Empire of Hate (Empire #3) by Rina Kent
Mum is like a goddess and I don’t think I’ll ever grow up to be as beautiful as her. Despite her appearance, she’s completely compliant with the aristocratic way of doing things. Which means she never enhances her beauty, wears red lipstick, or dresses provocatively.
Even now, she has on a soft green dress and a simple matching sweater. But she’s still the prettiest of all the women present.
And they hate that, so they talk behind her back. Once, we were at a charity event and when I went to the bathroom, I heard them call her a gold-digger and a whore who sells herself to the richest man available. Mum caught me listening and told me to go back to where the kids were.
Her expression didn’t even change, as if she didn’t hear them talk badly about her behind closed doors after praising her in front of everyone.
I think that’s how the world works. As Mum said, it’s best to never show your emotions in public.
It’s how she got this far after surviving an abusive household when she was young.
It’s how I became lucky.
So I shouldn’t be thinking about leaving the children that she explicitly told me to keep company.
The girls and I are sitting in the garden across from our mothers and having a tea party like them with my extravagant tea set.
The boys are playing football far enough away that they won’t interfere with our peaceful time.
It’s a rare sunny day in London, although the clouds sometimes decide to play peek-a-boo with the sun.
I pour more tea for one of the girls, but my attention is unfocused. Or more like, it’s stolen by something I shouldn’t be giving weight to.
One of them, to be more specific.
His face has turned red from all the running after the ball, and his lips are parted with each pant.
He has weird hair that’s neither dark nor light, as if it couldn’t make up its mind on which color to be, so it settled on a mixture of both. Like the color of the earth under the sun and the tone of premium wood.
But his eyes are what I noticed first. They’re blue and light, but not as muted as Mum’s. They’re glinting in the sun as if they’re reflecting its warmth. As if they’re mimicking the sky and trapping the stars.
Yes, stars are visible during the day, but only through his shiny eyes. Not only can they be seen there, but they also have that magical pull.
Like Disney films and the wildest fairy tales.
His name is Daniel.
It’s a normal name on everyone else but him.
We’ve been studying in the same class ever since I changed schools after Mum married Uncle Henry.
Everyone in school loves me. The teachers, because I’m a good girl and smart. The kids, because I’m popular.
Not Daniel, though.
He’s never spoken to me. Never even looked my way.
As if I were invisible.
His mother recently became friends with Mum and this is the first time she’s invited her to our house.
I’ve been over the moon ever since I learned that he’d be coming over with his mum. I didn’t know why at first, until I learned what “unhealthy obsession” meant last night.
I think I have one for him.
Which should be stupid, considering he doesn’t even know I exist, but I always find myself watching him.
I don’t even know what Chloe, the girl I poured tea for, just said. But I continue to nod anyway, so she’ll keep talking and I can watch him.
So I can see how he runs and tackles the ball, then scores. His teammates gang up on him and he grins.
I stop breathing.
Something happens when he grins or smiles or laughs.
His cheeks crease and one set of dimples appear. If he were an angel, those would be his wings. If he were a prince, that would be his crown.
Daniel is simply so…beautiful.
My cheeks catch fire and I focus back on Chloe for a second and laugh at something she said before I lift my head again.
This time, Daniel’s bright eyes that resemble a combination of the sky, sun, and stars are staring at me.
His lips are pursed, the dimples gone, before he shakes his head and goes back to his game.
What happened just now?
Ghostly hands squeeze my chest, and my heart starts to thump loudly. I did something wrong and I don’t know what.
Why did he look at me for the first time and glare?
My fingers shake on the teacup and Mum gives me a sidelong stare. I carefully put it down, trying to breathe deeply as she taught me.
I’m going to screw up something. I can feel myself losing control and if I do, Mum will be mad.
So I stand up, smooth my white dress with lace and smile. “I’ll be right back, girls.”
I don’t wait for their replies as I walk in a brisk pace toward the house, staring at my golden flat shoes with lace ribbons that match the ones in my hair.
Today, I wore my best clothes so I’d look pretty. I even asked Mum to leave my hair loose because it makes me feel like a princess.
I wanted to be a princess because that’s what princes want.
But he glared at me.
Overwhelmed, I go to the kitchen, make sure none of the staff is looking, and then I steal two peaches. I hide them behind my back and sneak to the pool house.
The drawn-out curtains hide the light except for sneaky rays that spill through onto the wooden floor.
I sit on the carpet and kick my shoes away. I’ve always loved to sit on the ground with my feet outstretched, but Mum hates that, so I come to the pool house to do it.
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