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To celebrate the upcoming release of Wicked Beginnings, the first book in my brand new YA/NA crossover series, I am giving one lucky reader the chance to win a Kindle Fire 7 and a $25 Amazon Giftcard

 

 

WICKED BEGINNINGS (Wicked Bay #1)

When seventeen-year-old Eloise Stone finds herself half way across the world, moving into her Uncle’s pool house, she expects things to be … awkward. She doesn’t expect to come face-to-face with the boy from last summer. The boy that made her feel things she’d never felt before. But a year is a long time, and Lo isn’t the same girl she was then. Besides, they’re family now.

It’s weird.

Maverick Prince acts as if he doesn’t remember her, treating Lo like nothing more than an annoying younger sister, and not in a ‘he cares’ way, just in a ‘he’s an arsehole’ way. One thing‘s for sure, he isn’t just dangerous for her sanity—he’s hazardous for her heart.

Lo thought moving to Wicked Bay was the worst of her problems, but as life begins to unravel around her, she’s going to find out it’s only the beginning…

 

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Want to know what Wicked Bay is all about? Read on for a sneak peek at the first two chapters…

 

CHAPTER ONE

I flashed the customs officer a reluctant smile as he scanned my mugshot, silently saying a prayer he found a valid reason to rescind my visa and put an end to this living nightmare. But my plea went unanswered when he ushered me through with a lackluster wave. One that said he enjoyed his job about as much as I was excited to be in his country.

Dad was already at the luggage belt waiting for our worldly belongings to appear. “All set?” he asked, barely able to contain his relief at being back on American soil. I offered him a polite smile from behind the safety of my sunglasses. Large enough to cover half my face, they hid a multitude of sins.

“Your Uncle Gentry should be waiting in arrivals.”

Excellent.

Not.

Dad paused, searching my eyes, and then let out a heavy sigh. Giant sunglasses, one, Dad, zero. “It’ll be okay, you know, Lo. Gentry is family. He can’t wait to see you again. I know it’s a big change, but we’ll make a good life for ourselves here, sweetheart, you’ll see.” He reached for my shoulder but I slunk away, unwilling to do the whole father-daughter thing in the middle of LAX airport.

If Dad was offended, he didn’t show it as he turned to face the luggage belt, hands jammed deep in his trouser pockets, heavily creased from our sixteen-hour journey.

I wanted to be more enthused, I really did. But up and leaving your home and moving halfway across the world wasn’t something I could just ‘get over’. Not to mention the stress of the long-haul journey.

Uncle Gentry might have been family, but how could you really call someone you’d met once—for a brief stint last summer—family? Sure, he was Dad’s brother, but since the events of the last seven months he was no one to me. A distant relative I’d met once and now I would be living with him and his wife, Rebecca; and their four children.

The Stone-Princes.

I wanted to give them a chance—they’d been nice enough last year when we’d visited and all—but I just couldn’t find it in me to care. Not when, sometimes, just getting through each day was a mammoth task.

“I think this is the last one.” Dad’s voice cut through my thoughts and I looked up to find him behind a trolley piled high with our luggage. The last remnants of our life in England. What couldn’t be packed into a suitcase, had been sold on eBay or donated to the local charity shop. Lucky for me, I’d managed to condense most of my bedroom into the two suitcases Dad allocated me for the move.

“All set?”

I gave him a tight-lipped nod and followed him toward the arrival lounge, and to our new life.

~

“Robert, Eloise, over here.” A tall man with eyes identical to Dad’s waved us over with a warm smile. Dressed in black trousers and a sage-green polo shirt that hugged broad shoulders, his sandy hair from last summer was now peppered with grey. He was a taller, fitter version of Dad, even if he was four years older.

“Gentry, it’s good to see you.” Dad took his hand, clapping him on the back with his other. I let them have their moment while I watched the other travellers search for their families in the awaiting crowd, anything to take my mind off how busy the place was. A young girl launched herself into the arms of a teary-eyed couple, letting them envelop her in a parent sandwich. It was impossible not to smile at their reunion, but as the corners of my mouth lifted my chest constricted, sucking the air clean from my lungs.

“Lo… Eloise.” A hand landed on my arm and I jerked back to my father. “Sorry,” he added. “I didn’t mean to startle you. Your Uncle Gentry would like to say hello.”

I swallowed down the lump in my throat, pushed the glasses up my face and rested them on my head. “Hello,” I said holding out my hand, but Gentry laughed, knocking away my arm and wrapping me into a bear hug.

“It’s really good to see you again, Eloise.” He held me tight while my arms hung limply at my sides. “I’m so sorry for your loss.”

My body tensed and I clamped my eyes tight, counting down from ten. At zero, I inhaled deeply, forced them open, and stepped out of his hold. “Thank you.” The words still choked me, even after seven months.

“Right, well then, shall we?” Gentry took control of the trolley and motioned to the huge exit doors. And just like that we were welcomed into his family.

Only, it occurred to me, he was the only one here.

~

Dad and Gentry sat upfront in his sleek black Range Rover while I watched California whizz by from the back seat. I’d only visited the States once before, but I’d forgotten how different it was from our home back in Surrey, England. Old home, I reminded myself.

“Kyle and Summer can’t wait to see you again. He’s stoked to have you starting junior year with him. Macey too. And I’m sure Maverick will make you feel very welcome.”

How wonderful, I inwardly groaned, letting my head fall against the cool tinted glass. As if being a Brit in an American high school wouldn’t be hard enough, I was going to be paraded around like a freak show.

Gentry continued, apparently unaware of my lack of excitement about starting a new school. “Rebecca made the arrangements. You’ll meet with the Principal first thing on Monday.”

And not only would I be the British freak show, I had to endure two more years of high school, whereas back in the UK, I would have been in my final year at college. But Dad and my new school had decided it would be better for me to stay back a year and sit all the classes I needed to get the high school diploma. Something about making it easier to apply for colleges. Although part of me wondered if my behaviour of late had anything to do with his decision.

Fuck. My. Life.

“Isn’t that great, Lo?” Dad covered for my silence and I managed to grumble out something about being excited to see them again.

I wasn’t.

Life will do that to you though. Rip out your heart and leave it bleeding all over the floor, then expect you to pick up the pieces and get on with it. I got on with it, but I was only going through the motions.

Like right now, being in a new country. There was no crackle of excitement in the air. No seed of anticipation blossoming in my chest at the endless possibilities and adventures that could await me.

I was numb.

A hollow pit of nothingness carved deep in my stomach.

The sea glistened in the summer sun. It was beautiful, and, in another life, I would have appreciated it, but right now I just couldn’t. And as the 4×4 sped past a sign welcoming us to Wicked Bay, I shuddered. I’d been here once before, it should have felt familiar. But all I could remember was a pair of intense eyes, the colour of dark chocolate interspersed with flecks of gold, and a wicked smile that could charm even the most impressionable young girls.

Shaking the unwelcome thoughts out of my head, I observed the big detached houses flanking us on either side. All unique with fancy brickwork, sloping driveways and perfectly pruned lawns, the whole place looked like something out of The OC. Uncle Gentry drove to the end of the street before turning off onto a road steeped with tall billowing trees. I shifted into the centre of the backseat, watching with morbid fascination as he rolled to a stop, parking next to a fancy sports car. I’d forgotten just how big their house was.

“Welcome home,” he said with a strange note of hesitation in his voice. As my eyes swept over the mini-mansion in front of me, the joke—and his sudden change in mood—was lost on me.

We climbed out and I stood awkwardly outside the house while Dad and Gentry fetched our luggage. No one mentioned the lack of a welcoming party for our arrival, so I didn’t bring it up. It wasn’t like I was in any rush to do awkward introductions either.

“So, you’ll be in the pool house.” Gentry opened the door and motioned for me to go ahead, but I hung back, waiting for him to pass. “Now, I know there’s only one bedroom, but we’ve replaced the old couch with a sofa bed. I hope that’s okay?”

“Gentry, it’s more than enough. The agent left a message. The work should be finished soon. They anticipate it being wrapped up in a month. A couple at the most.”

He gripped my father’s shoulder. “There’s no rush, Robert. We’re excited to have you both here.”

He kept saying that, but I couldn’t work out if it was for our benefit, or his.

Dad nodded and motioned for his brother to lead the way. I traipsed after them, through the house that resembled a small mansion. It really was something else. We passed the deep staircase which led to a balcony, and what I knew to be at least five bedrooms positioned down the long hallway. The kitchen was just as I remembered, spacious and modern with a centre island and six black leather stools tucked neatly underneath. Sparkly dark counters lined the walls housing various gadgets, all of which looked brand new.

“Lo?”

My eyes snapped to Dad and Gentry. They had stopped by the French doors, both smiling at me, and I realised I was gawking. “Even though I’ve been here, it’s like seeing it again for first time.” The words tumbled out before I could stop them and Gentry let out a smooth chuckle.

“I’ll be sure to tell Loretta you were impressed. Honestly, I don’t know what we’d do without that woman.”

“Loretta, right,” I grumbled with a shake of my head. They had a housekeeper. I’d forgotten about that.

This wasn’t life. At least, it wasn’t my life. Sure, Dad did okay. We’d lived in a nice house in the country and money had never been an issue, but this was… well, this was going to take some getting used to.

Gentry helped us get situated in the pool house and then left us to unpack. It was more of a small self-contained apartment overlooking the amazing pool in the beautifully landscaped gardens. It was all so annoyingly perfect, I wanted to hate it.

Dad insisted I take the bedroom. He started at Stone and Associates on Monday and expected to be working long hours to get up to speed with the family business. Which meant I would be spending a lot of time alone, or with my new family. The ones who were so excited to see me again they still hadn’t bothered to show up yet.

I’d just finished unpacking one of my cases into the small closet, when Dad poked his head around the doorframe. “Gentry made us something to eat.”

“Great.”

His eyes scanned the room, and he smiled. “It’s already starting to look like home.”

I cocked my eyebrow at him in disbelief. Surely, he knew it was going to take more than a few strategically placed photo frames and sentimental keepsakes to feel homely? But instead of starting an argument I said, “Come on, I’m starving.” I ducked under his arm and headed for the house.

We found Gentry placing a bowl onto the island. “It’s not much. Loretta took a personal day, but she’ll be back tomorrow.”

“It’s fine, right, Lo?” Dad flashed me a reassuring smile, and I said a polite thank you, helping myself to some salad.

“They’ll be here soon.” Uncle Gentry checked his watch again. “Rebecca can’t wait to see you both.”

He kept saying that, but we’d been here at least an hour and still hadn’t caught so much as a glimpse of his wife and their children. Dad gave a strained laugh, and I kept my head low, shoving the green leaves around my plate.

“They promised,” Gentry grumbled under his breath so quietly he was probably unaware he’d actually said it out loud.

“Sorry, I’m sorry.” A woman breezed into the room, arms wide as she made a beeline for her husband. “I got held up.”

“It’s fine,” Gentry said, standing to greet his wife. “You’re here now. Come and say hello to Robert and Lo.”

“Oh my.” She glanced in my direction and her eyes widened. “Eloise, what a beautiful young lady you’ve become.”

I blushed wanting the ground to open and swallow me because if she thought I was beautiful it made her Aphrodite. “Thank you, it’s nice to see you again.”

“Rebecca.” Dad rose from his stool. “It’s good to see you again.” He wrapped her into an awkward hug that had me stifling a laugh.

“Are they with you?” Gentry looked to the door.

“They’re not here?”

Gentry and his wife shared a strange look, but Rebecca’s smile widened as she launched into a game of twenty questions. How was our flight? Did we need anything? Was the pool house okay? Dad was halfway through his not so funny story about the layover in Reykjavik when a door banged somewhere in the house and the sound of chatter filled the air.

“Thank God,” Gentry grumbled and I was about to ask what he meant when a familiar face bounded into the room. Kyle, with his father’s good looks and same sandy hair, grinned in my direction. “Cous, looking good.”

Heat crept into my cheeks and I offered him a small wave. His sister, Summer, the youngest of the Stone-Prince children, and a perfect mix of Rebecca and her father, edged forward offering a small smile. “It’s nice to see you both again.”

“You too, Summer,” Dad said. “I know Lo is looking forward to spending time with you all.”

“Yeah,” I grumbled in earnest.

Gentry shared a look with his son and Kyle shrugged as a tall willowy girl entered the room. I hadn’t met her last summer—she and her brother were visiting their dad—but I knew her to be Macey, Rebecca’s daughter. The resemblance between them was startling, but from my limited knowledge on the Prince daughter, she was the polar opposite of her mother. Macey didn’t speak, offering me a tight-lipped smile. I gave her the benefit of the doubt, because if she felt even an ounce of the awkwardness coursing through me, I got it.

“Macey,” Rebecca scolded. “Please say hello to your Uncle Robert, and Eloise.”

“Hello.” Her flat tone matched her expression, and I received her message loud and clear—we wouldn’t be BFF’s anytime soon.

I shot Dad a discreet look but he didn’t seem to share my concern, smiling reassuringly just as Uncle Gentry said, “And this giant here, is Maverick.”

My head lifted watching as another person entered the room. I did a double take, my eyes widening with surprise, and then something much, much worse. My stomach sank and then plummeted into the tips of my toes.

It couldn’t be.

There was absolutely no way this could be happening.

My fingers curled around the edge of the stool as I tried to stay upright all while I was unable to tear my gaze away from a face I thought I’d never see again.

A face I didn’t want to see again.

Dark hair curled at the ends giving way to an angular jaw and a perfect nose set between two of the most intense and unfathomable eyes I’d ever seen. Eyes I’d almost lost myself in once before.

Fuck.

No one seemed to notice my shock as Gentry clapped a hand around his stepson’s shoulder, jolting me back into the room. The eldest Stone-Prince flinched, and I saw the tension between them. Felt it descend over the room. We all did. It radiated from Maverick like a wall of blistering heat. Then his eyes narrowed on me, and I saw the realisation flash across his face. His glare turned icy cold … unresponsive, and I balked. I wanted the floor to open and swallow me whole and if that failed, I’d settle for spontaneous combustion. Anything to escape this nightmare.

How could this be happening?

How?

“Hi.” His voice turned my blood cold. He shirked out of his stepfather’s hold and folded his arms over his chest, standing to his full height. Uncle Gentry wasn’t wrong, he was a giant. Easily six two—and about three inches taller than last summer—there was nothing boy about him. My eyes scanned the length of his body, lean muscle stacked on more lean muscle. When I reached his face, his lips twitched as if he knew I’d been checking him out.

Shit.

What the hell was I doing?

Maverick Prince might not have been my blood cousin, but he was family. He was also the boy I almost gave myself to on a warm summer’s eve at a beach party last summer.

Double fuck.

I risked peeking up at him through my lashes. His hardened gaze was still trained on me, but his smirk slid away replaced with a look of disgust. My stomach clenched violently as my grip on the stool tightened until the blood drained from my knuckles.

How on earth had this happened? How had I spent hours talking to a boy on a beach and not known who he was?

How had I not realised? And how had he not put two and two together?

He remembered, and from the looks of it, he wasn’t too happy about it either.

This wasn’t good—not good at all.

The chink of metal against glass broke our stand-off, and I focused on Uncle Gentry as he cleared his throat. “Now everyone’s present, I’d just like to say how happy we are to have you both here.” He smiled warmly at me and moved to Dad, squeezing his shoulder. “Our home is yours for as long as you need it. Robert, Eloise, welcome to the family.”

My eyes shuttered, and I inhaled a sharp breath. When I plucked up the courage to open them again, Maverick was gone.

I’d thought moving to Wicked Bay was the worst thing that could happen to me, but I was about to find out, it was only the beginning.

 

CHAPTER TWO

“Are you nervous, kiddo?”

I shot Dad a terse glare. With no sunglasses to protect him from my ‘are you for real’ face this time, his head shook with laughter. “Too much?”

“Just a little.” I helped myself to another bagel, picking off a tiny chunk with my fingers. “And I’m not sure nervous sums up how I feel about all of this.”

Since realising just who Maverick Prince was, I’d felt nothing but a tight knot in my stomach. I popped the pastry flakes into my mouth and glanced around the kitchen. It was almost seven-thirty and no one else had surfaced yet. I’d wanted to eat in the pool house, but after a strained weekend Dad insisted we eat with the rest of the family.

“It’ll get easier. It’s just new, for all of us.” He gave me a pointed look, one that told me he’d also picked up on the serious vibes between Uncle Gentry and Maverick.

After the less than stellar introductions on Friday, Macey disappeared after her brother. It was clear he wasn’t the boy I’d gotten to know that night last summer, but then maybe he was. Maybe the Maverick I’d spent hours talking to was an illusion? An attempt to seduce the awkward, shy girl. But that made no sense either.

Whatever.

It was done. And everything that had happened since then put that night into perspective.

Maverick Prince was no one to me. He might have been family, but that didn’t mean I had to interact with him.

Ever.

Kyle and Summer had stuck around for a while but eventually went off to do their own thing, and I retreated to the pool house. In two days, it had fast become my sanctuary, and I only left if necessary. Unfortunately, for me, the first day at a new school required leaving my room and facing reality.

“Ahh, Robert, Miss Eloise; good morning, it’s so good to see you again.” A short plump woman hurried into the kitchen, arms full of bags. “I’m Loretta, remember, si? The housekeeper.”

“As if we could forget your cooking,” Dad said around a wide smile.

“Oh.” Her crow-lined eyes widened in my direction. “So pretty, Miss Eloise, I see what Gentry meant now.”

My ears perked up, and I arched an eyebrow at Dad. He shrugged, continuing to eat his French toast.

“Where is everyone?” Good question, I thought to myself, relieved I wasn’t the only person who wondered. “It’s back to school today, no?”

“Loretta, thank God, we’ve missed you.” Rebecca breezed into the kitchen like a Greek goddess. The woman didn’t walk, she glided on air. “Robert, Eloise, you’re up. Excellent.” She air-kissed Dad and squeezed my arm on the way to the coffee maker. “Nervous, honey?”

It was my turn to shrug. “Not really.” Liar.

“You’ll be fine. You’ll have Summer and Kyle, and I’m sure Macey will help you get settled.”

I very much doubted that. But whatever. I didn’t need or want their help if they didn’t want to give it. It was just school; how hard could it be?

“Is Kyle—”

“Is Kyle what?” He breezed into the room looking as fresh as a daisy and I had to wonder where they all were. Was there another kitchen they hung out in before joining us, because they sure didn’t look like people who had just climbed out of bed. Two coffees in, I was still slouched over my plate trying to kick-start my body into action.

“Are you giving Summer and Eloise a ride into school?”

“No can do, Momma P, first day back and I have to make a good impression with Coach.”

Rebecca’s eyes narrowed with a hint of frustration and I stifled a laugh. “Kyle, what have I told you?”

He pulled open the refrigerator and stuck his head inside. It was one of those huge American types with a built-in ice dispenser. When he reappeared, juice in hand, he grinned. “I think you said, ‘please don’t call me Momma P’.”

“So…” Hand planted on her hip she glowered at him, and I stifled a snigger again. Kyle had an air of a cocky boy who didn’t care much for the rules. I liked it. He reminded me a lot of my brother. My chest tightened, and I swallowed over the pastry stuck in my throat.

“My bad. You’re right it isn’t very appropriate.” He tilted his face up as if deep in thought. “Got it.” He snapped his finger in the air. “Step Momster.”

Her mouth fell open, and he shot me an amused wink before disappearing. Rebecca yelled after him, but he’d already gone. She let out a heavy sigh. “That boy will send me to an early grave.”

“He’s all Gentry,” Dad said not looking up from the papers scattered over the island top.

“And don’t I know it. I suppose I should thank my lucky stars he hasn’t charmed his way into some girl’s bed and gotten her pregnant yet.”

“Darling, I thought we agreed to give him a break.” Gentry appeared at his wife’s side and hooking an arm around her waist he pulled her against him. She giggled like a schoolgirl and leaned up to kiss him, and my bagel threatened to make a reappearance.

“He’s unruly, Gentry.”

“Oh, he’s just testing the waters. He’s a junior now. Remember what we were like at that age, Robert?”

“Daughter present,” I choked out and everyone laughed.

“Can you drop Summer and Eloise off at school? Kyle had to go in early.”

Deep lines creased Gentry’s face. “No can do. Robert and I need to leave shortly too. There’s a breakfast meeting we can’t miss.”

Rebecca leaned in to him, lowering her voice. “Well, I can’t take them. I’m meeting Cheri to discuss the fall event.”

Summer appeared in the doorway looking every bit the American dream. Long honey-blonde hair framed a heart shaped face, giving way to big blue eyes. Ugh. I needed serious time to look that good. “Morning,” she said, taking a seat at the island and helping herself to breakfast.

“Hey,” I replied trying to figure her out. She was quieter than the other Stone-Prince children.

“Are Macey and Maverick still around?” Gentry asked Summer, and she gave him a small nod. “Then it’s settled, they can take them,” he said.

“Gentry, I’m not sure…”

“What’s up?” Maverick entered the kitchen, and the mood changed immediately. Even Dad straightened beside me. I watched the eldest Prince move around the room from under my lashes. His body was lithe, the basketball jersey hung loose until he twisted and turned revealing lean and defined muscle. The boy I met last summer had filled out in all the right places. My stomach fluttered in an act of betrayal and I felt a little lightheaded.

Damn him.

He couldn’t have shrunk or contracted a bad case of teenage acne?

“Maverick,” Gentry leaned back on the counter. “You’ll give your sister and Lo a ride to school this morning.” It wasn’t a request.

“We can’t.” Macey appeared, her expression as cold as it had been Friday. “We have a thing.”

“Macey, please,” Rebecca hissed low, but not enough we all didn’t hear it.

“We can walk, it’s not too far.” Summer gave me a tight-lipped smile, and I wondered what she knew that I didn’t.

“Maverick.” Gentry’s tone was final and something crackled in the air. I glanced from my uncle to his stepson and back again wondering who would be crowned winner in battle of the wills.

To our surprise, Maverick conceded. “Fine. We leave at eight-fifteen.”

He didn’t look at me. Didn’t address me directly, but I felt his animosity all the way down to my bones, and I realised whatever I thought had existed between us that night was a fantasy. Macey grumbled something under her breath, grabbed a glass of juice, and stomped out of the room. I went back to deconstructing my bagel. He left too; I knew because the tension rippling in the air evaporated, and Rebecca and Uncle Gentry went back to chatting with Dad about his first day at Stone and Associates while Summer and I sat in easy silence. And we pretended none of that just happened.

~

“You’re not wearing that?” Macey looked me up and down and I bristled, standing a little taller.

“Well, I hadn’t planned on changing when we got there,” I shot back with a scowl to rival her own. Maverick appeared and for a second I was sure I heard him snigger, but when I met his eyes, his expression matched his sister’s.

What the hell was his problem? It was a year ago—thirteen months to be exact. It wasn’t like it was that big of a deal, anyway. I was surprised he could even remember. He was the one who left me cold and alone on the beach. Not the other way around.

“I think she looks nice,” Summer came to my defence, and I was about to offer her my thanks when Macey snapped, “We’re going to be late, let’s go.”

Following Summer into the back of Maverick’s sleek black Audi, I glanced down at my outfit, hating she’d made me second guess myself. I’d never cared before about what I wore, I wasn’t about to start now. As far as I was concerned, I looked good in the skinny jeans, black vest top, and my favourite zebra print Converse.

“I like your tattoo, Eloise.”

“Thanks.” I gave Summer a small smile, feeling the familiar pinch of grief around my heart.

“Mom and Dad would kill me if I ever came home with a tattoo.”

“Because you’re fifteen, Sum,” Macey said, her voice a lot less growly. But that quickly changed when she turned to us and swept her severe gaze over my arm. “You might want to cover that up at school.”

I answered by sliding my glasses down my face and turning my head to the window. It had been a spur-of-the-moment thing getting the floral sleeve. I’d had one too many drinks and Chris, my on-off boyfriend at the time, had been all too willing to ink my virgin skin. Dad almost shit a brick but there wasn’t much he could do about it, and eventually he shelved it with the rest of my bad decision-making moments. Losing your wife and son in the same accident that almost took your daughter’s life did that to a man. And for the last three months, it had been my get out of jail free card, but I had a feeling I was all out of excuses now. California was our fresh start. Dad’s attempt at piecing back together what was left of our family. I was to attend Wicked Bay high school, play nice with Dad’s family, and decide what I wanted to do with my life.

If only it were that easy.

Even with the top down, ten minutes inside the car with the Prince siblings, was ten too many. They chatted in low whispers while Summer and I sat in the back in awkward silence. Part of me had hoped they would show me around when we arrived, but that dream evaporated when my eyes had landed on him in the kitchen on Friday. During conversations I overheard last summer, I’d picked up on some tension between Rebecca’s kids and Uncle Gentry. But that was common for most blended families, wasn’t it? Still, something seemed off.

A stream of kids filtered into the parking lot as Maverick pulled into a bay. He cut the engine and climbed out not sparing us—or me—a second glance. Summer seemed immune to their surly attitudes. “I can show you where the office is,” she said as we got out of the car. Heeding Macey’s words, I pulled the cardigan out of my bag and slipped it on.

A group of boys approached Maverick, laughing and fist bumping, and I realised it was the first time I’d seen him crack a smile since I arrived. But that wasn’t what caught my attention. It was the way all the other kids watched their group, as if a celebrity had just turned up on campus. Conversations paused. Heads turned. A mix of envy and awe painted on their faces. Longing on most of the girls. Even the group Macey made a beeline for, seemed more interested in her brother and his friends, whispering and pointing, all dreamy-eyed and breathless. Part of me wondered if it was the reason her scowl remained firmly in place.

Either way, neither of them said goodbye.

Refusing to show any signs of weakness, I hitched my bag up my shoulder and followed Summer toward the building. But a voice stopped me in my tracks.

“London, wait up.”

I turned slowly, glaring at Maverick through my glasses. He glanced around at his friends who were watching with a mix of curiosity and amusement. “Don’t get lost,” he laughed, the corners of his mouth pulled into a cocky smirk, and I clenched my fists at my sides trying to curb my anger.

Screw it.

Screw him.

Maybe he thought I was the same shy meek girl from last summer. An easy target. Someone to toy with, to laugh about with his friends. But that girl was long gone. I lifted my hand and flipped him the bird. A couple of the guy’s mouths dropped open and one elbowed Maverick in the ribs, but he didn’t laugh. He didn’t flinch as he tilted his head to the side and rubbed his jaw, his cold, assessing gaze narrowed right on me, as if he was trying to figure me out.

Trying to figure out my weaknesses.

I didn’t stick around to find out if he had.

~

After a brief meeting with the Principal, I hurried to my first class, praying I wasn’t going to be made to stand up and introduce myself. But when I slipped inside the room, it was much worse.

“Cous, over here.” Kyle beckoned me over to his table at the back of the room, and I groaned to myself. For the love of God. Did these boys not know how to use someone’s name?

I waved him off, not wanting to make a scene, but he pounded on his desk, jumped up from his seat and announced, “Everyone, this is my cousin, Eloise from England. Eloise, this is everyone.”

Most of the class cheered, but a couple of girls rolled their eyes at me as if they thought I wasn’t worthy of Kyle’s grand gesture. I wanted to agree, instead I ducked my head and veered around the tables to get to him. “Really? You had to do that?” I hissed, dropping onto the chair behind the empty desk beside him.

“Come on, Cous, we’re family. Mi casa es su casa.” Kyle grinned and oddly, I found myself grinning back. The boy was annoying as hell, but he meant well and I liked him. He made it so easy, unlike his two more hostile stepsiblings.

“So, how’d your meeting with Principal D go? Let me see your schedule.” He held out his hand, and I passed the sheet of paper I’d left the Principal’s office with. “AP English, ouch. But you’re in Physical Ed. with Mr. DeLuca, nice. I’m in that class. History and Math, too.”

Five classes with Kyle? I didn’t know whether to be relieved or afraid for my life. But having someone was better than no one. And Kyle seemed like a good person to have in your corner.

“And Macey’s in your English and Bio class.” He flashed me a knowing smirk and I shook my head. “Yo, guys, this is my cousin, Eloise.”

“Lo,” I corrected, smiling at the two guys watching our exchange. They introduced themselves just as the teacher arrived and called time on the morning chaos. I settled my eyes up front. I would have to work my arse off to keep up, but at least I had Kyle to help me. Then one of his friends whispered, “So Kyle, are we partying with Maverick tonight or what?”

And just like that I became alone again.