Praise for Charlotte Byrd
"Decadent, delicious, and dangerously addictive!" -Amazon Review ★★★★★
"The DARK side of WEALTH and POWER and the beginning of an EPIC tale!"
-Amazon Review ★★★★★
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Start House of York Now...
They are not supposed to be here. They are innocent and polite and sweet. Some of them may even be kind.
They think that they are here of their own free will.
They think that it’s a game.
They think that everything is going to be okay.
I know the truth.
They are not here by accident. They were all carefully chosen.
Some are here because they are gorgeous, others because they will be good at bearing children. A few are lost souls who no one will ever look for.
But some, well, they are here because of their ability to fight.
Propensity to fight.
Willingness to fight.
Not everyone wants a fighter. Not everyone wants someone to resist their every move.
But some of them do. And these are the ones who will pay the most. And to find a girl who is both beautiful and a fighter? Well, that’s everything, isn’t it?
Of course, there will be the ones who fail. Most will fail at least once, but some will fail for good.
We call this game a competition to keep them pacified. Calm. Quiet.
But they had all lost their freedom a long time before they ever stepped foot on the island of York.
All but one will lose their lives.
Chapter 1 - Everly
It’s almost lunchtime. I keep glancing at the clock in the waiting room. For a few moments, I blank out and watch the little hand make its way around the face of the clock.
Is this what my life is coming to?
I’m twenty-five and feel utterly lost. Scrolling through Facebook and Instagram, I look at the pictures that my friends from college are posting.
One is traveling around Scandinavia.
Another got married in Scotland.
Two more are backpacking through Australia.
Three girls who lived on my floor junior year are planning their weddings and posting a zillion updates about their great new lives.
Of course, there are those who are working as well. But even they seem happier than I am. Here they are living it up at a club in New York. Having brunch in Miami. Sailing around Nantucket.
What do I have to post and share?
Here I am at my desk, counting down the minutes until I get out of this ice-cold office and go out to lunch.
I know that I should bring a brown bag and eat in the break area like Phillis, but I just need to get out of this place.
I can only take the fluorescent lights and answering calls with a friendly, “Dr. Morris’ office. How may I help you?” for so long.
Finally, the clock strikes noon and I don’t hesitate for a moment. I already have everything I need ready. I grab my purse and dash out.
If Dr. Morris would have it her way, I’d stay on and answer calls all eight hours a day. But her business partner, the office’s legal counsel, insisted that even the receptionist has to have time off for lunch.
As soon as I get outside, the stiffness of the humidity is like a punch to the throat. Most people in Philadelphia wait all year for summer and then spend these precious three months complaining about the heat.
I love it.
The heat engulfs me like a warm soft blanket, putting me immediately at ease. I take off my sweater and enjoy the sunshine on my bare arms.
The only good thing about my job is the location.
Smack in the middle of Rittenhouse Square.
It’s a beautiful historic park in the middle of old Philadelphia, surrounded on all sides by tall expensive apartment buildings and a bunch of little boutiques, cafes, and cool shops on the ground level.
Having grown up in the bland suburbs, with cookie cutter malls and chain restaurants, I relish in the city life that is my life now.
But of course, it’s not without its drawbacks.
For one, I can’t afford to live really close to Rittenhouse Square, or anywhere particularly nice in central Philly, because I don’t even get paid thirty-five thousand dollars a year.
But since I do live in the city, my rent is high in comparison to say a nice new condo that I could get further away.
I graduated from Middlebury, an exclusive liberal arts college in the middle of New England. Vermont, to be precise. Most of my friends were from wealthy families from all around the Northeast so after graduation many of them moved to New York City.
Unlike them, I took out a lot of student loans to pay for my private education. The only job offer I got that was anywhere in my intended field was at Dr. Morris’ office in Philadelphia. So, I moved to Philly. It’s significantly cheaper here than in New York, but by no means is it at all affordable.
I duck into my favorite coffee shop, down one of the cobblestone alleyways around the Square. The barista has spiked hair and tattoos lining her arms. She is also very good at making all different types of coffee.
Today, I opt for just an iced latte.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
For a second, I’m tempted to lie.
I could just say that I’m tired.
Fake a smile.
“Actually, no, not really. My job is really bringing me down.”
“Why? What’s going on?”
“Well, it’s not really what I thought it would be. I mean, I know that I’m not qualified to do much with just a BA, but answering phones is just…eh. I don’t know. Maybe I’m just having a bad day.”
“I’m sorry about that.”
“I don’t want to bother you. Thanks for asking.”
I grab a seat on the big plush orange couch by the window and try to put it out of my mind.
On one hand, I’m lucky to have a job at all. Lots of graduates nowadays are still looking for work with no luck. But I still can’t help but hate what I do.
“Here’s a muffin.” The barista comes over. “I thought it would give you a pick me up. It’s on the house.”
“Oh, wow.” I look up at her. “Thank you.”
I appreciate her compassion, but I want to resist eating the muffin.
I didn’t bring anything for lunch on purpose.
Today, I need to skip it. It’s my punishment for eating two bags of potato chips at ten this morning after dealing with a particularly annoying married couple who kept insisting that their insurance company was supposed to cover their visit.
In addition to hating my job, I also hate the way I look. I tend to put on weight easily so eating healthy is something that’s a necessity for me.
For a long time now, I’ve avoided looking at myself in the mirror. You know, really looking. Finally, a month ago, I gathered enough strength to step on the scale. That’s when I discovered that I’d gained thirty-three pounds since graduation. Time passes a lot faster at work when I spend my days munching on snacks and candy.
Soon after, I decided to start a low-carb diet. Carbohydrates are my weakness and I definitely have mood swings in the afternoons if I don’t have a generous dose of something sweet.
I’ve had good luck with this type of diet in the past when I only had to lose five pounds for a college formal, but this time, I’m going to have to go all out.
This time, I’m going to really commit.
At least that’s what I said to myself two weeks ago.
The only problem was the execution.
I would start each day with the greatest of intentions, but one annoying client or a short comment from Dr. Morris, would send me to the vending machine for some relief.
Not surprisingly, I hadn’t lost a single pound. In fact, I gained two.
I stare at the muffin and take another sip of my iced latte.
I’m going to be strong.
I’m not going to have this muffin.
What if I just have a taste? It would be rude not to.
I break off a little crumb and toss it into my mouth. The explosion of sugar awakens my taste buds. My mouth starts to salivate.
Whatever strength I had to resist only a moment ago, all but vanishes.
I eat half a muffin in no time flat.
Another minute later, the whole muffin is gone and I feel even crappier than I did before.
Why the hell did you do that?
How can you be so weak?
I beat myself up over and over again.
Then I feel guilty for doing that.
Everyone says that you’re supposed to love your body. You’re supposed to appreciate it no matter what its size.
But what if you can’t?
What if I don’t want to be this weight?
What if I don’t feel my normal self at this weight?
How can I force myself to love myself?
One thing’s for sure.
What’s done is done and I have to find a way to forgive myself for eating that damn thing.
“Hey there.” A male voice startles me. “You mind if I sit here with you?”
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