It’s time for a different kind of Cinderella story. That’s what author Sara Shepard will bring later this year with Wait for Me. The upcoming YA book from the author best known for the Pretty Little Liars series focuses on Casey Rhodes. Casey… has some unusual things going on. For example, she’s hearing voices in her head that are not her own. Nerdist has the exclusive cover reveal for Wait for Me, and it reflects Casey’s uncertainties.
Here’s Wait for Me‘s synopsis:
Who is Casey Rhodes? Is she a no-nonsense realist or a hopeless romantic? A just-getting-by scholarship student or a sometimes-Cinderella dating the cool, cultured heir to a media empire and New York City’s most eligible? At seventeen years old and already in her sophomore year at NYU, Casey sheds disguises effortlessly. It’s how she navigates school and avoids the second-guessing that’s plagued her since she and her boyfriend Marcus got together.
But then Casey starts hearing voices that terrify her so badly she flees to the remote beach town of Avon where she can sort through her thoughts and reset. But the voices only get more intense and are now accompanied by visions of places she’s never been and people she’s never met, like Jake who’s lived in Avon his whole life. There’s no way Casey could know him, yet she feels an immediate connection. And, crazier still: he feels it too. Together they search for answers, finding only questions—about their connection, Avon, Casey’s memories . . . And whose voice is she hearing inside her head?
In addition to the Wait for Me cover, we also have an excerpt from the beginning of the thriller.
I wear many disguises. Minimalist ones, street-cool graffitied ones, and ones you’d find in a steamer trunk, carefully preserved. People might see my disguises as near copies of one another, just a tiny detail demarcating one from the next, but for me, each costume is a different Casey Rhodes for a different situation.
I’m studious, should-still-be-in-high-school Casey costume as I attend my fourth upperclassmen-level course of the day at New York University. I’m savvy, born-and-bred Brooklyner Casey who has no qualms about calling out the ogling pervert on the N train. And, since the most eligible nineteen-year-old guy in New York City has become my boyfriend, I’ve had to bust out a few new disguises. Cultured Casey, who’s perfectly comfortable letting my boyfriend’s doorman snag her a cab. Smug(ish) Uptown Casey who’s trying not to wince in the slightly-too-small Prada heels she bought on consignment but look almost new.
I wear disguises because, for as long as I can remember, I’ve felt it easier to be a character than my true, vulnerable self. Maybe everyone feels this way . . . at least a little. For me, the only way I can tamp it down my anxiety of living in the world is to put myself behind a mask. It’s gotten me through seventeen years. I must be doing something right.
Today, there’s a new disguise I’m wearing as I’m heading toward the Metropolitan Opera where I’m meeting Marcus. This version of me is the most valuable in my costume collection—and the trickiest to pull off. This Casey disguise is the most confident and refined, one that screams, I’m the Casey Who Deserves Things. I’m the Casey Who Belongs. In this case, the disguise isn’t just metaphorical, it’s a literal one, too. I’ve got on a beautiful, silk, silver-colored gown with a halter neck, tall velvet heels, and I’m holding a small, beaded clutch purse. My dark hair is curled down my back. I spent hours on my makeup. What I am wearing on my body, at present, is probably worth more than the amount in my bank account. All of it is my armor.
“Gimme your location,” my friend and roommate, Pippa, says breathlessly through the phone. She’s called me for the play-by-play. “How close are you?”
“Columbus Circle.” I sniff the air. “Ugh, that deli smells like sauerkraut. Hope the stink doesn’t seep into my dress.”
“Are you walking? On the actual street?” Pippa sounds like her head might explode. “Why didn’t you get Marcus to send his driver?”
“I took the subway,” I confess. “Just got off at Lincoln Center. I can see the fountain.”
“Please tell me you’re joking and didn’t walk up actual subway stairs in that gown.”
“It’s not that big of a deal. I even scored a seat!” I try to laugh, but maybe this isn’t funny—Pippa’s the one who footed the bill for my gown. I left the tags on, though. Our hope is that once this night is over, she can return it to Saks for a full refund. I’m praying that the hem doesn’t drag on the ground—I’m only five foot one, and technically I should have had the thing altered, but then I definitely wouldn’t have been able to take it back.
Fine. I should have taken a cab at the very least. Except I don’t ride in cars if I don’t have to. Ever. It’s kind of one of those things that’s too hard to explain.
“So what’s going on at the shop? What am I missing?” I ask Pippa as I wait at a light. (Admittedly, I do look a little unusual, clad in my fancy dress, amid all these people in their office wear.) Pippa and I became NYU college roommates this September. The second week of school, we both took a job at Pet Planet, an organic pet supply store not far from our dorm. We even wrangled it so that we work the same shifts most of the time. “Did that old lady who always wears Chanel suits come in with her Shiba Inu? Did we get a new shipment of snails? Someone was asking the other day . . . ”
“Casey, we are not talking about the pet store,” Pippa snaps. “Not with you heading to the biggest party of the season.”
“No pressure!” I say lightly—though it comes off sounding kind of crazed. “Especially since I should be cramming for the Shakespeare exam. And art history. And advanced calculus.” I think of my textbooks piled on my desk. It’s kind of an overwhelming thought, though, so I push it out of my brain. “Actually, I have to go. I’m basically here.”
“You are the luckiest girl alive, and I hate you. Tell me every detail when it’s over, okay?” Pippa breaks into a high-pitched ee. “This is going to be amazing!”
“You just punctured my eardrum.”
I hang up. My heart bangs against the dress’s bodice as I catch sight of elegant people heading through the opera house’s doors. And when I see Marcus—my boyfriend—waiting for me in front of the Met’s famous fountain, my stomach starts to churn. I hold the hem of my gown. I pray I don’t trip in my heels.
Marcus watches me coming toward him. “Hey, gorgeous,” he says as I get close. “Wow.”
“Wow yourself,” I murmur, my voice a little off-pitch.
His body is backlit by the fountain’s colorful lights. He’s dressed in a black tuxedo with a matching cummerbund. Most guys at Marcus’s age look like they’re playing dress-up in a tux—all coat-hanger shoulders or pudgy frat-boy bodies in crooked bowties. But Marcus’s white teeth gleam as brightly as the expensive Rolex watch he inherited from his grandfather. His black loafers are understated, but I was with him when he bought them. I had to control my reaction when I glanced at the discreet price tag, mentally compiling all the things that money could have paid for. A used but decent late-model laptop. Two credit hours. Several doctor’s appointment fees, paid for in cash because my father and Fran have decided to no longer include me on their health insurance plan.
“Anyway,” I say after Marcus looks me up and down. “Thanks for inviting me.”
Marcus laughs. “You really think I would’ve asked someone else?” He touches my cheek. “You look amazing, Casey. You’ll be amazing. You ready?”
I nod, but I can’t speak. Am I ready? I’ve never been to anything like this before.
I feel guests’ double takes as they pass. Likely, they’re looking at Marcus because they recognize him. See, Marcus’s family owns one of the largest entertainment conglomerates in the world, Coleman Media. Marcus’s great-grandfather, Maurice Coleman, started it as a small publishing house at the turn of the twentieth century. After nurturing writers who went on to write classics and win Pulitzers and Nobels, Coleman Press grew and grew.
From there, Maurice Coleman bought up newspapers, magazines, television stations. He then passed the empire to Marcus’s grandfather, who passed it Roland in the early 2000s. Apparently, there was a little hiccup with the business when his dad took it over—Marcus said the company nearly went under, but a business associate bailed him out with a generous loan. But now, more than two decades later, Roland has turned it into an enormous dynasty, not only with massive offices all over the world but a fleet of private planes, a town named after the family in Georgia, several movie studios under their control, and a prestigious literary award presented every year in some Scottish castle.
Pippa wasn’t kidding about this being the coveted event of the holiday season: the Coleman Media holiday party invite list is basically a Who’s Who of everyone interesting in New York City.
And Marcus. Despite not even working in the family business yet, Marcus has nearly a million followers on social media. The guy posts a brand of sneakers he’s into, and suddenly those shoes are sold out everywhere. If he posts a picture of himself tanning shirtless near the Reservoir in Central Park? It breaks Instagram. He’s friends with young filmmakers, fellow heirs to Fortune 500 companies, TikTokers and hip-hop artists alike. And now I’m tied to him, thanks to a chance meeting two months ago. It’s no wonder the online gossips call me Cinderella. Everyone has posed the question: why would Marcus Coleman go for a seventeen-year-old NYU scholarship student from an untrendy neighborhood in deep Brooklyn?
You don’t think I’m asking myself that same thing?
Everyone’s gaze slide from Marcus to me, and my spine straightens. I pray that my lipstick hasn’t smudged, my nails haven’t chipped, and that I don’t smell like the sauerkraut that was wafting from that deli. But no eyes widen as I pass. There are no furrowed brows of confusion over why I am at such an important event on this It Guy’s arm. Instead, I receive pleasant smiles and complacent nods. I might actually be meshing with this crowd, which feels like a small miracle. I almost want to text Pippa and tell her the good news.
But then my stomach clenches. This isn’t even the first hurdle. This is nothing.
“You must be Casey!” a woman with ash-blond hair swept into a French twist croons as Marcus and I walk into the grand lobby. It’s a splendor of red carpeting, crystal chandeliers, and sparkling Christmas ornaments on so many trees, banisters, tables, and columns that I feel that I’ve fallen into a snow globe.
The woman’s cold fingers clasp mine. But her voice isn’t cold at all. Neither are her eyes, which are welcoming and kind. “I’m so excited to meet you!” she says, looking me up and down.
“Casey, this is Miranda, my father’s longtime assistant.” Marcus leans down a bit to speak closer to my ear—I’m a good eight inches shorter than he is. He smells like the deep woods—like mossy, smoky secrets. “She basically runs Dad’s life.”
“Oh, well, I’m not sure that’s true.” Miranda ducks her head bashfully, though if Marcus’s stories about Miranda are correct, she’s like a pit bull with Roland Coleman’s schedule and has a memory like a steel trap. But maybe she, too, wears a disguise—one of a quietly powerful woman who needs to file down her sharp edges to seem more feminine and nonthreatening.
“Runs my life too,” Marcus says, pecking Miranda on the cheek. “In the best way possible.”
I beam. So does Miranda. Marcus’s real mother is estranged, but he’s said that Miranda is the next best thing. I’ve been eager to meet her.
Miranda’s gaze returns to me. “This your first time at the Met, Casey?”
“The Met? Oh, no.” I shake my head. “I used to come here all the time.”
One eyebrow arches. “How wonderful! You like opera?”
“Love it,” I admit.
“Maybe we could all go together sometime,” Miranda says. “I hear their production of Carmen coming up is going to be amazing.”
“Uh, I’ll have to take a pass on that one,” Marcus groans. “Sorry, Case, but there’s no way you’re getting me to sit through four hours of people bellowing in Italian.”
My laugh is silvery and sweet, but I feel a lonely pang. I am an opera fan, and that’s not one of my disguises. In junior high—which isn’t that long ago—I came to Lincoln Center and waited outside the Met box office for that night’s twenty-dollar standing room only tickets. I saw brilliant operas for twenty bucks—Romeo and Juliet, Tosca, La Bohème, often sung by the greatest tenors and sopranos and baritones in the world. Kids at school thought I was odd—if there was any reason to steal into the city, it was to go to a club or shoplift a shirt. Even seeing something on Broadway was more acceptable.
But then, kids thought I was odd anyway. I took senior-level classes as an eighth grader. That kind of sets you apart from your peers.
I loved the romance of the opera. I savored how the singers’ emotions could seep into me even though I couldn’t understand what they were saying. When I listen to an aria, I still close my eyes and swoon, wishing that someday I will feel that much passion for someone—the lust, the hate, the pain, all of it. It doesn’t hurt that my mother loved opera too. She used to hum bits of arias to me before bed. And we were listening to Pavarotti sing “E lucevan le stelle” the very last moments she was alive.
Those last moments haunt me. Just thinking about my mom fills me with a clenching, grasping sadness. But I cannot be sad tonight. I need to be at my best. So I push the thoughts from my brain.
“There’s Dad,” Marcus says, breaking me from my thoughts. He kisses Miranda again, and then clasps my hand and pulls me forward.
I see Roland Coleman, too. The man glows. He’s every bit as striking as his son, but in a different kind of way—tall, broad chested, full head of dark hair. He’s nursing a cocktail by the grand staircase and is deep in conversation with a squat man with pitted cheeks and a toadlike hunch. When Roland notices us, he pivots and smiles.
My stomach does a flip. Do you even realize who you’re rubbing elbows with? I can hear Pippa exclaiming in that glass-shattering pitch she loves to use.
“This must be the famous Casey Rhodes,” Roland says, his sharp gaze on me.
“Famous?” I say bashfully, ducking my head. “I don’t know about that . . . ”
“Famous to me,” Marcus boasts.
I feel Roland appraising me like he’s waiting for me to say something brilliant. I think of Marcus’s ex-girlfriend, Caroline, a student with the School of American Ballet. Caroline’s father is the US ambassador to Morocco, and her uncle created CarNow, a car service app that preceded Uber and made millions. It’s hard not to compare myself to that.
But then, to my surprise, Roland gives a small nod and opens his arms to pull me in for a hug. I’m surprised as his strong arms curl around my back. “Wonderful to meet you. I’ve heard you’re a very smart woman. Already a sophomore in college at seventeen?”
I pull back, my smile wobbly. “It’s no big deal. And—thanks. And—great to meet you, too. I’m a huge admirer.”
“You’re leaning toward becoming a literature major, yes? Did you choose that because you like to read or because you like to write?”
“Write.” As soon as I say it, though, I wonder if this is the wrong answer. This man is the CEO of a publishing company. “Though of course I love reading too.”
“Unlike someone.” Roland shoots a pointed look at Marcus. “This one had to get a tutor just to get him through English back in high school. Broke my heart.”
“Dad,” Marcus whines, suddenly stiffening. “It was just for one course.”
“Have you taken a single lit course in your college career?” Roland smiles at me sadly. “The son of a family enamored with words . . . ”
“That’s not true,” Marcus protests. “I totally read!”
“What, Twitter? Sports analysis?”
A facial dance takes place between father and son. It makes me feel uneasy. Marcus prefaced me that he and his dad have a bit of a tempestuous relationship. And I realize—Marcus is nervous around him. Maybe as nervous as I am.
“Come on, Casey,” Marcus says, taking my arm. “Let’s get a drink.”
“Nice to meet you,” I say brightly to Marcus’s dad. Roland Coleman gives me a sweet smile and wave.
We circulate. A lot of people we meet are members of Roland’s vast empire, though I shake hands with people our age, too—other college students or early twentysomethings who are mostly children of the city’s elite. Marcus holds my hand tightly the whole time. He seems proud of me. The unpleasantness with his father dissipates.
After a while, two young women approach—one is white, with ice-blond hair. The other one is Black with flawless skin and an afro. They are both ridiculously thin, and they’re both looking at me with wolfish sneers.
“Hey, Marcus,” the white girl croons in a fake-nice voice, fluttering her eyelashes. “It’s been a while.”
“Hi, Bronwyn,” Marcus says cordially. He introduces her and then the other girl, Shay. Then he explains to me, “We all went to Deerfield together.”
“With Caroline, too.” Shay glances my way pointedly, seemingly gauging if I know who Marcus’s ex is.
“Where’d you go to high school, Casey?” Bronwyn asks, narrowing her eyes. “I feel like I’ve seen you before.”
“And are you still there?” Shay blurts, giggling. “She looks like jailbait, Marcus.”
“Casey’s at NYU,” Marcus says. “A sophomore, same as us. And the rate she’s going, she’s probably going to graduate before us.”
“Aw, NYU,” Bronwyn says. “How fun!”
Shay starts naming people from boarding school they all knew. Bronwyn laughs hysterically when Shay references a teacher they all had for advanced economics. She steps closer to Marcus, even touching his forearm. My heart starts to drop, but then Marcus jerks away, looks at her coldly, and takes my hand again.
“We gotta go,” he tells the girls. “Good to see you.”
Then he pulls me into the crowd. “God, they’re so tiring. Still so stuck in high school. They run the alumni Reddit group and Deerfield’s TikTok page. Like, who cares?”
I smile weakly. When I look back, Bronwyn is glaring at me. Shay is whispering in her ear. They’re just jealous—that’s what Pippa would say. I really hope she’s right. I also hope I don’t have a run-in with those two again.
Still, I try to smile brightly at every face I see. People seem delighted when we confirm I’m Marcus’s new girlfriend. I slowly sip a glass from what I’m guessing is a very expensive bottle of champagne. I shake hands with famous people. I pose for pictures shot by a society photographer who promises they’ll be posted tomorrow morning. More girls flirt with Marcus, but he barely seems to notice.
After another half hour of schmoozing, Marcus pulls me onto the dance floor. We swirl with other guests, and it really does feel like we’re at a fairy tale ball. The Met’s beautiful chandelier sparkles. The classical music swells. My dress glides, and I feel steady and graceful in my heels. And Marcus looks—well, he looks like a prince. As he holds me tightly and spins me expertly, I feel like a princess.
“You, Casey Jones, are a treasure,” he whispers. He calls me Casey Jones after his favorite Grateful Dead song, which he’d had to play for me because I’d somehow never heard it before. “Are you having fun?”
“I am,” I admit. “It’s going way better than I thought.”
“What did you expect?” He squeezes my hand. “It’s just a party.”
“What was that with your dad?” I glance at Roland, who is now standing by the bar, talking to a silver-haired man who I’m pretty sure is a senator. “Is everything okay?”
Marcus shrugs. “That’s just the way he and I deal with each other. Has nothing to do with you.” Darkness falls over him. He’s told me, a little bit, all the ways he feels he’s disappointed his dad—and all the way his dad has disappointed him. “He loved you—but then, I knew he was going to love you.”
I raise an eyebrow. “How did you know?” Roland seems pretty discerning.
There’s a flicker of something unexpected across his face. Like he’s been caught. But it’s only there for a second. “I just did,” he answers. “Because that’s how it’s supposed to be.”
Then his hands cup the sides of my face, and he leans in to kiss me. I lean in, too. I can feel people smiling at us, though we’re all alone in our bubble, arm’s distance or more from anyone else. Suddenly, as his lips touch mine, I hear a voice.
You’ve been a bad girl.
I jolt backward, nearly bumping into a couple dancing behind us. I look at Marcus. “What did you say?” I blurt.
Marcus gives me a confused but flirtatious grin. “Sorry?”
I look around. Marcus had to have said it. No one else is near. And it was in my ear. Whispered. Nastily.
Involuntarily, I shiver with fear. This feels dangerous.
The music floats on. People are dancing, smiling, oblivious. I am standing feet away from Marcus, as though we’ve been blown apart. He looks at me like I’ve lost all sense of reality—and like he definitely has no idea what I’m talking about. I also notice Roland Coleman look over from his spot by the stairs. His gaze lingers on us a few seconds before he looks away.
I breathe out. I’ve got to get a grip. I am not going to screw this up. “Sorry. I’m a little . . . dizzy.” I point to my temple. “I need to . . . ”
I march off the dance floor, head down, my face going red. Marcus hurries behind me. “Let’s sit.” He guides me to a couch away from the crowd. “Here. Breathe. It’s okay. It’s really crowded out there.”
I sink into the cushion, trying to calm my hammering heart. “Yeah. Sorry. God. I’m just—”
“It’s okay.” Marcus rubs my arm. “How ’bout I get you some water?”
“Yeah. Sure.” I try to laugh. “I hardly ever drink . . . ”
“No worries.” Marcus stands. “Hang on. Be right back.”
He steps back into the throng of dancers. Within moments, a waiter has appeared at his side. I watch, my head swimming, as Marcus’s head bends in close, giving the man instructions.
I run my nails up and down my bare arms, trying to steady my breathing. What was that on the dance floor? What did he say to me? Why was he trying to pass it off like he hadn’t said anything?
Marcus walks back to me and presents a tall glass with a flourish. “Here we are.” Clear liquid bobs. Bubbles rise to the top.
“Thank you,” I say, sipping. After I swallow a few gulps, I give him a brave smile. “It’s helping.”
“Good,” Marcus laughs. “Guess it was the champagne. You’re a lightweight.”
“Guilty as charged.”
I gulp down all the water. After a while, I feel better. I keep apologizing to Marcus, but really, I’m apologizing to myself, angry that I’ve let my Poised, Elegant Casey disguise slip. I’m supposed to be a princess tonight. Not . . . odd. Not jumpy.
I let Marcus pull me up. I walk on unsteady legs toward the dance floor again, and it goes okay. We glide. He smiles at me. I hear no more voices.
But I can’t push the previous voice away. You’ve been a bad girl. And the tone, too: unfriendly. I look at my boyfriend again, and I feel that same fearful shiver again. Does something lurk beneath shiny exterior?
I’m not sure I want to find out.
Wait for Me arrives on shelves on November 1, 2022. You can place a pre-order now.