Read an Excerpt
She reached for her sunglasses.
Madison Hamilton dug into her tan Triple Threat hobo bag and felt instantly relieved as she touched the smooth silk lining. After a harried morning that included a press conference and two final exams, she needed a little fabric pick-me-up. She also needed to hide the worry glowing in her eyes. The last thing she wanted was someone asking her why she looked so downright frightened.
She let her fingers skim through the bag for a few moments, the silk a cool kiss against her hot skin. It was like a shot of champagne straight to the veins. A feeling of serenity washed over her, but it was quickly eclipsed by the small note sitting on the table in front of her. She stared down at the perfect script and swallowed hard.
Please report to the principal’s office at once.
Sighing, Madison snatched her sunglasses from the bag and slipped them on. Oliver Peoples couldn’t be beat when it came to covering up. She lifted her face and glanced around the ornately furnished room. The student lounge at St. Cecilia’s Prep was decorated lavishly in dark wood and Oriental rugs, in shiny plasma screens and marble countertops. Its four windows overlooked the medieval courtyard, but a thick trail of ivy wound over the glass panes, blocking out the bright June sun. The long shadows that fell across the floor didn’t matter: sunglasses were a priority when it came time to make the walk down the fifth-floor corridor that led to the principal’s office.
Thankfully, the student lounge was fairly empty so late in the afternoon. Madison shot a glance at Jessica Paderman, who was sitting at one of the mahogany desks beside the bookcase. Short, scrawny, and blessed with a mane of thick red hair, Jessica was the heiress to a huge pharmaceutical empire; she was a quiet, studious, timid girl who never got into any kind of trouble. Madison had spoken to her only a handful of times. There was no reason to suspect that Jessica knew about the note from the principal’s office, so she let her gaze drift to the left side of the room, where Aaron Linney was snoozing fitfully on one of the plush love seats. The light snoring sound wafting through the air was typically Aaron. Also the heir to a sizeable fortune, Aaron had a habit of smoking too much weed and drooling onto his wrinkled white uniform shirts. Madison doubted he’d heard anything about the note either, or much else, for that matter.
Getting summoned to the principal’s office wasn’t really a big deal at St. Cecilia’s Prep. The school had the wealthiest student body in the world, which left little room for disciplinary action or useless things like detention or suspension. Punishments were handed down, but they were rarely ever meted out. A single phone call from a disturbed parent usually swept a problem under the rug. And because a large chunk of the students were celebutantes with very public social lives, the nuns who staffed the school couldn’t really argue their holy points. Incidentally, these were the same nuns who received generous donations and academic endowments from parents eager to buy a little silence.
But Madison was still totally wrecked by the note. She had no idea why she was being called to the office of Reverend Mother Margaret John—the stern, disapproving principal. Madison was a stellar student. She was even an obedient student, smiling and nodding and dipping into a quick curtsy when the older teachers walked by her in the halls. More than once, she had volunteered her free time in the school’s development office, giving her expert advice on fund-raising and special-event planning. Her black-and-red-checkered uniform was perfect: crisp shirt, navy blazer buttoned just above the waist, tie knotted firmly at the neck, skirt flowing past the knees. Like everyone else, Madison hated the uniform, but she never followed the examples of her female classmates, who had their skirts professionally altered nearly up to their butts. Thighs must be seen to properly show off a tan.
So why the note?
I can’t be in trouble, she thought. I haven’t done anything wrong.
She had been sitting in the student lounge for fifteen minutes, trying to delay the inevitable. Now it was time to get up and face whatever awaited her on the fifth floor. She pushed the sunglasses further up on the bridge of her nose and reached for her bag. But before she could rise out of the chair, she saw a tall, gangly male figure jump through the doorway like a giant grasshopper, stomping his feet and breaking into a funny dance. His practical joke shattered the silence in the room.
Jessica Paderman nearly shot out of her chair.
Aaron Linney opened one eye, recognized the culprit, and resumed his snooze.
It was Madison who laughed. “Damien Kittle,” she said with a shake of her head. “When will you ever grow up?”
Instead of answering, Damien Kittle launched into a new dance, spinning around, kicking up his knees, banging his head as if he were at a heavy metal concert. He held his arms up and out and twitched his fingers, playing an imaginary guitar. “You won’t be finding me actin’ like an adult anytime soon, Miss Hamilton,” he said.
Madison couldn’t help but smile. Watching Damien Kittle in action was an event that rivaled front-row seats at a Cirque du Soleil performance. As she stared at him, taking in his wild antics, she felt some of her anxiety melt away.
Damien was a senior at St. Cecilia’s Prep—and probably the only true blue blood. He had English royalty in his veins. His official title was Duke of Asherton, but he hated admitting it to people. In fact, he liked to project an image that was entirely at odds with the prim and proper role of the British throne. Perfect posture? A staid demeanor? Tea in the afternoon? Hell, no. Damien was a self-avowed adrenaline junkie, a class clown who enjoyed harassing teachers and scaring the quiet kids. He was also a world-class charmer.
From the Trade Paperback edition.