Home > In the Arms of the Elite (Rich Boys of Burberry Prep #4)(6)

In the Arms of the Elite (Rich Boys of Burberry Prep #4)(6)
Author: C.M. Stunich

“Let us do the cooking,” Windsor supplies, stepping past Dad and grabbing the cooler from the back of the truck before Charlie can even think to protest. “You rest, and I'll bring you a cup of tea. I brought some loose-leaf varieties that were a gift from my great-grandmother.”

“You're such a nice boy,” Dad says, but then cringes slightly. “I mean, I guess you're all nearly eighteen, so I should say man.”

“I'm just thankful you allow me to date your daughter,” Windsor tells him, and I love how it just goes over everyone's head that Wind's 'great-grandmother' is the Queen of freaking England.

Dad smiles, but there's a faraway sort of look in his eyes, the same look he's had all week. I need to talk to him about the Isabella thing. He's a terrible liar, so if my suspicions are right, he'll spill the beans during a simple confrontation. But that's a good trait to have, right? To be a terrible liar? Better than being an expert.

“Everything okay?” I ask again, putting my hand on his arm. He pauses and purses his lips, nodding.

“Yeah, everything's fine, Marnye-bear. There's nothing for you to worry about; I just want you to enjoy your senior year.” He starts toward the house again, but my nerves are on high-alert. I feel like there's something more he's not telling me.

I watch him go, greeting Lizzie and Miranda as he steps into the house. He mostly ignores Zack and Creed, but that’s no surprise there. He hasn’t forgiven them yet, and I can’t blame him. I’m more likely to forgive something done to me versus something done to a person I love.

“He hates them, doesn’t he?” I ask Wind, glancing his direction as he follows my dad’s retreat with dark shadows dancing behind his hazel eyes. He still seems distracted and tired to me; it's making me nervous.

The prince glances my way again, blinking those fears and doubts from his gaze and smiling.

“Maybe. That's why you should dump the rest of these assholes, marry me, and ride off into the sunset in your rose-gold Maserati.” Windsor leans over and presses a light kiss to my cheek, just the most fleeting pressure of lips against skin that leaves me lightheaded and dizzy.

I glance his way, but I still can't decide if he's serious or not.

“College first, Windy,” I tell him, and he gives me this naughty, sexy little grin. We haven't talked much about college, me and him. Other than the fact that he said he doesn't particularly care if he goes or not, I don't know anything about his future plans. He's got enough money to blow it on whatever he wants and live comfortably for the rest of his life.

“College first then princessdom,” he says, stepping toward me and curling his fingers through mine. For a moment there, I find myself short of breath, staring back at the handsome prince and wondering what on earth I did to make him like me so much. Part of me still wonders if he's up to something.

I decide to ask him the same question that Creed asked me.

“Why?” I whisper, my voice barely audible, the sound stolen away by the gentle breeze and the tinkle of wind chimes.

“Why, what?” the prince asks, stepping so close that I can see flecks of gold and blue and green in his irises. His red-orange hair is just slightly curled on the top, and it falls gently over his forehead until he lets go of one of my hands and pushes it up. It stays up, too, like it prefers to be there.

“Why do you like me?” I ask, genuinely curious. I'm not fishing for compliments or looking for validation, I just want to know.

Windsor cocks a red brow at me.

“Mm, interesting question,” he says, looking up at the sky for a moment. When he glances back down at me, there's a much softer expression on his face that makes me shiver. “Now? Or when I first saw you? Those, Milady, are two different answers.”

“Now,” I say firmly, exhaling and enjoying the warmth of his hand pressed up against mine. Wind nods, like he expected as much.

“Now, it’s because you’re a person who isn’t swayed by the easy things in life. You demand heart and sacrifice, kindness, generosity. Those sorts of acts aren’t easy. I admire you in a way I’ve never admired anyone else.” He pauses and reaches up to touch the side of my face. “There’s a purity in you that very well might cancel out the darkness in me. Marnye, I’m not ashamed to admit it: I want you, and I’m willing to fight for the privilege of calling you mine.”

“Do you think we could talk about something?” I ask Dad a few weeks later, sitting across from him at the Railroad Station. He's barely touched his peanut butter and syrup soaked waffles and seems a million miles away.

He blinks like he's coming to and turns to look at me, putting on a smile that doesn't quite reach his eyes. I exhale and curl my fingers around my fork. The smell of fresh coffee and maple syrup calms my nerves, but this is still a hard question to ask.

“Are you still …” Ugh, this is going to be harder than I thought, isn't it?

“Am I still what?” he asks, setting his fork down and picking up his coffee. The plastic tablecloth is sticky, the place crowded, but it's the soft murmur of voices and the clink of cutlery that makes me feel at home. Dad and I have been eating here for years.

Going to Bornstead … I'll be a million miles away. Okay, so I'm exaggerating: it's more like a twelve hundred mile drive. Twenty hours. Well, or a three hour flight from the San Jose airport.

“Are you still seeing Jennifer?” I ask, looking down at the streaks of yellow egg on my plate instead of at Dad's face. He pauses for a minute, but I guess he decides the question's fair enough and answers.

“No, not anymore. Not since my diagnosis. Your mother—”

“Is a selfish bitch and can't handle your illness?” I look up and find Dad watching me carefully. He sighs and reaches up to adjust his baseball cap. Normally he wouldn't wear a hat inside, but he's too ashamed of his thinning hair, and the whole staff is sympathetic.

“You shouldn't talk about your mother that way,” he tells me, but I don't have any sympathy for that woman. Forgiveness, Marnye, forgiveness. If you forgave the guys, surely you can forgive Jennifer? “I want you to have a relationship with her, with your sister.”

“Only because you don't think you're going to be around,” I grind out, feeling this dark desperation creep over me.

I'm starting to realize that I'm a bit of a control freak, but … Dad's illness, that's one thing I can't control. That's one aspect in my life I can't just soldier through. I need him. I need him to see me graduate not just Burberry Prep, but also Bornstead U. I need him to see me get married. I need him to see me succeed. He sacrificed so much for me; I want him to know that I'm putting forth all my effort to make his sacrifices count.

“Marnye,” he says, his voice soft and strange and far away. Our brown eyes lock together, and he refuses to let me look away. “We need to have this conversation.”

“No, we don't.” My eyes start to fill with tears, but I force them back. I've already promised myself that I won't let Charlie see me cry. Creedence Clearwater Revival comes on over the speakers, and I have to fight even harder to push the tears back. Have You Ever Seen the Rain just makes me want to sob. I don't know why.

“My doctor isn't sure I'll make it more than another six months.”

“No!” I stand up suddenly, all the other questions I had tucked away disappearing like smoke. Is Isabella really my half-sister? Because she looks like she might be more than that. Is that why she's so angry? And what about the baby? It's not yours, is it? “No.” I lower my voice when several of the other patrons turn to look at me. “Please don't talk like that. You're getting the best treatments available, and …” I feel the sudden need to text Windsor and ask about it. He said he'd take care of it, right?

Logically, I know Windsor York has no control over my father's cancer. Logically. But there's no logic in a broken heart.

“Sometimes, we have to accept the hand we've been dealt,” Dad starts, and I turn and push away from the table, racing outside into the sunny morning. The air is crisp, and there are birds singing bright songs. I hate them all in that moment.

“Are you okay?” Zack asks, leaning against the side of his orange McLaren. I lift my gaze up and glance over at him, his brown eyes dark and narrowed, his expression soft but his stance foreboding. He looks so scary. Hell, I used to be scared of him. But when I walk over and slide my arms around his waist, he gathers me up close, his sporty scent comforting me.

I close my eyes and breathe in the sweet and savory mix of nutmeg and lavender, and decide I don't care if Dad looks out and sees us. I hate secrets. I need to tell him the truth about the guys, and that I'm dating all five of them.

Zack cups the back of my head with one of his big hands, squeezing me so tight that I feel more than safe wrapped up in all those big muscles of his.

He doesn't ask me to talk about it, just holds me there until I push away and sniffle a bit.

“Want to go check out the campus at LBMS?” he asks, and I give him a look. The day I left, I swore I'd never go back to Lower Banks Middle School again. But … maybe it'd be cathartic somehow? “We can write Mrs. Dickweed in Sharpie on Mrs. Dillword's door and pretend we're fourteen again.”

“I never wrote Mrs. Dickweed on that woman's door,” I tell Zack, crossing my arms over my chest. “Because I am not a bully.” His face softens up and he reaches out to ruffle my hair. It could be a patronizing sort of move, done wrong, but Zack makes it seem affectionate. “But she was a bit of a bully herself sometimes, so I get it.” I pause and study his tall form for a moment, trying not to think about our sessions in the dark. We've only had sex a handful of times, and it still feels so new. When I look at him and think too hard about it, I flush and feel the nearly uncontrollable urge to blurt out random architectural and historical facts. “What are you doing here anyway?”

   
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