Empire of Hate (Empire #3) by Rina Kent

This is the only place where I’m out of her sight and can do what I want.

Like eating peaches.

I’m allergic to them, but they’re my favorite food. I like the calm they bring me after every bite. So what if I have red, swollen lips? It’ll go away after a while.

Loving something that hurts you is also an unhealthy obsession, I think.

I shouldn’t be doing this when we have guests, but I’m freaking out, and peaches erase that feeling.

They’re on my side.

I take the first bite and close my eyes to enjoy the sickeningly sweet taste. My tongue tingles, but I continue chewing and sucking the positive energy. The first peach is almost finished, and I tell myself I’ll take my time with the second one.


I startle, my eyes snapping open, and that causes one of my preciously stolen fruits to roll down on the ground and bump into someone’s shoes.

Before I can be relieved that Mum didn’t catch me, I rake my gaze over the person who did.


He stares down at me with mild annoyance as if I’m a beggar at the side of his house who keeps blocking his way whenever he goes out.

The blue of his eyes that’s usually bright and sparkling is a little muted now, but the rays of the sun streak his hair to give it lighter strands.

Even though he was running for more than half an hour, his shirt is tucked neatly in his trousers and his face isn’t all red and sweaty like mine whenever I do any physical activity. Only a slight flush dusts his cheeks and nose.

He bends over and catches the fruit that unapologetically bumped into him, then rolls it between his fingers as if it’s the first time he’s seen one. “Do you always hide to eat peaches after being mean?”

I swallow the contents of my mouth and my lips burn as if I’ve kissed fire.

But that doesn’t matter.

Because I think Daniel just spoke to me.

For the first time in weeks, he sees me.

Just to make sure, I search around me in case someone else came into the pool house.

Maybe it’s a ghost?

Or his imaginary friend?

No. He was actually talking to me. I’m the only one hiding to eat peaches.

My brow furrows when I focus on the last bit he said. “Who’s mean?”



“You’re mean and stuck-up. I don’t care if you do it to anyone else, but if you laugh at me again, I won’t let you.”

Wait. What is he saying?

“I didn’t laugh at you.”

“You did with Chloe just now.”

“No, that’s not…” My tongue gets stuck and my words won’t come out.

Usually, eating peaches only makes my lips swollen, so why does my tongue feel numb?

“Do you enjoy acting superior when you invite people to your house?” he continues. “I can play your game, too. I’ll tell your mum that you’ve stolen peaches and are eating them. If you’re hiding to do it, then it must be a bad thing.”

“No… Don’t do that…”

My tongue barely moves and my words are drawn out. My hand involuntarily opens and the half-eaten peach falls to the ground.

“I can be mean, too.” He starts to move and I stand up abruptly.

The world spins around me and the room pulls me down. A buzz fills my ears before a thud echoes around us.

It’s me, I realize, when my blurry vision focuses on the ground.

I fell down. My limbs feel like they’re in an awkward position, but I don’t even care about that as I strain, “D-don’t…”

My eyes are half-closed but I make out his silhouette facing me again. “If this is some tactic to stop me, it won’t work.”

“Peaches…” I mumble. “I-I’m allergic to t-them…”

A body crouches by my side and then my head is placed on a warm surface. It’s Daniel’s thighs, I think, because he’s staring down at me, his eyes wide.

“Your lips are red and weird.” He reaches for me, then retracts his hand. “I’m going to tell your mum.”

I grab his wrist with my sweaty hand and dig my nails in. “N-no…she’ll punish me… I’ll be fine…”

“You don’t look fine.”

“It…will go away…”

“Are you sure?”

No. Because this is the first time I’ve gotten this dizzy, but that’s okay. If it means he’ll just continue to hold me.

“It’ll go away if you keep me in this position,” I lie.

Daniel carefully removes my hair from my face. “If you’re allergic to peaches, why would you eat them?”

“B-because I like them.”

“You’re weird, Nicole.”

I’ve been called pretty and smart and a good girl, but never weird. I think I like that better.

I like not being so perfect.

“I…I have toys… My favorite doll and snow globe are behind you in the secret…d-drawer…”

“I don’t think you should be talking about toys right now.” His brow is furrowed again and I don’t like that. I want to see his dimples instead.

“G-get them…my toys…”

“For what?”

“J-just do it.”