a first kiss.” But it was my job, and I didn’t have a choice. That I chose not to tell Harper. “It doesn’t really matter. I’ve had a few good kisses since then.” Including Dare. He was one of the better ones, actually.

Harper tilts her head when she looks at me. “You know, Imogen, you’re nothing like how you act online.”

My heart jumps. Oh no. “How so?”

“You’re just not,” she says as she sits down beside me, folding one leg under the other. She smells like lilac body lotion, and I try not to breathe too deep and drown in it. “It’s almost like you’re a different person.”

“Maybe I am.”

And she smiles at that, because she thinks I’m being coy.

I swallow, staring into her dark eyes, the color of angry clouds and midnight skies, and I find myself threateningly close to liking them a little too much. I shake myself out of it and clear my throat, averting my gaze to the cup of noodles. “So, why seven minutes?”

“Because ramen is best al dente,” she notes, still giving me the same look that makes my skin hot and cold at the same time, “and seven minutes is the perfect amount of time. What would you do in seven minutes?”

“In heaven, or here?”

She grins. “Here.”

Oh—oh I am in trouble.

Because I think I have a crush on this girl with curly dark hair and ink smudges on her brown fingers and trouble tucked into her maroon-colored lips.

Her cell phone beeps. The seven minutes are up. She takes off the lids and stirs the noodles with her chopsticks, and I do the same.

“Bon appétit,” she says.

MY RELATIONSHIP WITH He-Who-Will-Not-Be-Named ended this way:

He didn’t call, he didn’t text, he didn’t even say, “Sorry, babe! I lost my keycard and got stuck in an elevator and I had to fight off some Hydra agents with nothing but a shield and my superior good looks!” Although we both know I wouldn’t have believed him. The point is, Jasper didn’t even make the effort to do any of those things. He just didn’t show. He ghosted me hard—and I don’t think he even felt bad doing it.

I hate it.

I think what I hate more, though, is that I’m lying here on the soft carpeted floor of Jessica Stone’s hotel suite, looking at the clock on the nightstand as it turns ten o’clock.

Screw it, I think as I push myself up and onto my feet. I’m not going to stay in here.

I want to say I don’t feel super incredibly foolish that Vance hasn’t called but…I do. Of course he wouldn’t call. He has better things to do, with parties to go to and hot people to meet, and I was that lousy girl who fell for his I’ll call you later?


I’m so freaking mad at myself I could cry. Because a part of me knows that I’m here in this suite because Jess told me I couldn’t be anywhere else, and the only other place I could be, as myself, is with my moms down the hall as they do their nightly unwind with wine and Buffy, or with my brother down at the Stellar Party…

Grabbing my Converses out of my bag, I put them on, grab the keycard so I can get back in later, and leave the room. I’m not supposed to go out because I still look like Jess. I haven’t taken the wig off, and my eyeliner is on point, but I don’t want to be in here, either, waiting for Ethan to come back. It’s been three hours.

He’s probably with Jess.

I don’t really know where I’m going, but I avoid as many people as possible as I head through the hallway. Music pulses from the rooms with the parties, rattling the light fixtures on the walls. I pass hotel rooms hosting old-school LAN competitions, fan meetups, and revelries with no theme at all. I quickly duck away from them—but not fast enough.

“Hey, Jessica!” someone shouts.

I glance over my shoulder, but I can’t tell who’s calling Jess’s name, and I don’t want to know either. Whoever it is, it can’t be anyone I should talk to.

So I dodge around the corner, into the emergency stairwell and out through another door. It leads to the rooftop pool a few stories below Jessica’s hotel suite. It’s not actually on the rooftop—which is still a few floors above me—but it is on a rooftop, I suppose. It closed at ten o’clock, so the place is quiet.

I can barely hear the traffic in the streets way down below.

Even in Jessica Stone’s makeup and clothes, I have the baggage of Imogen Lovelace underneath, and there is still that little voice in my head telling me that I am nothing, that I’m just someone in Milo’s shadow who won’t amount to much—and everyone else already knows it but me.

I don’t want to listen to that voice.

Especially now, when it’s closer than ever to being right. Because General Sond is the next villain.

Because no one cares about Amara. Not really.

Shut up shut up shut up! I say to that disembodied voice.

Even as Jessica, I can’t seem to get Imogen out of my head. The highs from earlier are a dull throb in the back of my memories. How come the negative thoughts sound so much louder than the good ones?

With an aggravated noise, I wrench off my wig, tossing it behind a planter with my keycard, slip off my shoes, and run toward the pool.

The water is fresh and cool, and it shocks all the thoughts out of me—my mind is finally, miraculously void of everything. I swim a lap, letting Jess’s designer dress tangle around my legs. It’s a salt-water pool, so I know it won’t get ruined. I just needed to swim.