Last week we announced that John Forrester’s Vogel House is our Romance of the Week and the sponsor of thousands of great bargains in the Romance category: over 200 free titles, over 600 quality 99-centers, and thousands more that you can read for free through the Kindle Lending Library if you have Amazon Prime!
Now we’re back to offer our weekly free Romance excerpt, and if you aren’t among those who have downloaded Vogel House, you’re in for a real treat:
by John Forrester
59 Rave Reviews
Kindle Price: 99 cents
Or currently FREE for Amazon Prime Members Via the Kindle Lending Library
Text-to-Speech and Lending: Enabled
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Here’s the set-up:
Clarise Chambers is rich, confident, and beautiful. Life is about shopping for designer labels and hanging out at private parties thrown by her older brother Phillip while her parents are off getting drunk.
She’s never really been attracted to boys at her prep school, until she falls for Keary. With his dreamy eyes and sexy hair, she can’t stop imagining his beautiful hands discovering every inch of her body. Instead of afternoon study sessions, she fantasizes an erotic afternoon with him in bed.
The carefree, unshakable Clarise is startled by a secret, a secret involving Vogel House, her father and Keary’s father, a secret that threatens to tear her away from Keary and destroy her family. When her father forces her to stay away from Keary, Clarise finds herself caught between fighting for her family’s survival and her passionate romance with Keary. Her obsession for him crashes into the plot of revenge by Keary’s father, whose sole purpose is the destruction of everything she loves in life.
Contains strong language, drug use, and sexual content.
Vogel House has been professionally edited by Kirkus Author Services.
And here, for your reading pleasure, is our free excerpt:
ZACHARY LIES SPRAWLED across the stiff leather sofa of Father’s study, his hair messed up from Giselle’s probing fingers, and his once neat, white polo shirt wrinkled from wrestling with Phillip. He gazes at the wood-paneled ceiling as if imaginary butterflies adorned the air. I know he is high; I can tell by the teetering of his head and the way he shifts his gaze around the dimly lit, cave-like study where Father often retreats when Mother is in one of her drunken rages. Flecked with amber crystals, Zachary’s faint-green eyes hold a kind of euphoric expression that aims across darkly stained bookshelves lined with leather volumes, down over to the billiards table on the far side of the room, closer to where my brother Phillip is holding Giselle, and then over to me where it pierces through me as if I am a will-o’-the-wisp.
I pull back as his long arms reach out stupidly to hold me, his breath smelling of mint and sherry, mumbling, “Starlight…your hair is covered in starlight…” with his Southern drawl that always keeps him as an outsider at our Andover prep school. But Phillip loves him anyway, and Zachary spends so much time here at Vogel House, our historic estate outside of town, he practically lives here. My brother always has a kind heart for lost causes: clueless, beautiful boys—dreamers who gaze at shape-shifting clouds hoping for answers. And Zachary is truly a dreamer: a hedonist who unfortunately knows just how wealthy his family is—and that knowledge only emboldens him to take flight and drift wherever Phillip’s wind blows.
Phillip is in fine form tonight, strutting about the room, his mane of long, wavy black hair dancing, locked in an embrace with Giselle, their bodies humming together as the sound of a vintage Pink Floyd LP plays on Father’s cherished and forbidden sound system. Giselle preens and positions herself strategically over Phillip’s thighs, and giggles as his face oozes a don’t-you-want-me-now expression. A shimmering line of sweat dashes down her bare back, disappearing behind her red evening dress. Her nostrils flare, breath aroused and tight, and her legs quiver a moment, then tremble as Phillip raises her up—his slender, elegant hands gripping her lithe hips until she makes a lame attempt at wriggling free and they both tumble drunkenly onto the silk rug.
Why am I still here? I gape at them, unable to move, his lips glistening from Giselle’s ravenous tongue, fascinated by all the movements and gestures of love I’ve never known, but always wanted to, like a voyeur craving more than visual stimulation. Giselle’s eyeliner is smeared, purple shadows under her impossibly cute doll eyes, making her look like a cheap prostitute after a hard night’s work.
I stiffen as Giselle catches my gaze. She scoffs and crawls off Phillip, her dress hiked up to reveal legs slender and perfect, and her face scowling atop a slender ballerina neck. I want to strangle her until her face turns purple, the color of her slutty eyeliner.
“Are you seriously staring at us?” Giselle’s voice sounds wonderfully like a barmaid with a broken nose, dragging down her otherwise perfect self.
I cough slightly, blush, and recover quickly. “It’s like watching Animal Planet.” And Giselle is the antelope getting ravaged by the lion.
Zachary rolls over on the couch, seemingly back in the real world, and peers over at Phillip. I notice my brother’s arousal under his black trousers as he tries to pull Giselle back on top of his lap. She slaps one of his hands and then shivers as the other covertly caresses her left breast. Her smudged lips separate to allow a throaty moan to escape, and her eyes close involuntarily as he surgically maneuvers across mysteriously sensitive parts of her body. I realize my mouth is hanging open and am surprised when Giselle’s nasally voice interrupts the spell.
“God, Phillip, you’re making me wet.” She makes a vain attempt at pulling down her dress while Zachary stares at her, a fascinated, dreamy expression on his sleepy face.
“She’s like an angel…a fallen angel of ivory swimming in a pool of fire. So red…so bright.” Zachary’s voice is barely audible—slurred, as if he were a sleepwalker describing an ethereal dream. He runs a hand up the back of his neck, digging through his hair, then out towards Giselle’s dress like he wants to possess her.
“Just trust me,” Phillip whispers in Giselle’s ear, allowing his manicured nails to travel up her neck. “Take this, you’ll feel heavenly.” He presses something small and white into her unresisting mouth. “It’s so warm in here. Isn’t it, Clarise?”
For the first time since we came inside and locked the doors to Father’s moody study, Phillip looks at me with his kind, tender, illuminated amber eyes—eyes that try to convince me that the world is such a beautiful, amazing place, and ask, Don’t you see it too, Clarise?
I’m always riding his wave, with Phillip at the helm, my sense of propriety intentionally pushed aside, and his imagination leading us all astray. There are no limits to my brother’s vision of the world: no barriers, no taboos—only beauty and pleasure. And of course, that always gets us into trouble. As if my drunken wretch of a mother even cares, as if she even notices beyond the haze of martinis clouding her dim-witted view of high society.
“I just can’t stand her staring at me.” Giselle glares at me and glances spitefully at Zachary. “And I’m not a dancer on stage performing for you either.”
“But you’re so lovely. Everything is majestic, like the soft glow of the twilight sky.” Zachary brings on a slow smile that suddenly fades to a grave expression of doubt and fear. “Unless the darkness is coming…hideous shadows…Is it getting dark?”
Phillip wags his head from side to side, a smile playing on his lips. “She just needs time to see it. Soon. Be patient.” He pets Giselle’s head and her tension withers, placid for a time, until a quiet mood possesses the room.
The Dark Side of the Moon entrances me, creating a haunting chill that spikes down my spine. I know why my father loves this music, and smile to myself at the bitter memories the album recalls in my mother’s mind. Her old rival and Father’s once muse. How I wish I could have known her.
“What is it going to do to me?” Giselle’s forehead crinkles fretfully as she searches Phillip’s vague, distant eyes for answers.
Phillip catches Zachary’s knowing gaze and they share a thoughtful moment, soundless words passing the ether between them. Then, as if synchronized swimmers, they turn their heads at once, eyes resting first on my face, then down to my figure until I feel their eyes molesting my body.
“You’ve grown up, Clarise.” I don’t like the wicked tone in Phillip’s voice, as if he was trying to assemble the image of me as a girl flowering into a woman. This time I blush.
“I told you they call your sister belle jeune fille as she saunters down Scheumann’s halls.” I fluster as Zachary’s eyes illuminate, his smile clearly lustful. “In a year all the girls will hate her even more than they already do. Keep her close, Phillip, from those wily brats packing around her in class.”
A glint sharpens in Phillip’s left eye. “Oh, I highly doubt she cares much for boys in her class. They’re as immature and clueless as one would expect. I’ve seen how she looks at you, Zach, and how could she not? Even the gods tremble at the ravishing beauty of youth.”
Luckily Phillip had no way of knowing that my expression had been one of suppressed laughter and academic curiosity. Zachary is indeed beautiful, worthy of demigod labeling, but hardly of interest to my sensible mind. However, come to think of it, could Phillip be talking about the times I sat on the bleachers watching his lacrosse practice on hot, Indian-summer days? When all the boys, Zachary included, made fine glistening portraits—their silky, wet skin shimmering in the hazy sunlight. I did feel something then, a vague stirring that roused me to stand up and move.
“She’s remembering now, isn’t she, Phillip? That day I caught her staring at me during practice and she practically ran away. Funny how idle time spent cheering your brother on can lead to lust’s first arrival. Poor, beautiful girl. It was confusing for me the first time as well. I got all poetic—writing down nonsense while my cock was hard in my pants thinking of her, Jennifer, my first. Well, it wasn’t really a crush, I guess, more like a fever. A sultry, Southern sweat.”
I turn my head from Zachary’s wondering, imaginative gape, and Phillip laughs, pulling in the now placid and willing Giselle over his crotch. “You romantic Southerners, all poetic and suffering under your hot, muggy nights. I’m amazed you could sleep at all. Most likely if I lived in the South, I’d turn into a vampire.”
“And you’d suck out all my blood,” whispers Giselle, her mouth perusing the side of Phillip’s neck.
Zachary turns his gaze back to Giselle’s now languid form. “She’s open now. The light around her body…the color’s changed to purple. She’s sweating.”
Phillip leans in close to Giselle’s ear and suggests that she’s too warm, and deftly tugs her insubstantial dress up over her arms. I gasp, breathless for a moment, shocked at the speed and fascinated by the erotic contour her flushed body makes leaning towards my brother. Tiny, pink nipples rub against his cotton shirt as I cringe against the sofa, wishing I could curl up and hide, but something wicked anchors my hips to the floor. What the hell is Phillip doing? Is he going to get naked? Are they going to have sex right here on the floor?
“She’s like a fairy, a mythical princess of an enchanted wood.” Zachary’s eyes radiate warmth and blatant allurement.
I want to run away. This has all gone too far—my damned brother always pushing the limits—but my heart is thudding in my chest, my hands feel flushed, and my tongue’s gone thick and wet with saliva. I know I shouldn’t be here, but nothing can take me away.
Giselle’s head lashes back as my brother’s tongue flicks at her nipple, her long golden hair sailing up and around in an elegant arc, and she releases a piglike grunting moan. I feel repulsed listening to her voice; I want to gag her for ruining the beauty of the moment, for shattering the memory of Zachary’s melodic, drugged words. I again imagine wrapping my hands around her delicate neck, and wonder what hideous sound she’d make then.
But I still continue to watch them, an illicit curiosity raging through me as I wonder what happens next. Phillip truly is like an insatiable lion, mounted over his lovely, fragile prey, with his long black locks tussling about as he ravishes her willowy, stark form. Instead of blood painting the creature a vivid red, only brilliant prickles of light illuminate the places on her ruddy skin where Phillip’s lips and tongue have explored. I notice her legs twitching involuntarily as his hands glide down between her legs—his index finger moving as if he is delicately rubbing an itch.
Giselle squeezes her thighs together so hard they choke Phillip’s tender hand. But instead of fighting it, he relaxes and allows Giselle to whimper choked sobs—the sound beautiful this time—like a little girl crying for a lost puppy.
Phillip reclines back, his wet fingers digging into Father’s extravagant purchase: a fabled Persian rug once rescued from the revolution but now stained with Giselle’s fluids. Can’t he at least wash his hands or something? Now I have to tell Ms. Halfax to hire the rug cleaners again. Phillip and his stupid antics.
Both Phillip and Zachary’s drugged faces are beaming in wonderment as they gaze at Giselle writhing passionately on the floor. Her small, naked form is curled up. An arm is clutched around her chest while her other hand is pressed down between her legs. Her eyes are pinched shut while spasms twist her face in strange, unknown expressions.
“Isn’t it amazing, Clarise?” Phillip’s clear voice startles me from my obsessed reverie.
I flit my eyes over at him for a moment, then the gravity of Giselle’s form pulls my eyes back to her now subdued movements, as if she at once realizes she’s subject to the room’s gaze and cold air. Instead of crying—I would cry if I were her—an odd smile passes over her face: a look of wryness that might exist between conspirators. She impossibly launches herself up and glides elegantly into a pirouette en dedans, her eyes brilliant blue pinpoints gazing out into an invisible audience, her back arched and erect, and her slender arms curved and expressive, until she finally raises her hands into the air—her body a majestic sprite radiating youth and vitality to the world.
Phillip and Zachary clap weakly, and Phillip grasps her small hand and guides her over to the sofa where Zachary’s arms are waiting to envelop her. Her body lapses unresistingly into the curvature of his embrace, like a puppy held protectively from a wolf.
“Such a lovely dance. Really expressive…so beautiful.” Zachary’s voice is reassuring, almost whispering, as if to a child.
Phillip releases a tired, lazy sigh as his eyes study the door, more focused now, his expression alert, as if whatever drug he’s taken has worn off. His soft voice speaks only to me.
“The end is as bitter as bad wine, and even after the early sweet moment, the grave light of day threatens the dream.” His wistful eyes glisten, then flash brightness and cheer as he pats my cheeks and raises me up while looking down solemnly at Zachary and Giselle hugging like a sailor and his lover embracing for the last time.
As if on cue, the chimes sound dourly at the front door downstairs, and Phillip’s head snaps up to attention, his eyes flaring, and then he flips on the light and dives down to the rug, quickly grabbing Giselle’s dress.
“Get dressed now!” he hisses, yanking Giselle from Zachary’s tepid clutch. She resists sleepily, wincing at the light. “Help me, Clarise! Get her dress on before Father sees us like this. Zach! Unlock the damned door, will you? He’ll kill me.”
Zachary blinks a few times as if trying to rouse himself to action, but when he stands his legs fail to balance his body and he topples, chuckling, back on the sofa. I yank Giselle’s arm, pulling her away from Zachary, and glide her insignificant dress over her naked form. Phillip cranks the lock on the study door and opens it, meaning to peek down the hallway. Instead he finds himself face-to-face with Father’s tired, suspicious eyes.
“What in God’s name are you doing in my study?” Father pushes the door open, his white tuxedo tie dangling around his neck, and glances disapprovingly at Phillip. Then he enters the study and pauses to survey the room.
Zachary seems to have sobered up quickly. He swallows, looks at me as if for help, then lowers his eyes to the rug. Under the cold air that has entered the room, Giselle clutches her now prickling arms and fidgets on the sofa. I decide to take a more aggressive approach and clear my throat.
“Welcome home, Father. How was the Tosca performance?” I keep my face bright and interested, gazing into Father’s softening eyes.
Father opens his mouth, then tenses his jaw as if he’s trying to restrain himself. After a long breath he finally speaks. “Nothing like the Met, my dear, and the tenor was atrocious. Mother did enjoy the set design. You would have loved it.”
He motions Phillip over and gives him a gruff hug, jabs him playfully in the ribs, and ruffles up his hair. “I suppose that’s enough for tonight. We’ll talk about all this in the morning. Go on now to bed.” Father’s eyes linger amusedly on Giselle’s disheveled form. “Would you like Creighton to give you a ride home? Or you’re welcome to stay. Clarise can help make up a room for you.”
Giselle pinches her legs together, embarrassed, her eyes locked on her knees. “I should go home.”
Phillip leads Zachary and Giselle out of Father’s study, and—stumbling—they make their way down the hallway. Father frowns, ambles over to his audio system, and removes the Pink Floyd LP from the record player. He inspects the surface for scratches and, appeased, places the LP lovingly back inside the cover and turns off the system. With only the sound of his fingers tapping on the cabinet, I worry about a scolding and feel sweat trickle down the small of my back.
“This isn’t like you, being here in Phillip’s house of horrors.” He glances at me, and his soft smile seems to relax the tension in his body. “There now, don’t frown. I suppose you’ve always been tagging along with Phillip…and now his game’s changed. He’s always pushing things—bending and twisting the rules of conduct society expects.”
“I didn’t do a thing, I promise. They were the actors on stage.”
Father laughs at that, first a chuckle, then a rumble that swells in his broad chest and makes its way up to his throat. “Yes, my dear, how true…actors on a stage.” He looks up at me, his eyes suddenly angry and cold, sending a chill down my spine. “Just promise me you won’t audition for any of the parts, especially not with the likes of that Zachary. Find a boy your own age.”
I nod my head, frozen by the harsh tone of his words; then I flash a frightened smile and turn to go off to bed. But as I cross the threshold to the hallway, I swear I hear Father whisper, “And don’t become a slut like your mother.”
I HAVE FEVER dreams that night where, instead of Giselle writhing naked on the floor of Father’s study, I see myself there, purring like a cat while Zachary explores my quivering flesh; my legs twitching as Father stands nearby and whispers, “Slut, slut, you’re just a slut like your mother.”
Jolted by his words, I wake with a start, surprised to find myself naked in bed. I search under the sheets for my discarded and drenched pajamas. I rub my eyes and stretch, toss my pajamas at the door to the bathroom, and relish in the feeling of silk sliding against my skin. The soft, hazy light spilling in through the windows bathes the watercolors I’ve painted over the summer in a velvety wash. A garish, ugly shadow brutalizes the painting I’d done of Mother facing the ocean. The shadow is cast from a wall sculpture, Traces of Animalistic Vulgarity, which displays a hand reaching out from the wall, each finger yanked back by a steel string. The remarkable thing about the sculpture is the obscene, harsh lines that etch the palm and fingers, as if a black tattoo done over natural lines. Some may call me a wretch, but I find strange pleasure in eccentric works of art.
The teak wood floor feels wonderfully cool against my feet, and the air, cold enough to prickle my skin into a sea of delicate goose pimples, feels like how I imagine Phillip’s hands must have felt to Giselle as they scandalized her body. A brief glimpse of my figure in the mirror sends a flush of disappointment through me as I remember Giselle’s figure, her breasts full and round. But I console myself that my long, wavy brown hair is shinier and more vibrant than Giselle’s straight, flat hair.
I imagine at this early hour that the house is as still as a pond in the early morning, with only the servants shuffling quietly—cooking and cleaning while my parents sleep off their previous night’s drunkenness. That is, if Mother even made it home last night. Clarise, dear, your mother is spending the night with her girlfriends in the city for Fashion Week. Mother and her gang of fashionistas. I wish she’d let me come along. But I know she’s always trying to protect me from that life—her life, a life apart from Father doing whatever she does on her trips to New York City.
But I refuse to be like her; I’d kill to maim every instinct in my bones and knife the genetics writhing through my blood. How she looks at men. How she gawks at the boys. Why does she do that? Pray to be like Father, stolid and calm—a beacon of light in our often dark house. I stand in the shower and stare up as the cold water washes wicked instincts from my itching skin, and wait until the burn of chill singes my body. Instead of water in my open mouth, I taste salt from the tears spilled upon remembering Father’s cold eyes and unthinkable words. How could he ever believe that I would be like Mother? I can still feel the pain and fear pouring from his expression. Is he worried that I’ll hurt him like she does?
When I step from the shower, dripping water onto the thick, cottony bath mat, my frozen toes luxuriate in the heat emanating from the floor. This time I stand starkly, shocked at my blue, abused skin and soggy hair that hangs limply on my shoulders. I make a kung-fu pose, lying to myself that I look a bit like Uma Thurman in Kill Bill, but I’m unable to repress thoughts that scream to me, You’re just a girl—pretty, or so the boys say—but nothing seductive, not like Mother. Thank heavens for that.
By the time I’m dressed, dark clouds obscure the light outside, casting an ominous mood across my room. Instead of turning on the light, I relish in the feeling, like I’m watching a casket being lowered into the ground—a bizarre mixture of inward joy and outward, faked sadness.
I dry off, trying to rub some warmth into my body, toss the towel onto the floor, and make my way towards the walk-in closet on the other side of the room. My bedroom door swings open and I scream at Phillip’s shocked face, causing him to jump and cover his eyes at my nakedness.
“Jesus, Phillip! Don’t you ever knock? I’m not a little girl anymore where you can just barge into my room whenever you want. Show some respect.”
He mutters an apology as I dash to the closet and put on some clothes. What’s up with my brother, anyway? I love him to death, but enough is enough.
“What do you want, Phillip?” I yell, and slip on an amazing Stella McCartney dress I bought with Mother at Paris Fashion Week.
“Nothing.” His voice is so soft I can barely hear him. He’s probably in one of his moods.
I peek at him from the closet and watch him face plank onto my bed, releasing a tired, melancholic sigh.
“It’s just stupid, that’s all. Giselle is pissed at me and Zach for last night.”
A sarcastic snort releases from my nose. “Well, you did give her drugs and take off her clothes in front of Zach and me. I’d be pissed if I were her.”
“I think Zachary likes you. He’s always asking about you.”
I raise an eyebrow and shake my head. “I don’t have a thing for your best friend.”
“So which boy will you choose? Don’t you love any of them?” Phillip rolls over on the bed. Those beautiful amber eyes of his gaze into mine, curiosity beaming from the expression on his face.
“You’re a night orchid in bloom, with moonlight soft on your petals, and your sweet aroma luring all the beasts of the jungle.” His broad, devilish smile hints at memories of his many former conquests, young sluts in heat. “You must be craving by now…I was insatiable at your age.”
“It’s not like that with me, Phillip—” He places a finger on his lips to stop me.
“Just imagine one boy, one special boy at school, one who makes you feel warm and maybe even irritable. Maybe you even hate him.”
I think of my classes at Scheumann Academy, of the boys who gaze wantonly at me, of the girls who glare at me, bitches in heat, jealousy beaming in their eyes—eyes that catch the lust from the boys directed at me. I don’t miss a single expression; I see it all.
But there is one boy who’s different: Keary, whose glances of loathing and sadness haunt me. Now that I think about it, they do haunt me, even if only for a fleeting moment. I feel his soul, where there’s deep darkness and pain, but there’s also hope.
My expression must have betrayed me, for a knowing smile spreads across Phillip’s face. “So there is a boy? Ah, but maybe he doesn’t even know yet, maybe you’ve only just realized it now? How lucky for him to taste your tender—”
I flip him off and motion him to get out of my room. I’m sure my face is flushed in fury, but I don’t care. He keeps pressing and I’ve had quite enough of him. He laughs as he tumbles to the floor, and with a simpering smile on his face, he rolls over and spins towards the door. While gliding through it, he lingers, only his face exposed, winks one of his maddeningly attractive winks, and he’s gone.
The next day at school I pay cautious attention to Keary, who is sitting in the back corner of the English Studies room, looking disgustingly beautiful, focused intently on his work, with his sandy brown hair spilling over his gray-blue eyes. How did I never think of him until now? I’ve noticed him before, I’m sure of that, but never for more than a moment. All the other boys were so overt, so clever, so charming, and so eager to win my friendship and my attention.
But Keary is always so studious, so serious. His beautiful fingers, so deft and talented, grip a charcoal pencil. He scratches away at his paper, writing lines of something I imagine as dark and mysterious. Drawing flowers and demons and eyes amid strange scenes of twisted madness.
I feel my neck flush with heat as Keary stares up at me, catching my lingering gaze. He smiles a surprisingly innocent smile, the clouds breaking up, allowing the sunshine of his soul to shine through. With a delicately stupid expression on my face, I realize that my lips are parted and he’s lifting the corner of his mouth in a smirk, and hope flashes in his eyes since I haven’t turned away yet.
I glance down at his fingers stroking the paper and can’t help but remember the image of Phillip rubbing Giselle between her legs. I feel myself go wet with a heat surging inside my thighs. As the feeling intensifies, I squeeze my knees together, force myself to break Keary’s gaze, and instead concentrate on the hideous sound of chalk scraping against the board. Our teacher, Ms. Lovecraft, a thick cast attached to her left leg from a fencing accident, is scratching out famous quotations from influential writers of history.
The bell rings and I linger at my desk, hopeful that Keary might brush by me or even make some excuse to talk, but he just ambles outside, ignoring me completely. I tug my heavy backpack over my shoulders, sigh in frustration, and discover I am the last one to leave the room.
When I pictured first love in my daydreams, it was always so clear and vivid and natural, not like this. I stare at the distant form of Keary bobbing down the hall, whispering some humorous secret to his friend Ryan. Keary glances back at me for a split second, his face an instant flash of contempt, and I slam into a girl—no, not a girl, a contemptuous slut, the infamous cocksucking champion of Scheumann Academy, Tiffany, clutching her Fendi fuck-me bag.
“Bitch! Watch where you’re going.” Tiffany shoves me back against the lockers, her arms no doubt fueled by all the sperm she drinks from the rugby players.
I allow myself to settle back, scanning the flock of plastic Barbie sluts surrounding Tiffany. “Huh?” I lean in and stare at the beauty mark—more like a nasty mole—on her face, and grin when Tiffany raises her hand to her mouth. “What’s that above your lip? Is that a wart?” I put on a clinical look of concern and wag my head.
“It’s a beauty mark, as in beauty…like, something you lack.” Tiffany scoffs pathetically and it comes out more like a pig’s snort.
Hand to mouth, I make an obscene gesture of sucking cock. “I’m happy to lack STDs on my face…speaking of which, here come more clients for your blow job service.” Tiffany eyes flare in fury, but she takes the bait and turns as the rugby team comes swaggering down the halls, hands groping crotches, moving in a pack like wild apes. I deftly roll aside and disappear amid the herd.
Scheumann Academy is tedious, filled with spoiled bitches and arrogant dicks. I miss my old middle school, where everyone, including the teachers, seemed nicer. Matty, my best friend, moved to New York, and Devan, my other best friend, moved to London. If it wasn’t for Phillip, guiding me through the mire of prep school, I think I’d be lost. I dread next year, when Phillip will go off to Yale, and I’ll be stuck here to fend for myself. Maybe I should switch from ballet to kung-fu.
I glide in wispily to my last class of the day, the one where my Digital Video teacher, Mr. Johnson—aka Masters and Johnson—enjoys rubbing me between my shoulder blades and hand-humping me under the guise of guiding my mouse movements. It’s the class where my solid A is no doubt fueled by Mr. Johnson’s Lolita-inspired fantasies, and I star in his brilliant new rendition of The Virgin Suicides. Extra credit, Mr. Johnson? Do I have to run through a wildflower field wearing a negligible white dress, twirling around, the wind whipping up under my dress and rushing between my legs, while I fall down (the camera pans up and over me) onto a bed of daisies and touch myself for the very first time?
Mr. Johnson tilts his head in a query. No doubt he’s wondering what that twisted expression is on my face. I chuckle to myself, sit at an editing station, and bring up Final Cut Pro as the room dims to inspire our creativity. Lost in my new project, Clouds Eating Rainbows, I fail to notice Keary stalking up to me. Only when he pulls up a stool alongside mine do I feel the triple thud of my heart hammering inside my chest.
“Hey.” Keary’s voice is low and gravelly, and I feel as if those delicious fingers of his have just traced down my naked spine. I shiver and glance up at his eyes, illuminated and dancing with thunderclouds, reflecting the video from my Mac’s display.
My throat is suddenly parched so I swallow and unconsciously find myself running my tongue over my lips.
“Hi.” My voice sounds stupidly like a toad.
A long, sweaty pause causes my skin to prickle in stimulation as I again hold his gaze and find myself staring down at his knowing smile.
“You looking for a partner?” Keary’s face forms a cute lost-puppy expression. When he says the word “partner” I immediately picture Phillip ravaging Giselle’s body.
“You know, Mr. J said we needed to find a partner for the next project.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, I forgot all about that.”
“Lost in the clouds?” Keary smiles sweetly and glances at my video where ominous black clouds are eating rainbows and descending upon unsuspecting unicorns in a grassy field.
“Yeah, that. It’s my way of ejecting years of my mother-induced princess nightmares.”
Keary’s chuckle is a rumble that I can feel inside my body. His fingers, like Adam’s fingers touching God’s, trace through his hair and I’m surprised to find my own fingers doing the same.
“It’s messed up what our parents do to us.” His face darkens as he stares at the unicorns fleeing from lightning bolts.
I picture the time I found my mother sucking the cock of one of Phillip’s friends in the drawing room—him in a tuxedo, and my mother’s long, brown hair pulled back with one hand while her head bobbed back and forth, mounted on his crotch like a polo player on a horse. My voice is choked and dry.
“Yeah…super messed up.”
“My father is a serious asshat.” Keary’s stare becomes distant; harsh lines form on his forehead.
My head nods slowly in agreement. “Well, my mom’s probably failed in all the Being a Good Mother classes. So, yeah.”
“So how about it? Partner?” Keary extends his beautiful hand towards my quivering one, and I gingerly accept, warmth spreading from my hand down between my thighs as I hold his hand for a dangerous length of time. A curious smile forms on his lips, and I go cold, feeling the groping hand of Mr. Johnson raping my shoulder.
“How about we focus on each of our own projects?” Mr. Johnson’s mouth opens to display artificially whitened teeth, and his thin tongue flicks out to wet the mole that’s on his lower lip. I imagine myself vomiting on his crotch and slamming my Mac’s thirty-inch display onto his flaky and balding head, showering the room with my princess hatred.
But instead I flash him a smile that says, Of course, Mr. Johnson, you’re the best teacher in the whole world. Then he molests my shoulder blade some more and stares down at my now daily growing breasts. He turns and limps away, and Keary rolls his eyes and sticks a finger in his mouth pretending he wants to hurl. I laugh, give him a small wave, and am utterly unable to concentrate on anything for the rest of the day.
THE SUNDAY AFTERNOON when Keary comes over to Vogel House, our historic Andover estate, under the guise of working on our video project, he arrives at one, around the time my parents are getting plastered on Long Island Ice Teas at the yacht club. I can’t help but notice how incredibly cute he looks today, wearing a simple white polo shirt and tattered jeans. The school year is rapidly drawing to a close, and although this is the last project of the year, it weighs only nominally on our grade.
“Cool Mac.” I glance at the MacBook Pro in Keary’s hands.
“Retina.” He taps the corner of his eye. “Pixel power. Where’s your setup?”
I aim a finger at the thirty-foot ceiling and we saunter up the marble stairs, Keary’s languid eyes curiously stalking paintings of old masters of Vogel House: the tapestries from France, the alabaster statues from Italy. He pauses to bend down and peer inside an ornate, sixteenth-century brass square clock from England, my favorite artifact of Father’s vast collections from trips abroad. Keary’s soft, engaging voice is warm in my ears.
“Did you know that Vogel House has legendary status among the turn-of-the-century Andover estates?”
I play ignorant and tilt my head querulously, hoping to draw him in, craving the sound of his addictive voice. “Father never mentioned much about Vogel House.” It wasn’t a lie, Father didn’t, but Grandmother certainly spent hours and hours on lazy Sunday afternoons showing me the albums, telling me the old stories of Vogel House and how it would someday be mine, until the house ceased to be a place and instead came alive as a living entity. And, technically, Vogel House is now mine. After Grandmother died last year, as a part of our family’s tradition, the house passed from grandmother to granddaughter. I smile, gazing at the house I adore, taking in all its charms and warmth, knowing it belongs to me.
“Vogel House is considered the best and brightest of the old Andover estates—the shining star.” Keary caresses the mahogany handrail and stares down at the grand foyer, at the double doors, and at the twin palms guarding either side of the entrance, and I feel myself slowly gliding towards him, a metallic shard drawn to his invisible magnetism.
In his expression, I sense love and admiration for the house, and that attracts me to him even more. I find myself wanting to run my fingers through his wavy hair.
“You know about the historical debate over ownership, the rumor that plays itself out among the old Andover families? The ruin that came after the ’29 stock market crash?”
No, I didn’t know about that. Why hadn’t Grandmother mentioned such a thing?
“I can’t imagine your family would speak of it.” He chuckles as if amused by some secret joke.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I blurt the words out before I can censor myself.
He places his hand on my forearm and a million prickles of electricity scintillate along my skin. “I shouldn’t have mentioned it, honestly. When you grow up listening to adults playing gin rummy after drinking too much, you hear all kinds of secrets.”
Secrets? What secrets is he talking about? Keary stiffens as Oscar, our butler, strides by, nodding slightly, a disapproving expression on his face. When Oscar disappears down the hallway, Keary grasps my hand, a questioning look on his face, as if he wants to go someplace with privacy. I lead him down the opposite hallway, snaking around the corner to my bedroom situated at the south edge of Vogel House, where my windows overlook the gardens.
I’m surprised by the urgency in my movements and how quickly Keary closes the door. I fully expect him to scoop his hand around me and tug at the low of my back, drawing me into an embrace, but instead he guides me over to the steel desk in the far corner of my vast room. His silence is unnerving as he places his Mac on the bare desk and motions for me to sit. I obey and gaze up into his now fierce eyes.
“Servants talk and whisper things to people who shouldn’t know,” says Keary seriously. I want to giggle but suppress the feeling, remembering all the hideously delicious things O’Donell, Mother’s lady’s maid, has told me.
“Don’t I know it.” Like the time O’Donell told me the weird exercises Mother does to keep her breasts perky, no doubt to entice teenage boys into nursing her nipples into a state of erection.
“Vogel House, or so the story goes, was stolen from the Barclay family in the winter of 1930, after poor Mr. Barclay lost his wealth in the stock market crash. Mr. Barclay, so desperate to retain his fortune, offered Vogel House as collateral in a high stakes poker game, and lost to a notorious swindler and social climber named—”
“Cornelius Chambers?” My heart pounds against my chest and sweat prickles under my arms as the painting of my great-grandfather flashes in my mind’s eye. Great-grandfather was a swindler? I never knew him, though my grandmother said he kissed me on the forehead when I was a baby and demanded Father and Mother name me Clarise.
Keary bends down in front of me, holds both my hands, and gazes into my eyes, a worried, vulnerable expression on his somber face. “Don’t be angry at me, please. It’s just what I’ve been hearing for so many years from my parents and their friends.”
My head sags to my chest and, in response, Keary kisses my fingers, creating a tingling sensation that ripples through my body, distracting my dark thoughts completely.
“Forget I ever brought it up…you know how people like to gossip about the past. It’s probably not even true.” Keary’s face is reassuring and I brighten, unable to think clearly with the memory of his soft lips still lingering on my fingers.
In response to my stupid stare, Keary clears his throat and stands. “Our project?”
“The what? Oh, yeah. Sorry, just a bit of shock.”
Keary opens his Mac and is busy in Final Cut Pro, but my mind is still on the feeling of his lips on my fingers, and even though I’m sort of working on my part of the project, I’m in a daze.
Cornelius Chambers, a swindler and a social climber? I’m remembering now words that Phillip said months ago about Father and his investment bank. Father’s in a bit of trouble financially. After the economic downturn, his firm’s credit has run short and many of his investors have left him. Damned old families and their old grudges.
Old grudges. As in old grudges going back to my great-grandfather? A soft knock at my door startles me from my reverie, and I’m surprised to see Phillip’s curious face peeking inside. Isn’t he spending the afternoon with Giselle out on the boat?
“So this is why you turned me down.” Phillip nods, his eyes sparkling mischievously. “Who’s your friend?” He saunters over and plops himself onto my bed, his crotch landing strategically on the face of my white teddy bear, the one that Father bought me in Paris.
“Keary, meet Phillip, my infamous brother. Phillip, will you stop molesting Teddy? What are you doing here, anyway? You’re supposed to be on the boat rubbing suntan lotion over Giselle’s body.”
Keary frowns at my comment and glances cautiously at Phillip’s widening smile.
“Giselle’s grown tiresome. She keeps freakin’ sending me texts all the time. I’m like, stop with the text rapes already.” Phillip’s gaze shifts over to Keary. “So…working on a video project for Mr. Masters and Johnson?”
“Yes, and you can leave my room now.” I wave Phillip away dismissively, and he rolls off my bed and clambers to the door. Before he leaves, I catch him sending Keary a bizarre wink.
“Sorry about my brother.”
“That’s okay, I have a nightmare of an older brother also.”
“Phillip’s not a nightmare.” The words come out of my mouth harsher than I intend. “He’s just…unique.”
Keary opens his mouth as if to retort, but stays quiet and chooses instead to go back to editing his video. Phillip isn’t a nightmare to me, but his entrance did suck all the electricity out of the room, especially the feeling between Keary and me.
After an hour or so of editing in silence, I finish my portion as best as I can and offer Keary something to drink. He rubs his eyes and gazes blearily at me, his face sleepy.
“Sorry, I was up late last night.”
“Come on, walk with me to the kitchen.” We stride down the hallway and I glance back at him. “Why were you up late?”
Keary sighs and one of his eyelids twitch. “My fucking father. The drunk came home at, like, two in the morning and woke the whole house in one of his bitchy moods. My poor mother…we tried to get him to bed but he wasn’t cooperating.” His face twists up into an anguished snarl, scaring me in an instant. “He just…he just—”
I place my hand on his shoulder and his head spins around at me. “Don’t worry about it…really. It’ll be all right. Did you have anything to eat?”
His shrug tells me he hasn’t, so I ask Mrs. Coring, our cook, if she can make us a late lunch. We sit outside on the patio overlooking the garden, with its tulips and daffodils in bloom, new buds rising on the rose bushes, the Japanese maple tree’s shimmering red leaves, and pink chrysanthemums glistening in the brilliant afternoon light.
Mrs. Coring brings us baguette sandwiches, arugula salad with cranberries and candied pecans, and her famous spring lemonade with a pinch of vodka. I watch Keary voraciously devour the food, and feel his mood calming and life slowly creeping back into his cheeks. After he takes a few sips of the lemonade, he winks at me and raises his glass in a toast.
“How do you get her to spike the lemonade?”
I laugh a small laugh. “I think she’s so used to my parents drinking, and they don’t care if I drink, so she just makes it.” The lemonade tastes sweet and bitter rolling around on my tongue. “It’s so hot today.”
Keary leans in and wipes a bead of sweat rolling down the side of my forehead, and I can’t help but shiver in response. “Summer is coming soon, only a few more weeks. Is your family going to Martha’s Vineyard?”
I picture our yearly trek to the island: the ride in Father’s sailing yacht, swimming along the shore, and Phillip and me crabbing across the beach, searching for shells.
“Yeah, of course, we always go. You?”
Keary nods and takes another sip of lemonade, his eyes flirting devilishly with me. “We should hang out…you and me. We’ll have fun this summer.”
A thrill races through my body at the sound of his voice and the way his fingers delicately trace along his neck. This summer, all summer, with Keary? Every summer before it was just Phillip and me—and his crazy friends. I was the tag along. But what would Martha’s Vineyard be like spending the summer with Keary? I think of the sand dunes and hot, muggy nights strolling the beach, flashlight in hand, chasing crabs, and drinking wine while cracking jokes with Phillip. I really want that to come true, I want to have my summer at Martha’s Vineyard with Keary.
Just when Keary is about to hold my hand, my dream of his soft lips on my fingers is shattered by the sound of Mother’s hideous cackle, the kind she makes after she’s drunk more than her fair share of mimosas. I find myself cringing at her voice, my shoulders twisting up into knots, my stomach a plug of lead.
“And can you believe they actually had the nerve to show their faces at the yacht club?” Mother’s nasally voice drones on like a swarm of angry bees. “Especially after he was caught with his hand in the proverbial cookie jar.”
“He took six billion dollars…six billion dollars of investor funding and backed bad bets, simple as that.” Father glances at me and Keary, frowns, and turns back to Mother, whose mouth is hanging open, eyes staring lewdly at Keary.
“Why the hell are you gaping at him like that?”
Fuck. What is my mom doing? I cough in surprise, make an apologetic face at Keary, and try to compose myself. “Mother, Father, meet Keary McNaughton. We’re working on a project together.”
Mother stares aghast at Father, her head swaying back and forth drunkenly. She opens her mouth to speak but Father interrupts her.
“Oh.” He attempts to pull his drunken self together, clears his voice, only to let out a snort instead. “McNaughton?” Father’s face darkens, and he casts Keary a wary glance.
“Good to meet you, sir. Clarise was kind enough to feed me.”
“Feed?” Mother rolls her eyes and sits next to Keary, sizing him up with her bloodshot eyes. “I’d like to feed you—”
“That’s about enough of that!” Father shouts, yanking Mother by the arm. She whirls around and tries to slap him on the face, but Father grabs her wrist instead. “You’re drunk. Go to bed and sleep it off.”
“Maybe I should be heading home.” Keary stands and glances towards the door.
Mother breaks free of Father’s grasp and places a hand on Keary’s chest. “No, stay. Have a drink. You boys all like to drink, don’t you?” She laughs bitterly, then whimpers in pain as Father twists her arm around and forces her back into the house, swearing at her in whispered, sadistic tones.
Keary looks shell-shocked and amused at the same time. “Your mother really likes me.” He gives me a casual wink, notices my scowl, and holds my hand in response. “Don’t worry about it, my parents are just as fucked up. At least your father seems decent.”
Father is good to me, but I just can’t understand why he stays with Mother. So many other parents get divorced, but my parents stubbornly stay together, going from loathing and all-out fights to tenderness and reconciliation.
“I probably should be going. Show me to the door?” Keary flashes me a smile so hideously cute my legs turn into rubber as he squeezes my hand and pulls me to my feet. I lean in towards him, hoping to kiss his soft lips, but he turns and strides towards the house.
I remind him that his MacBook is still up in my room, and hope for the opportunity to entice him to stay longer. But once inside, he just grabs his laptop and ignores my tantalizing eyes. Sighing, I follow him down to the entrance.
“See you.” Keary makes a small wave with his cupped hand, and spins around through the door. My heart sinks down to my stomach; I feel like kicking the wall, angry at my mother for making such a stupid scene. Keary must hate me after how she’s acted. No wonder he’s in a hurry to go home. I contemplate murder.
As I turn back towards the stairs, resigned to go the whole summer in solitary suffering, the front door slowly creaks open, and my heart thuds in my chest as I see Keary’s grinning face. He beckons me over, scoops his hand around the small of my back, and pulls me in until I’m so close to his face that I can feel his warm breath wash along the side of my neck. I shiver and crumble into him; he caresses the exposed skin just above my hips and my thighs start to tingle. His lips kiss me softly. He leans in and traces the tender area just below my ear. His voice, a low rumble like a coming storm, whispers, “I can’t wait until summer.”
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