Mrs. Patricia stepped away, her lips pressing together as she shot the headmistress a look before approaching my desk. She bent to pick up my books.
Collecting everything for me, she nodded. “I’ll hold your things for you, Riley.”
I was in trouble? Was it my mom?
I tried to ask her with my eyes, but she wasn’t looking at me. In fact, as I walked next to her down the aisle and toward the door, she swallowed and looked away. She was now actively avoiding my gaze.
That wasn’t good. Not at all.
“Come, Riley.” There was that same curt tone from the headmistress. She flicked her hand to me, motioning toward the hallway. “You’re needed.”
I was needed? No one needed me.
But the headmistress was already striding away in brisk steps, and I hurried to catch up. I lowered my head, even though the hallways were empty. This was how I walked at Hillcrest. Brooke was the opposite. She held her head high, and her hands were always waving in the air. When she spoke, everyone listened, even if you didn’t want to.
That had started to grate on the nerves of some of the upperclassmen girls. I’d caught the envy and bitterness coming from them, but when I mentioned it to Brooke, she’d laughed and said, “What are they going to do? Take me out?” She’d been mocking as she added the last bit, but there was a roughness in her tone.
I never brought it up again. That wasn’t the normal Brooke I knew, but there were times I heard that side of her come out on the phone—when she was talking to her family. Always her family.
She was so secretive about them.
As I followed the headmistress down the hall, I’d assumed we would be going to her office, or even my room, but when she veered to the front entrance, I slowed down.
Going to the door, she turned and flicked her hand toward it, the same quick, sharp movement as before. “Your presence is needed outside.” Her hand smoothed down her pencil skirt and straightened her collar before she raised her chin and began to leave.
I looked back at her.
A fierce frown clouded her face. Distaste flashed in her eyes. “You are not to speak a word of this to anyone. Do you understand?”
I nodded slowly.
She sniffed, rotating back around as if she were a soldier. “You are dismissed from all classes until Miss Bennett no longer needs your presence.”
And with that, she walked away, her heels clipping out a sharp staccato on the floor.
Kai Bennett still looked the same as he had on that day: smoldering black eyes, prominent cheekbones, the same luscious features as all of his siblings.
I remembered that day, and I hated it, but the same shiver curled around my spine. It was writhing around me, because this was bad. This was so bad.
“Who wants to try Eggwhite Chips and throw up with me?” Carol tossed the bags of snacks on the counter. “Anyone? Anyone?” Her voice dropped to imitate the “Bueller? Bueller?” line from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. Rustling through the bags, she continued, “By the way, I got that new job, so after you give me a round of applause, I was thinking we could all get wasted tonight. The job pays better. More money for the bills, right?”
The rustling stopped.
Her voice grew clearer. “Anyone? Wasted? Bueller?”
I had to look away, but I couldn’t.
Blade had hit the pause button when Carol came in, so I was staring at those dark eyes and feeling my insides shrivel into a puddle.
I was lost in my memories again. I’d returned to that day.
I hadn’t been prepared that day. I’d thought I was, considering the status of Kai and his family. But that day had been the first real eye opener for me as to how powerful the Bennett family was—and by Bennett family, I really mean The Bennett Family.
They were mafia, and they were ruthless.
Brooke had gotten word that her father and brother were coming to visit her.
We had visitor days at Hillcrest, but for Brooke to be pulled out of class and be waiting for them on the front steps of the school wasn’t normal. If a family called ahead, they would have the student waiting for them, but usually in her room, not the front steps. And not with her roommate/best friend acting as a source of support.
Brooke had been pale when I pushed open those doors, hunched over with her arms wrapped around her knees. She’d lifted her head to look at me, and I saw tears streaks on her face. They were fresh.
Even as I sat beside her, she couldn’t stop crying to talk. A gurgling sound had come out of her throat when she tried, so eventually I’d just told her it’d be fine.
I’d had no idea what would be fine, but I didn’t know what else to say.
I’d pulled her into my arms, cleaned off the streaked mascara and tears, and stroked her hair and back. We sat there for forty-five minutes. The bell rang, and I tensed, knowing some of the girls would come out to see what was going on. A few of the classrooms had windows facing where we were so I had no doubt they’d seen us.
When no one came out, I glanced back.
The headmistress and three other instructors were there, their arms wide, blocking people from coming to us. I saw them shoo the others away until the next class started, and even then, the headmistress had stayed.
She looked at me, and I saw her fear.
It was brief and gone so quickly, but it stuck deep in me.
Thinking back on it now, I realized that’d been the first time I felt afraid of Kai Bennett. There’d been an uneasiness when Brooke talked about him, or because she wouldn’t talk about him. She talked about Cord. She was proud of him. She gushed about Tanner, and she adored Jonah. But Kai? There was a tension. She’d been scared of him.
Before, I had only thought she—I didn’t know what I’d thought. I hadn’t, I guess. I’d just known there was an air of mystery around him, and though I’d tried not to be, in a reverse kind of way, I had been the most fascinated with him.
Out of their whole family, Kai Bennett was the most.
He was the best looking.
He had their dark and hypnotic eyes, but they were more with him. More smoldering. More hypnotic. More powerful.
He had the same facial features as the others—a perfect, lush mouth, as if formed just for kissing. And he had the body of a professional soccer player or surfer. There wasn’t an inch of softness in his pictures, and I felt my face flushing even now as I remembered how often his picture had captivated me. It had been his face that I studied the most, dreamed about the most, and fantasized about the most.
But that day he had killed it.
When their cars pulled into the school’s two-mile driveway, Brooke had stood. Moments later, she’d buckled.
I’d caught her, an arm around her to hold her upright, and she’d begun to shake.
She kept hiccupping as she sobbed, but she faced forward the whole time. She never turned away. Her hand gripped mine until it went numb.
A black SUV pulled up to the school and rolled forward.
A second SUV stopped right in front of us.
A third SUV parked behind it.
A fourth lingered in the driveway, partially blocking anyone else from pulling up if they had tried.
I wasn’t prepared for the spectacle that came after that.
All of the doors had opened at once.
The drivers of all four cars got out and stood guard.
Then the passenger doors opened, and more guards emerged, taking point.
The only two doors that had remained closed were the back two on the SUV right in front of us. The second SUV.
Two guards approached. They went to each side of the second vehicle, and as one, as if they’d rehearsed (and they might’ve), they opened the doors.
An older man wearing a suit stepped out of the door closest to us. He wasn’t tall; he was average height—maybe around five eight?—and he had a full head of graying dark hair. I saw the same eyes, the same chin that Brooke had, the same face as hers and her brothers’.
This was her father.
She barely ever talked about him.
She’d never talked about her mom, either.
It was only Cord, Tanner, and Jonah.
No father, no mother, and hardly any Kai.
I’d looked over to the other side of the SUV, and he’d been standing there.
I’d sucked in my breath.
Everything had paused for a second—it was like the world felt a full glitch.
I had not been prepared for Kai Bennett.
Then again, how could I? It’s not normal. He’s not normal.
In photos, his pull was excessive, but in person? It was astronomical.
He’d looked up and sought his sister first. Brooke had stilled, as if feeling his gaze, and then his eyes had moved to me.
I’d felt a punch in the sternum, along with a full blast of ice.
He was cold. He was calculating. And he was ruthless. I felt it all at once.
The air had sizzled around him, power coming off of him in waves as he’d rounded the car to stand beside their father.