Every child puts his or her parents up on a pedestal. Parents could do no wrong, and their opinions were your opinions as well.
At the tender age of six, I felt the same way. My mother, the famous supermodel, Andria Bellokavich, was my idol. I wanted to wear her clothes, make my hair look the same as hers, and share her opinions with the world.
“I can’t believe they let that kind of riffraff in this park,” my mother said as she wrinkled her nose in distaste.
I followed her gaze to see a boy around my age and his mother playing by the sandbox. “What’s wrong with them, Mommy?”
“They’re low-class white trash, and I don’t see why they feel the need to invade our park.”
I stared at the boy. I saw nothing low-class about him, but what did I know? My mommy knew everything, and if she said they were icky, then they must be.
“Can we make them go away?” I asked, eager to please my mommy.
“I wish, but unfortunately, this is a public park, so there’s nothing I can do. I will say this—we will not be coming back here anytime soon.”
I loved this park, and it made me sad that we couldn’t come back. I instantly hated the boy and his mother for taking away my favorite place in the world.
“Can I go play on the slides?” I asked, not wanting to waste a minute of my time here since it would be my last.
“Of course, honey, but don’t go anywhere near them.” She sniffed as she pulled out her BlackBerry and started punching buttons.
I hated that thing. Mommy was always on it, and she never paid attention to me when she was. Daddy had one, too, but he always put it down if I wanted his attention. I didn’t mind Daddy’s so much.
“Thank you, Mommy!” I said as I leaped off the bench we were sitting on and ran for the slides.
I looked back once to see if Mommy was watching, so I could show her just how fast I could climb up the slide, but of course, she wasn’t looking. She still had that stupid thing glued to her hand.
I sighed in defeat and slowly climbed the ladder. I was so proud of myself when I made it to the top. Not every six-year-old could climb this high without being afraid, but I could. I’d been doing it forever or at least since I was five and Mommy had started to let me run around the park on my own. She always told me that I was a big girl now and that I could take care of myself while she worked.
I sat down and pushed myself down the slide, giggling when I got to the bottom as I felt the static in my pigtails. I loved the slide. It was my favorite part of the park—after the sandbox, of course. I glanced over at the sandbox to see that the boy and his mommy had moved on to the swings.
Now’s my chance! I jumped off the slide and ran as fast as I could to the sandbox. Once I made it there, I sat on the edge, so I wouldn’t make Mommy mad by getting sand all over my dress. I picked up the bucket and started filling it with sand to make my very own fairy princess castle. One day, when I was all grown-up like Mommy, I would find a prince who would build me my very own castle.
“Whatcha making?” an unfamiliar voice asked.
I looked up to see the boy from earlier standing above me. I wasn’t supposed to talk to him, but how could I not when he’d asked me a question?
“Making my princess castle,” I replied, hoping he would lose interest after the princess part and leave me alone. If Mommy saw us talking, she would be so mad at me.
“Can I help?” he asked as he sat down right in the middle of the sandbox.
I looked around, expecting his mommy to yell at him for getting his clothes dirty, but she was just watching us and smiling as she sat on one of the slides.
“I can do it on my own,” I replied shortly, hoping that he would take the hint and leave me alone.
“Don’t you want to play with me?” he asked, sounding hurt.
“I’m not supposed to play with you. My mommy said so.”
“Because you don’t belong here, and you’re trash.”
His eyes widened at my words, and he frowned. “I am not trash!”
“Well, my mommy says you are, and she’s always right. She says you shouldn’t even be allowed to play here.”
“Well, your mommy is wrong. My mommy says that we are welcome here, just like everyone else.”
I shrugged. “I don’t care what your mommy says. My mommy is right, and you shouldn’t be here. Go away.”
Before he could respond, I heard my mommy calling my name.
“Emma Bellokavich Preston! Come here!”
I glared at the boy as I stood. “Now see what you’ve done? I’m in trouble all because of you!” I turned and ran back to my mommy. I felt a twinge of fear as I saw the angry sneer on her face.
“What did I tell you? I do not want you around people like that!”
I hung my head, ashamed that I’d disobeyed her. “I’m sorry, Mommy. I told him to go away, but he wouldn’t listen.”
“I don’t want to hear it! If you can’t listen to me, then you don’t need to be here. Come on, we’re going home.”
I sighed as I followed her out to the parking lot where her brand-new Mercedes was parked.
All I wanted was a princess castle.
Chapter One: Emma
Eleven Years Later
“Emma! Are you ready to go?” my mother shouted through my door.
“I’ll be ready in a minute!” I shouted back as I applied eyeliner around my green eyes.
I needed complete concentration to get the smoky look that I was going for, and my mother yelling through the door wasn’t helping matters. I finished applying the liner and reached for the brush sitting in front of me. I ran it through my strawberry blonde hair until it looked perfect.
Today was the first day of my junior year in high school, and I wanted to look perfect. I needed to be perfect. I’d managed to snag a spot on the varsity cheerleading squad my freshman year, but this was the first year that I was co-captain. I needed to set the standards for the rest of the girls on my squad. Anything less than perfection was unacceptable for the girls of Hamrick High School’s State Champion Cheer Squad.
I set down the brush and grabbed my bag on the way out of my room. As I started down the stairs, my phone rang. I smiled as I listened to Ke$ha’s “Die Young” playing. I had that ringtone reserved for one person and one person alone—my dad.
My parents had divorced when I was eight. My dad, Alexander
Preston, traveled a lot with his rock band, Seducing Seductresses, so I rarely got to see him anymore, and I cherished every phone call that I would receive from him.
“Hi, Daddy,” I said as I held my phone up to my ear.
“Hey, baby girl. Are you ready for your first day?” he asked.
“Yep. I’m getting ready to walk out the door now.”
“I wish I were there to see you off,” he said sadly.
I knew that he’d meant it, but like always, he was thousands of miles away from the home I shared with my mother in Santa Monica.
“Me, too. How’s England treating you?”
“It’s great. It’s far rainier than I remembered though,” he replied, sounding truly distraught about the weather.
I laughed. “You’re such a dweeb, Dad.”
“Did you just call your rock-god dad a dweeb?”
“I did. Listen, I need to go, or I’m going to be late. I’ll talk to you later?”
“Of course, baby girl. Enjoy your day.”
“Thanks, Daddy. I love you.”
I disconnected the call and walked into our kitchen to find something quick to eat for breakfast. Our chef, Razoule, was standing by the island, holding a granola bar and smiling.
“Thanks!” I said as I grabbed the bar from his hand.
“You are very welcome, Miss Emma,” he replied as he turned back to whatever he had been working on.
Razoule was one of the best chefs in the country, and my mother had managed to snag him a few years ago. After living off of his cooking for most of my life, I wasn’t sure if I could handle it if he ever left us.
I walked to the front door, but just as I put my hand on the knob to open it, I heard my mother calling my name.
“Emma! Don’t forget that I have a committee meeting tonight, so I won’t be home until late.”
“I know, Mom. You’ve only told me about it twenty times since last week.”
“Don’t use that tone with me. This is a very important meeting, and if all goes well, we will have a new and very well-known celebrity on our side.”
My mother was on every committee from here to San Francisco. Since she’d walked away with a huge chunk of my dad’s fortune when they divorced, she could afford not to work. Instead, she spent all her time climbing the social ladder around here, and she expected me to do the same. She only liked my friends if their parents were rich or famous or both. I loved my mom, but she was conceited and power hungry, not two things that you want to put together.
“Have a good day!” she called after me as I opened the door and walked out into the bright sunlight.
I slipped my sunglasses over my eyes and smiled as I walked to my car. I loved California. The weather was perfect, the beach was just a short drive away, and the entire place was beautiful. I’d traveled some with my dad over the years, but no place could ever come close to California.
I attended a private school, Hamrick High School, with most of Santa Monica’s finest. Rather, I attended it with the demon spawn of Santa Monica’s finest. When mommy and daddy were gone most of the time and they supplied you with endless amounts of cash, the perfectness that surrounded our school and the students attending all but disappeared. Underneath were wild parties, drunken fights, and more than one crashed sports car. Lucky for me, I was at the heart of it all.
I played the perfect daughter and the perfect student by day, but when the parents disappeared and the alcohol flowed, I liked to party with the best of them. Chalk it up to my mommy and daddy issues, but I used the parties as an escape from reality. After all, who is really perfect when it comes right down to it?
My school was less than ten minutes from my house, and I arrived before I’d even managed to finish my granola bar. I parked my brand-new Mercedes-Benz next to my best friend, Lucy’s, Jaguar and stepped out. Students were everywhere. Most were standing by their cars while others, the more responsible ones, were walking up the steps to the school.
I caught sight of Lucy’s dark brown hair in a crowd of people next to the stairs. I snuck quietly over and launched myself onto her back. Her squeals of terror had everyone laughing as she tried to throw me off. I finally gave up and released her after I thought she’d suffered enough.
She turned to glare at me. “That was so not cool, Emma!”
“It might not have been cool, but it was funny,” I said as I giggled.
She rolled her eyes as she linked her arm through mine, and we started walking up the steps to the school.
“Lookin’ good, Emma,” Todd Bex said as he walked past us.
I sighed dreamily as I watched him walk by. Todd was a senior and the captain of the football team. Add in his good looks and charm, and he was the most sought-after guy in our school. I rarely wasted my time on boys, but he wasn’t a boy. He was a man. He kept his dark hair cut short most of the time. His eyes were a beautiful baby blue, and that, coupled with a strong jawline and full lips, made every girl turn to mush at his feet. The fact that he had talked to me, a lowly junior, sent thrills through my body. Maybe this would be the year that someone finally tamed him, and that someone could be me.
“Wipe the drool off your face,” Lucy teased.
I stuck my tongue out at her. “Shut up.”
She opened her mouth to reply, but she was cut off when we heard a loud backfire coming from the parking lot. Both of us turned to see a beat-up Jeep pulling into the lot and parking beside my car.
I raised my eyebrows in disbelief. Who on earth is driving something like that around here? And why do they feel the need to park next to me?
“Who is that?” I asked as we watched a guy climb out of the Jeep and walk toward us.
“I have no idea, but I wouldn’t mind finding out,” Lucy replied as she stared at the new arrival with lust-filled eyes.
I squinted, trying to see him as he walked toward us. He looked vaguely familiar, but I couldn’t place him. Lucy squeezed my arm as he looked up and noticed us staring. I thought my arm was actually going to fall off when he approached us and stopped directly in front of me.
“Hi. I was wondering if you could tell me where the office is,” he said politely.
Now that I could see him up close, I understood Lucy’s excitement. Wow. Just wow. I had been ogling Todd not two seconds before, but I had to admit that this guy was far better than Todd. His hair was a shaggy mess of blond curls, and his eyes were the brightest emerald green that I had ever seen. His upper lip was a bit thin, but his bottom was full and just begging to be kissed. He was wearing a fitted polo shirt, and it stretched to its limit every time he moved due to the muscles that it was concealing. Several tattoos covered his arms, and they were a total contradiction to how he was dressed. This boy looked like a fallen angel and a surfer boy all rolled into one, and I wanted to wrap myself around him.
I blushed as I pictured us together, both wearing nothing but a smile. Dear Lord, what has gotten into me? Yes, I was a partier, but I’d never been in that situation before. Virgins didn’t imagine total strangers naked, yet here I was, picturing him naked.
“I’m Lucy,” she said as she held out her hand for him to shake.
He took it and smiled. “I’m Jesse. It’s nice to meet you, Lucy.”
She gave him her brightest smile as I stood frozen.
“And this is Emma,” Lucy introduced me.
He held out his hand to me, and mine rose on its own to meet his. When our hands touched, I felt like I’d been shocked, and I pulled back quickly.
“It’s nice to meet both of you,” he said politely.
“Uh, yeah. You, too,” I said lamely. I knew Lucy was going to have a field day with this later.
“Anyway, can you point me in the direction of the office?” he asked again.
“Oh, right. Of course.” I turned and pointed to the doors where several students were walking through to go to their first class. “Just go through those doors and make a left. It’s right down the hall.”
He smiled. “Thanks so much for your help.”
I watched as he walked around us and made his way through the doors.
“Holy shit. I think I’m in love,” Lucy groaned as she stared at the empty spot where he’d just been standing.
“Wow,” was all I could manage to get out. My brain wasn’t functioning at the moment.
“Yeah, wow. I don’t think I’ve ever seen you freeze up like that,” she teased.
“I just…wow. I don’t know what happened.”
“I think we both have it bad,” she said as we walked up the rest of the steps and headed into our school.
I remembered him pulling in with his piece of crap car. “I wonder who he is. He has to be a new student since I’ve never seen him before, but I don’t see how since he drove up in that thing.”
“Maybe he’s one of the scholarship kids,” she suggested.
“Scholarship kids?” I asked stupidly.
“Do you ever pay attention? Coach Sanchez was just talking about it the other day at practice. I guess the school awarded scholarships this year to two or three kids from across town. They normally attend the public school over there.”
“Oh,” I said.
“Yeah, oh. That has to be it. I would have remembered seeing that guy before now. He’s not exactly someone you can forget.”
“So, if he went to the public school, he must be poor,” I said, sounding disappointed. There was no way I would ever be able to get to know him. My mother wouldn’t allow it.
“Do you realize how snobby you just sounded? I swear to God your mother’s voice just came out of your mouth.”
I rolled my eyes. “You know what I mean. My mom would never let me associate with someone like him.”
“Because he isn’t rich?” Lucy asked sarcastically.
“Because he isn’t rich.”
“Your mom is a bitch.”
“And so is yours. They both run in the same circles, you know.”
She sighed. “Don’t remind me. I swear our mothers run some super-secret organization of stuck-up bitches.”
I laughed even though it wasn’t really funny. While my mom was far worse than Lucy’s, they were both rather…selective of who they associated with. At least Lucy had her dad around to keep her mom straight.
We walked the rest of the way to our first class in silence, both of our minds on the new boy, Jesse. I loved that name. I found it sexy, but I knew my mother wouldn’t agree. She would think it was too common, too plain. Everything had to be the best when it came to her. While my first name was fairly common, instead of having a normal middle name like most people, she’d given me her maiden name. It was always the best for us.
When we finally arrived to our first class, trigonometry, all of the seats were taken with the exception of a few in the front. I hated sitting in the front of the classroom, but it didn’t look like I had any other options unless I wanted to sit on someone’s lap.
I sat in an empty seat next to the door, and Lucy sat down beside me. It looked like we were the last two to enter since Mr. Kester walked to the door and shut it seconds after we had taken our seats.
“Good morning, students. I hope you’re as excited as I am to start a brand new school year,” he said happily as he walked to his desk and sat down.
That was doubtful. I hadn’t made it an entire day yet, and I already missed summer vacation. Hopefully, this year would pass by quickly, or I might lose my mind. It wasn’t that I hated school. I just hated playing into the popularity games that were played here.
Sure, I was on the cheer squad and right at the center of the popular crowd, but that didn’t mean that I always liked it. It was great to have so many friends until you realized that most of them were fake and just using you for your popularity. I didn’t trust any of them with the exception of Lucy. I knew that she was my best friend because she wanted to be, not because I could get her more friends.
Lucy and I had met in elementary school, and we had bonded instantly. Since our mothers were together so much, they had often brought us along, and we’d played together constantly. I might not like my mother or the games she played with the power players in this town, but I appreciated the fact that if it weren’t for her, Lucy and I might not have ended up as best friends.
Mr. Kester was taking attendance when the door swung open, and Jesse walked in. He scanned the room before walking to the teacher’s desk and handing him a piece of paper.
“I’m Jesse Daniels.”
“So glad that you could join us, Mr. Daniels. Why don’t you take a seat over there by Emma?” Mr. Kester said pleasantly.
My eyes snapped to Lucy just as she looked at me and grinned. This class just got a whole lot more interesting.
Jesse glanced around the room. His eyes stopped on the empty seat beside me, and he smiled. I held my breath as he crossed the room and sat down beside me.
“So, we meet again,” he said as he settled into his seat.
I couldn’t hide the grin that was plastered on my face. “I guess so.”
I fidgeted for the rest of class, trying to keep my eyes glued to the board in front of me. Instead, they kept glancing over at Jesse of their own accord. He really was something else to look at, even from the side. I couldn’t help but stare as he seemed oblivious to my constant scrutiny.
I shook my head to clear my thoughts. What am I doing? According to Lucy, this guy was here on a scholarship, and his piece of crap car all but confirmed that he wasn’t up to my mother’s standards. He wasn’t someone who I needed to involve myself with. My mother would never allow us to be friends, and she would absolutely kill me if she knew I was crushing on someone like him.
I glanced over at him one more time, determined to push him out of my thoughts. That was a bad idea. How the hell am I supposed to stay away from someone who looks like him?
“I think I’ve covered everything we need to today. If you want to talk among yourselves for the last fifteen minutes of class, feel free,” Mr. Kester said.
Mr. Kester was one of only two math teachers at our school. I’d had him my freshman year, so I knew that he would usually let us hang out during the last few minutes of class. For teaching one of the worst subjects, he was pretty cool.
I turned to Lucy, determined to ignore Jesse, so he wouldn’t try to talk to me.
Lucy raised an eyebrow as she noticed my obvious attempt to ignore Jesse. “What are you doing?”
She’d whispered the words, but I tensed, afraid that Jesse had heard her. While I was ignoring him, I didn’t want him to realize that I was doing it on purpose. I didn’t want to look like a stuck-up bitch even though I knew I was being one.
“Nothing,” I whispered back.
She rolled her eyes but said nothing. We just sat there and stared at each other, both of us unable to think of anything else to say.
“Hey, Emma?” Jesse said from behind me.
I closed my eyes and mentally groaned before turning to face him. “Yes?”
“Can you tell me where Ms. Mason’s class is? It’s my next class, and the lady in the office wasn’t very good at giving directions.”
He gave me a smile, and I felt my heart speed up. “Yeah, sure. It’s actually my next class, too, so I can just show you.”
Did I really just say that? I was supposed to be pretending that he didn’t exist, not walking him to class.
“That would be great. Thanks,” he said sincerely.
I studied him closer. This guy seemed to be exceptionally polite, and I wasn’t used to that around here. Most of the guys were raging idiots. I wasn’t sure if it was because he was nervous and a bit shy or if he was just this nice in general. Surely, this hot guy covered in tattoos couldn’t be shy. His demeanor and his physical appearance were complete opposites.
“So, what’s your story?” I asked, unable to stop myself.
He looked confused. “What do you mean?”
“I was just wondering where you were from.” I gestured to his tattoos. “You don’t fit the mold for most of the guys around here. Did you just move here or something?”
He hesitated for a split second before I saw determination fill his eyes. “Nope. I attended the public school across town all my life. I’m here on a scholarship. As for my tattoos, I like to be creative, and sometimes, I use my body to do it.”
I felt my cheeks turn red from embarrassment. I was sure he could get very creative with that body of his.
He seemed to sense my discomfort, and he laughed. “I didn’t mean for it to come out like that.”
“It’s fine. I was just embarrassed for being so nosy,” I lied.
“You weren’t being nosy, just curious. But you were right about one thing—I don’t fit in around here. My mom kind of forced me into coming here.”
That surprised me. Hamrick High School was one of the top private schools in California. I had no idea why he wouldn’t be jumping for joy at the chance to attend when so many would kill to be in his position.
“Why don’t you want to be here?” I asked.
“I thought it would be obvious. I’m not one of the rich kids, like you. My kind tends to be looked down on.”
“Oh,” I said, unable to think of anything else to say.
He gave me a small smile, and I noticed a dimple in his left cheek. How did I miss that?
“You don’t have to feel awkward or anything. It’s just the facts of life. I’ve been looked down on my entire life by this entire town because my mom works as a waitress instead of being married to some rich guy.”
I added blunt to the list of notes I’d made about him in my head. The kid didn’t beat around the bush. He got straight to the point.
“My mom isn’t married to a rich guy.” I pretended to glare at him, but I couldn’t keep a straight face. “Well, she isn’t married to him anymore.”
He looked shocked at first, but then he realized that I was kidding, and relief flooded his face. “I thought I pissed you off there for a second.”
“Nah. I was just messing with you!” I said as I giggled.
The bell rang to signal the end of class. I grabbed my trig book and threw it into my bag. Lucy waved good-bye as she left for her next class on the opposite side of the school from mine. I knew that the two of us couldn’t have every class together, but I hated the ones that she wasn’t in. School was boring without Lucy around.
I glanced over to see Jesse waiting for me to lead the way to our next class. Maybe history won’t be so boring after all.
We walked side by side out of the classroom and down the hallway to our next class. As soon as I entered the room, I heard someone shouting my name from the back of the room. I looked up to see two of the girls on my squad, Andrea and Vanessa, waving their hands and pointing to an empty seat in front of them. I smiled and waved back as I started walking toward them.
Remembering that Jesse was still with me, I turned to look at him. “Do you want to sit back there with us?”
He seemed unsure, but he finally nodded. “Sure.”
I watched Andrea’s and Vanessa’s eyes widen as they took Jesse in. I smiled to myself. Leave it to the broke kid to make every girl at Hamrick High turn into a puddle on the floor.