Rolling my eyes, I flopped over onto my side and glared at my half-brother. He was two and couldn’t say Chloe, so I’d become Low-ee. I refused to admit it was adorable because I was determined to hate everything about being here—including my father’s shiny new family.
When I’d arrived almost a month ago, everything suddenly made a whole lot more sense. He’d disappeared from my life because he was too busy creating a brand-new one for himself, complete with a hot, young wife—a certified MILF according to the guys at my new school—and a precocious, bouncing, baby boy. Yup. My father had it all. A picture-perfect family. Wealth. Power. Status. All thanks to his new wife. He’d even taken her last name.
“Low-ee!” Little Frank—original, huh?—grabbed my arm with his sticky fingers.
“Ew.” I jerked away and rubbed my arm, my fingers coming away with a gooey honey colored substance. “What is all over your hand?”
Larissa, my stepmother, rushed into my room. As usual, she was dressed like she was about to step onto a fashion runway in Paris—hair and nails done, clothes perfectly matched and wrinkle free. She was even wearing heels. Who wears heels around the house just because?
“I’m sorry, Chloe.” She scooped up Little Frank and held him on her hip. “I made the mistake of giving him waffles with syrup this morning.” She frowned. “It’s about time for you to get up for school anyway.”
When she left the room, I forced myself out of bed. Thanks to the little monster I was going to have to shower now, too. Gathering my clothes, I headed to my private bathroom—one of the very few perks of living here.
According to my father, Larissa “came from money,” whatever that meant. I didn’t speak rich. But based on the whispers at school, that was the worst kind of money to have. I didn’t know the difference, and I didn’t care. I was simply biding my time until my eighteenth birthday, and I had exactly one month and three days to go.
After showering, dressing, and rushing through an under-toasted bagel, I grabbed my bag and chased Larissa out the front door. She was always running late, and I hated it.
There was nothing quite like running across campus and barging into class ten minutes late, disheveled and panting like a dog, and having everyone stare at you. I missed the days of a five-minute drive to school, arriving in enough time to linger at my locker and talk with my friends. I never thought I’d say it, but I missed everything about Keene Valley.
“C’mon, let’s get going.” Larissa waved at me from the driver’s seat. Her long, blonde hair was pulled into a tight, sleek ponytail. Designer sunglasses were perched on her nose. She was a poster child for a typical California girl.
I climbed into her cherry red convertible coupe and hooked my seatbelt. The air was chilly, and I was glad she didn’t have the top down.
“Don’t you have to take Little Frank to daycare?” I asked.
She shook her head, put the car in reverse, and backed out of the driveway. “Your father’s working from home today, so he’s watching Little Frank while I drive you to school.”
My father was home? And he hadn’t bothered to show his face or say good morning? I didn’t know why I was still letting his actions disappoint me. I angled my body away from her and stared out the window.
“Your father and I have a charity ball this weekend. Little Frank will be with my parents. Would you like to go with us?” She turned toward me, and from the corner of my eye, I could see her smile. “It could be fun to get all dressed up and go out. Fancy dinner. Dancing.”
“No thanks,” I said.
Larissa let out a frustrated sigh and didn’t speak to me again until she pulled into the school parking lot—or as I liked to call it, my personal hell. I opened the door and got out.
“Have a good day, Chloe,” she called as I shut the door and turned my back on her.
I knew I was being unnecessarily mean to her; she’d never done anything to me. In fact, she’d been nothing but nice since I’d arrived. But she represented everything I’d lost—my mother, time with my father, the family I never truly had.
I pulled my phone from the front pocket of my backpack—the phone Aunt Beth and Uncle Dean still paid for—plugged in my headphones, and headed across campus. I was actually a bit early today, and the quad was crawling with Malibu’s richest heirs.
When my father had enrolled me at The James da Vincente Preparatory School, I’d thrown a tantrum worthy of earning the “Worst Behaved Toddler” award. It was bad enough starting at another new school, but it was worse starting at one of Malibu’s most expensive, elite, private schools. It was a sea of pressed white shirts, sweater vests, and plaid skirts. Any teenager’s worst nightmare—a dress code.
To make it even worse, everyone knew everyone else—and not in the small-town way like they had in Keene Valley—but in a who’s who sort of way. The more well-known your last name, the more friends you had. And I was a nobody. An outcast. A fact made glaringly obvious by my severe lack of friends.
I scrolled through my music until I found my favorite Black Veil Brides album. Pressing play, I picked up my pace and made it to my first class before anyone else. I slipped into my assigned seat and put my head down.
My music paused for a brief second, just long enough to alert me to an incoming message. It was probably Abby again. She’d been calling and texting almost non-stop for more than a week now, but I’d been avoiding her.
I missed her like crazy. I missed everyone back home, but I couldn’t handle hearing about life in Keene Valley and how everything was so wonderful while I was so miserable. I’d call her tonight, though. Maybe Aunt Beth and Uncle Dean would have some good news for me. Last I’d heard, they were filing a custody petition with the court.
There was a firm tug, and then one of my earbuds popped out of my ear. I jerked upright, eyes wide. “Hey—”
A cocky grin stared back at me. “Listening to anything good?” He put my earbud to his ear and listened for a moment. “BVB. Nice choice.” He smiled and handed it back.
My heart stopped. Was he talking to me? He had to be because there was no one else in the room. Hesitantly, I reached for my earbud. “Thanks,” I said.
“I’m Simon,” he said.
“I know who you are,” I said before I could stop myself.
Arrogance flashed behind his dark, chocolate brown eyes. Everyone knew Simon Parker. Popular. Gorgeous. British. Ridiculously rich. And the object of every girl’s desire. Tall, athletic, and oozing self-confidence, his hair was too long for a buzz cut but too short to run your fingers through, causing it to have a natural spike. The tips were frosted blond, a stark contrast to the otherwise dark brown color.
The corner of his mouth lifted in a breathtaking, crooked smile. “I know who you are, too,” he said.
I swore my eyes were going to pop out of my head. “You do?”
“Yeah. You’re the new girl from New York. Chloe Madison.”
The way he said my name, his accent twisting the sounds into something exotic, gave me a tiny thrill. “That’s me,” I said.
Not a single person had bothered to talk to me since I’d arrived—until now—and the first person that did was none other than Simon Parker. I had to be dreaming.
“So, you’re a fan, yeah?” He nodded at the earbud I still held in my hand.
I nodded. “How did you know I was listening to BVB?”
“Your music was loud. I recognized the beat.”
I tilted my head, slightly confused. “From the hallway? I mean, I know it’s loud, but not that loud.” I laughed.
“No, when you walked by me in the quad. You didn’t even notice me. Figured I needed to fix that.” He winked.
My face flamed with embarrassment. Simon was the type of guy that was hard to miss, and normally, I did notice him. But I’d been lost in my own head this morning. “So, you’re a fan, too, then?” I asked.
Standing, he began to unbutton his shirt, and I stared, unsure if that was horror or desire spiking in my veins. Why was he taking his clothes off? I gripped the edge of the desk, my entire body tense, unable to look away.
With a grin, he opened his shirt to reveal a Black Veil Brides T-shirt. I laughed, the tension easing from my body.
“You ever seen them live?” he asked as he quickly rebuttoned his shirt. Anything with a band logo was against dress code, so it wasn’t crazy that he was hiding it.
“No,” I said.
“Want to?” He returned to his seat and raised a brow, waiting. The tiny silver hoop that graced his eyebrow drew my attention. Piercings were against dress code, too, but he wore it well and without concern for the rules.
“Yeah, someday, I guess.” I shrugged.
His crooked grin returned, and he stood. “Perfect. Friday at six. I’ll pick you up.”
The first bell rang, drowning out his words, but it sounded an awful lot like he said he was going to pick me up Friday night. “Um, what?” I said.
“I have an extra ticket to their show on Friday. I’ll pick you up at six.” He headed for the door as students began filing in. What the heck was going on? Had he seriously just asked me to go to a concert with him? I laughed at the absurdity. Of course, he hadn’t. I was a nobody. Simon was the most eligible bachelor on campus. We were like oil and water.
“Yeah, right.” I barely contained a snort of disbelief.
“What? You don’t want to go?” His expression turned somber, and a small frown pulled at his lips. I wondered how often anyone told him no, especially a girl he’d asked out.
Olivia Parker, Simon’s sister, younger than him by only a year, shoved him out of the doorway. “Get to class,” she said. She was just as stunning as her brother. I’d heard rumors that she’d finished her first modeling job. I didn’t know if that was true, but it was easy to believe. Her hair resembled the color of a rich cherry wood—deep red woven against dark brown locks.
“Aw, Livi, love, you’d miss me if I wasn’t around.” He made a kissy face at her, which caused several girls to stop and watch. I had to admit, I was momentarily memorized by the sight of his lips puckered, his lashes fluttering in mockery. Then, he turned his attention to me. “Think about my offer, Chloe from New York.” He sauntered out of the room.
I slouched down in my chair, but no matter how hard I tried to disappear, I didn’t. And I couldn’t stop the looks of complete shock and anger that the other girls hurled at me.
Class progressed, and the dirty looks continued. Olivia kept slicing her gaze in my direction, like she was trying to figure out what her brother could possibly be doing talking to me. Or what offer he’d been talking about. Knowing my luck—and how much she obviously disliked me—she probably assumed it had something to do with favors in exchange for money. When the bell rang, I rushed out of the room, but I wasn’t quite fast enough.
Olivia caught up to me before I made it to my locker. “What’s the story with you and my brother?” Her accent was the same as Simon’s, making her sound cool but intimidating.
“There’s no story,” I said.
“Then what did he mean about his offer?” She crossed her arms and glared down at me.
Until that moment, I hadn’t realized how tall she was, but she had to be a good foot taller than me. I stared at her a moment before my gaze shifted to the three girls standing behind her—Jacinda Hunter, Nichole Tanner, and Carly Pearce. They were Olivia’s personal cheerleaders, always following her around, agreeing with whatever she said, doing whatever she wanted. And now, it appeared I was their target.
“Listen, Chloe. I don’t know what sort of deals you’re making with Simon, but he’s off limits to a slag like you.” She tossed her hair over her shoulder, gave me a disgusted look, then spun on her heel and walked away.
I blew out a breath. Hitching my backpack higher on my shoulder, I reluctantly headed to my next class: Media Communications. That was the only good thing about this school—they offered a lot of extra electives and encouraged us to take them so we’d be well-rounded by the time we graduated. I was just grateful I didn’t have to take all the normal, boring classes, like World History.
My steps faltered, and I frowned. Why did the thought of that make me sad? It was the strangest feeling, like that class was somehow important… only, I had no idea why. Or why it affected me so deeply. I shook off the sudden melancholy and rushed across the courtyard to get to the technology building.
Kids hung out in groups in the courtyard, seemingly unconcerned with being late to class. Me, on the other hand, wanted to get there early. I loathed walking into a full classroom, hated the way people still stared at me like I didn’t belong here. If only I could shout at them that I agreed—I didn’t belong here.
The toe of my shoe caught on a bag that had been carelessly tossed on the ground, and I tripped. I held out my hands to break my fall, but my backpack slipped off my arm, knocking me off balance even more. My shin slammed against the edge of the concrete walkway, and I cried out in pain.
Adjusting to sit on my butt, I peeled my sock down and winced. A large and very noticeable scrape covered my shin, the flesh red and angry. Blood oozed from the wound and trickled down my leg.
Around me, students laughed and pointed. I didn’t need to look at any of them to know they were taking pictures and videos. Tears stung my eyes as I stood, snatched my backpack, and sprinted to the closest bathroom. I locked myself in a stall and unrolled a wad of toilet paper that I gingerly pressed against the scrape.
“Ow.” I cringed.
Tears streamed down my face. I hated this place so much. All I wanted to do was go home, back to Keene Valley where I had family and friends who were nice. I dug my cell phone from my backpack and opened my messages with Abby.
Me: I CAN’T STAY HERE ANOTHER DAY. I NEED TO COME HOME NOW!!! PLEASE. BEG YOUR MOM AND DAD TO COME GET ME.
I quickly deleted my text and rested my head on the wall. If I sent that, Abby would want to know what was wrong, and I really didn’t want to explain how much of a loser I was around here. I didn’t need to add her pity to the list of things weighing me down.
Drying my tears, I wiped the blood from my leg. The scrape wasn’t as bad as I thought it was. I pulled my socks up a little higher to cover as much of the cut as I could. Then I headed to class.
My usual seat was occupied—because of course it was—so I searched for an empty one. Simon waved to me from the back of the room. I tried to pretend I didn’t notice, but when he called my name, I couldn’t ignore him. Slipping my bag off my shoulder, I took the seat next to him. The room was set up like a typical science lab with tables that sat two people, but instead of microscopes, we had computers.
“Hey,” I said.
“Yeah, about that.” I ran my finger along the edge of the keyboard, refusing to look at him, knowing if I did, I’d be swayed from my decision. “Your offer was sweet, and really generous, but I’m not going to be able to go.”
“If it’s a problem with your mum and dad, I can ask them. Parents can never say no to me.” He laughed, and my heart tripped over itself.
Despite my better judgement, I faced him. “You’re used to getting your way, aren’t you?”
“It’s the Brit in me. Everyone loves it.” He lifted a single brow and gave me a cocky grin.
Shaking my head, I smiled. Who cared what Olivia thought? If I was stuck here, I might as well have some fun. And really, Simon was the only good thing about being here, and I desperately needed a little bit of good right now. “So, six p.m.?” I asked.