Home > In the Arms of the Elite (Rich Boys of Burberry Prep #4)(15)

In the Arms of the Elite (Rich Boys of Burberry Prep #4)(15)
Author: C.M. Stunich

When we pull into the driveway, I see a For Sale sign in the yard, and yank my sunglasses off to gape at it. What the hell?

Charlie’s sitting in his chair in the living room when I walk in, and he smiles as he looks up and sees us.

“What’s with the sign?” I ask, feeling this niggle of worry in my lower belly. Dad shrugs his shoulders loosely, but I can tell he’s stressed out about it. There’s a little ‘V’ of worry between his brows.

“The landlord wants to sell, and I can’t afford a down payment for a house right now. Don’t worry too much about it. The real estate agent let me know it’s likely to be purchased as an investment property, and having us as long-term tenants is a valuable asset.”

“What about the money in my—” I start, but Dad’s already shaking his head.

“There are six offers on the property already. Homes don’t come up often in Grenadine Heights. Don’t worry, honey. You save that money for college and stop worrying so much about your old man.” My mouth purses into a thin line. I wish he’d told me about this sooner. Or maybe the sign was in the yard when the tour bus dropped us off last night, and I just didn’t notice? I was so nervous about my Planned Parenthood appointment today, I easily could’ve overlooked it.

“I’ll never stop worrying about you,” I tell him, giving him a kiss on the forehead.

Miranda and I change and head out for the day, coming back to find a Sold placard stacked on top of the For Sale sign. We exchange a look, climbing out in the dark, and then jumping when a person stands up from the shadows of the porch. I’ve been meaning to change that bulb out …

“Marnye.” It’s Windsor, pushing red hair off of his forehead. He waits for me to pause next to him, and I notice he’s got a bulb in one hand and a screwdriver in the other. “I noticed you needed a light, love.”

“What are you doing here?” I ask, as I get my phone out to use as a flashlight, so he can see better. Miranda lets herself inside, giving us a moment of privacy. “And why are you sitting in the dark by yourself?”

“Just tired,” Windsor says, installing the bulb and flooding the porch with light. He turns to look at me, and I see it written all over his face, the dark lines of fatigue. He puts the screwdriver aside and then reaches into the pocket of his leather jacket, pulling out a folded wad of papers.

I take them from him, and squint at the fine print, glancing up suddenly.

“You bought our house?” I ask, blinking in shock.

“Just barely. There were quite a few other offers—and not all of them from pleasant or even neutral parties.” Windsor smiles at me, but it lacks some of his usual glitter. He’s exhausted. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, it’s wearing him down. And I don’t want that. I don’t want him working himself to the bone for me. “I just paid ten times what your house is worth.” Windsor laughs and scrubs a palm down his face. “Harper really, really wanted it.”

“You’re not going to raise the rent, are you?” I ask, but it’s just a joke. My heart is thundering in my chest, and I just … I want to hug him. So I do. I slide my arms around his waist, and give him a squeeze. He returns the gesture, and then places a ring of keys in my hand.

“Cash purchase, quick close. Money can buy … almost anything.” Windsor smiles and pulls away from me, heading down the driveway with his hands in his pockets. I consider following, but I get the idea that he wants to be alone. He pauses at the edge of the yard, waves at me, and then continues on toward the bus stop.

I still don’t get why he doesn’t drive.

In reality, I know nothing about the British prince, the bully of bullies.

But I want to.

I want to so damn badly.

The rest of the summer seems to crawl by in hot lazy days, buzzing cicadas, and as much time spent with Charlie that I can manage. The questions I have about Isabella, and the new baby that Jennifer's carrying, are pushed aside in favor of keeping the peace.

That … or maybe I just don't want to know the answers to those questions?

“What do you want to do for your birthday?” Dad asks, and I get mad déjà vu, sitting on the back porch with him and Windsor. Last year, we had the surprise party at the bowling alley. This year … seems so much more severe, so much more important somehow. “Your mother wanted to take you and your sister to dinner.”

“That's pretty much the last thing I'd want to do on my birthday,” I tell him as Wind stays quiet, sipping his lemonade from a metal straw tucked into the corner of his mouth. I exhale and look out across the lawn. It's a little too long, the grass waving in the warm breeze, but it's dotted with wildflowers and I find the sight soothing somehow. “Maybe we could all go to the lake and have a barbeque?”

“This is your birthday, Marnye-bear, not mine.” Dad reaches over and gives my hand a squeeze, but there’s no strength left in it. Birds chirp, and butterflies flitter by, but I feel like I’m being sucked down a dark, black hole in that moment.

I want to scream at the world, maybe throw something, but that won’t help. Instead, I take a long, deep breath and force a smile. It hurts, that smile, like a knife cutting across the bottom of my face, but I do it anyway. Because really, it’s the opposite of what Dad just said: this is for him, not for me.

“It’s your eighteenth,” Charlie insists, looking over at me with a mischievous smile. “You’re supposed to get into trouble. It’s a rite of passage.” I already got into some good trouble at the Afterglow concert, I think, feeling a small shiver run through me. I cannot get Zayd’s inked hands out of my head, or the way the piercing in his shaft made me finish with such a violent, overwhelming surge of pleasure.

Not … exactly the conversation I want to be having while Dad’s touching my hand. I almost grimace but manage to keep the expression off my face.

“Barbeque and fishing at the lake,” I say firmly, exhaling. “I know I’ve been kinda strict about the vegan and vegetarian thing, so we’ll grab some big, fat steaks, some ribs, some chicken—”

“I will grab some big, fat steaks, and whatever else you want,” Windsor says, setting his lemonade aside. “Just make me a list, and your wish is granted.”

I give him a look.

“No more extravagant gifts this time. It’s not a competition.” But my mouth curves into a smile anyway because he knows how much I love my car.

“It’s a deal, Your Majesty,” he says, without a hint of irony. “Just the basics. Do you want a cake? Candles? A crown?”

I smile and Dad chuckles, reaching over to ruffle my hair.

“She’s been wearing a crown since she was born, my little princess …” His voice trails off, and the way he looks at me … I know he thinks he’s dying. Really and truly believes it. I squeeze Grandma June’s charm bracelet in my hand and keep eye contact with him.

“Any normal party stuff is fine …” I start, and then as if Windsor can sense we need it, he stands up and leaves me and dad alone in the sunshine.

My eighteenth birthday rolls up just days before school starts. The weather is perfect, a balmy seventy degrees with just enough shade to keep us cool, but plenty of sunshine gleaming on the surface of the lake. Using some of my gambling money, I bought Dad and me new fishing rods, seriously freaking fancy ones. That, and a new bait box and plenty of supplies to go in it. I even bought him a new hat, and a small metal boat that cuts across the water like a dream.

“This is not my birthday,” he insists, but he accepts the items anyway, and we spend a good portion of the morning in silence on the water, bringing in several fish but keeping only a couple to cook for lunch. By the time the boys arrive, rolling up in Zayd’s Jaguar, Zack’s McLaren, and a Mercedes sedan that Miranda got for her eighteenth birthday, we’re bringing the boat in and getting coals prepped on the small barbeque.

Windsor sets up streamers and ties a ridiculously huge cluster of balloons to a tree while Zack takes over the grill. Andrew is with his family in Hawaii until tomorrow, so he won’t be here, and Lizzie isn’t sure she’s going to be able to make it. Is it wrong for me to hope it’s just going to be me, the boys, and Miranda?

“A crown, as promised,” Windsor says, putting a tiara on my head that has my eyes bulging out of my skull.

“How much did you spend on this?” I whisper, but he ignores me, sweeping away to help unload gifts, snacks, and a giant three-tiered cake that looks a little like the Burberry Prep campus. “Talk about gauche. Whose idea was this?”

“We all pooled money and got you the crown and the cake,” Miranda says, putting a plastic wand with a light-up star on the end in my hand. I raise my eyebrows and she grins. “We figured we were all saying goodbye to Burberry this year, so why not eat it in cake form?”

“Uh-huh.” She saunters by and starts opening bags to dump chips in the metal serving bowls. A few minutes later, Lizzie pulls up and my heart drops. She gives me a brief birthday hug before helping Miranda with the snacks.

Zayd starts up some music while Creed and Tristan drape themselves on the picnic table like kings.

“Fair warning,” Tristan says, glancing in the direction of the road. “We saw a champagne colored Cadillac on its way up here.” I nod, but it’s okay. Actually, this time, it was me that invited Jennifer … and Isabella, and the baby Jennifer gave birth to last month.

I have a gut feeling that won’t go away.

The car pulls up and Jennifer climbs out, looking far too pretty for someone that just went through labor. I hate myself for thinking it, but if I could, I’d transfer her health and vitality into Charlie. I really would. He’s the parent who stuck around, who took care of me, who raised me all by himself. Jennifer is just a selfish wannabe socialite.

“Happy birthday, honey,” she says, giving me a kiss on the cheek. Isabella stays far behind her, nostrils flared as she looks at the party in disgust, like it’s far below her usual standards. Jennifer hands me the package in her hand before heading back to the car to grab the baby.

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