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There were always whispers about my roommate at Hillcrest Academy.
The wealthiest of the wealthy sent their kids to our boarding school, and Brooke Bennett had been at the top, though I never quite knew why. She was fun and outgoing, but she kept quiet about her family. The only things she showed me were photographs of her brothers.
I became fascinated with her second-oldest brother. Kai Bennett.
He was the most of them all. Smoldering. Hypnotic. Alluring.
Then I met him.
He came to our school with their father, and that’s when I learned what kind of family Brooke came from. They were mafia, and Brooke’s oldest brother was dead. Her father said accident, but Brooke said murder.
Three months later, her father died, and Kai became the head of the Bennett Family. Brooke left Hillcrest for good, and that was the last time I saw her.
Fourteen years later, I’m staring at her face on the television. Brooke is missing.
Two days later, Kai Bennett kidnaps me.
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Fourteen years earlier
My boarding school roommate was a mafia princess.
Although I didn’t learn that at first. Our beginning six months went by without a hiccup.
When I first walked into our room, I took in her bedding, which looked like a cloud with crystal lights surrounding it, the massive amount of photographs she’d taped to her wall in the shape of a heart, and the framed canvas with a quote in glittering font that read, Fairytales Happen.
That’d been the only pause for me, because I was not this type of girl.
I’d been shipped to Hillcrest Academy slightly against my wishes—but also not. The fighting between my parents was at an all-time high, and even though we lived in a mansion and they kept to their wing, I could still hear them. It was hard not to when I snuck up to sleep in the hallway adjacent to theirs. I was an only child, and lonely. Maybe not all twelve year olds have that insight, but I did.
I also had the insight that while I loved my mother, I loathed the battlefront that was in our home, and my shoulders sagged in relief at the quiet in Hillcrest Academy.
On the day I moved in, there’d been some shrieks, some giggling, music playing, and a mom who’d shouted at a little boy who darted under my legs and took off down the hallway, but none of that was really noise. It would never match the shouts, the yelling, the sound of walls being hit, and especially not that last thing I’d heard two nights ago: a bloodcurdling scream.
I hadn’t even been in my parents’ hallway when I heard it. I’d been over in my wing, having given up on trying to be near them, but I’d bolted upright in my bed.
I’d laid back down after a few moments when no other sound followed, feeling and hearing my heart pounding in my chest. I wasn’t altogether shocked when my dad’s secretary told me the next day to start packing. I was going to boarding school.
My dad was gone the next day.
My mom cried in her room. The whole day.
I was told by Claude, our butler, when to be ready to leave. And it was only when I stood in the doorway, feeling all sorts of weird and sick butterflies in my stomach, that my mom came to the entryway. She seemed so frail.
I knew she was thin, but I would have the image of her that day seared into my brain forever.
She shuffled forward, as if walking was painful, wearing a sheer robe with a white nightgown beneath. Her feet barely peeped out from the robe, but when they did, I saw she wore her usual fuzzy-slipper thongs. They were her favorite. She wore them when she got pedicures, but today she also had a wrap around her hair, half shielding her face. The part I could see was perfectly made up, with pink crystal lipstick over her mouth and her skin caked over with complexion smoother. Sunglasses hid her eyes.
I stepped into Claude’s side when I saw them. I hadn’t meant to. The sight of my mom wearing sunglasses wasn’t unusual, and it wasn’t even unusual for her to wear them inside, but this was my day to leave.
I wanted to see my mom’s eyes before I went.
She never took them off.
She knelt in front of me, where I was half hiding behind Claude now, and she opened her arms.
I ran to her, throwing my arms around her neck. I didn’t care how skinny she was. I wound my legs around her waist, and still kneeling, she caught and held me. She ran a soothing hand down my back, bending to kiss my shoulder.
“I love you, my little ray of sunshine,” she whispered. “Have fun at this new school. Make new friends.” She squeezed me tight.
Claude cleared his throat, opening the door behind us.
I pulled back reluctantly as she let me go.
Claude already had my bags in the car. He wasn’t going with me to the new school. My assigned car ride was with Janine, the secretary who’d told me I was leaving the day before. I had no doubt she’d made all the preparations for me.
As I walked out the door, I looked over my shoulder.
A single tear streaked down my mother’s cheek.
That was one of the last times I saw her.
“Die, you fly!”
I locked eyes with a black fly, or maybe our eyes weren’t locked, but he was perched on the rock next to me. He was going down. He had been harassing me for the last hour. I was outside, trying to clean up the yard, but I was going nuts with this damn thing buzzing all around me.
He was teasing me, taunting me. He flew out of the way every time I swung at him. He was too fast, and as he paused on my shoulder, I swung at the same time the screen door opened. I heard its creak across the yard right before a numbing pain exploded in my shoulder.