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The Charade: Chapter 12

AVA

THE REST of the school week went by quickly and as the days passed, I felt more and more settled in at my new school.

I hadn’t thought that I would like living at my school very much, but it was turning out to be pretty fun sharing my mealtimes and daily routines with my new friends and just getting to know everyone better. Elyse and I were getting more and more settled in with Scarlett and the friends she’d introduced us to on that first day.

‘How long do you think you and Carter will keep up this fake flirtation thing you have going on?’ Elyse asked me Saturday afternoon as we waited in the common room for Nash to come pick us up for their back-to-school barbecue.

We’d invited Scarlett to join us for the pre-party with Nash and Cambrielle, but since she’d been so busy with volleyball throughout the week, she’d chosen to stay behind to catch up on her homework, saying that she’d just hitch a ride later with Hunter.

‘I’m not sure how long we’ll keep it up.’ I glanced around to make sure we were still alone in the large common room. ‘I guess it just depends on however long it takes for either of us to get more interested in actually dating someone else.’

Which was still an up-in-the-air thing for me. A few guys had piqued my interest this week. Mack, for one, was probably one of the hottest guys at our school—right alongside Carter—and had been super fun to joke around with. But even though we flirted here and there, I got the vibe that he was more interested in Elyse. It could be because she was more shy and he preferred someone who was a contrast to his vivacious personality. Or it was possible Carter hadn’t told his friends that our flirting was purely for show, and so Mack was trying to respect the bro code or something. But either way, he’d focused more of his attention on Elyse the past few days, so I knew better than to try and be anything more than friends.

Nash was also fun to hang out with, and he’d gone out of his way to make sure I was included anytime he and the group had plans to study together or go to one of Scarlett’s volleyball games, or something like that. But even though we had a lot of fun together, and he was super cute and sweet, I also saw him as more of a friend.

And then Hunter was just off-limits because he and Scarlett had whatever they had going on. So, until I branched out and tried to get to know other guys outside of my current circle, I was fine keeping up this charade Carter and I had going for the foreseeable future.

Unless he decided to go with one of the offers he had from the throngs of girls who apparently bowed down at his Italian-loafer-wearing feet.

‘It’s a pretty clever idea you came up with,’ Elyse said. ‘Taking the guy who made you sign a contract about not dating him, and then turning things around on him so that instead of trying to date him you just get to flirt with him instead.’

‘It’s been fun,’ I admitted. ‘I can be as over the top as I want, and he can just throw it all right back because we know there’s no chance either of us will get confused by it and try to make something else happen.’

‘You’re basically a genius.’ Elyse chuckled. ‘All the perks of having a boyfriend, without any of the responsibility.’

‘I don’t know if I’d say I’m getting all the perks.’ I arched an eyebrow. ‘I haven’t exactly figured out how to convince Carter that we need fake make-out sessions or anything.’ Though, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I had wondered a time or two what it might be like to kiss my math tutor. He did have those amazing lips.

And the fact that he was gorgeous didn’t hurt, either.

‘Fake make-out sessions?’ Elyse laughed. ‘Yeah, now if you figure out how to do that, let me know. I haven’t kissed a guy in way too long.’

‘Same.’ I sighed. ‘Maybe we can convince everyone to play Truth or Dare or Spin the Bottle at the party tonight. You can always count on a good make-out session with those kinds of games.’

Did kids at private schools play games like that at parties? I mean, those kinds of games provided great entertainment in Ridgewater, but we were about to go to a party at an estate . They probably had much more refined activities, like watching a firework show from a balcony or promenading around their extensive gardens.

Why was I suddenly picturing a regency ball with girls in fancy dresses and guys in suits with elegantly tied cravats?

Oh that’s right, because I’ve only ever heard of people having estates in my mom’s regency-era movies.

And because I had no idea what to expect from tonight, I might have packed a few different outfit options since I wasn’t sure if the T-shirt and jeans I currently wore were fancy enough for a party at the Hastings’s.

I was probably overthinking it but having grown up with a mom who taught me that the way we dress impacts the first impression we give to the world, I didn’t want to give anyone the impression that I had no idea what the heck I was doing with all these rich kids.

My phone buzzed, interrupting my anxiety session. It was a text from Cambrielle.

Cambrielle: Nash wanted me to tell you that we’re about five minutes away. He says he’d come to the common room to get you, but since Bree Peterson gave him her cheek when he was trying to kiss her at the end of their date last night, he wants to avoid running into her.

A second text came through a second later.

Cambrielle: And now he’s mad that I told you that because he wanted you to think he’s this big time Casanova.

‘What’s so funny?’ Elyse asked when I laughed out loud. She looked over my shoulder at the texts. Then after reading them, she laughed too and said, ‘Well, if our Spin-the-Bottle idea doesn’t work tonight, we might at least be able to count on Nash for some action.’

‘True.’ I laughed. ‘Though I’m sure you’d rather make out with Mack.’ I winked.

When Elyse’s cheeks darkened, I knew it was true.

I shot Cambrielle back a text saying that we’d meet them out front. With our backpacks full of everything we’d need to get ready for tonight’s party, Elyse and I headed down to meet our ride.


NASH’S LIME-GREEN convertible was waiting on the cobblestone drive at the front of the school when Elyse and I made it to the front steps.

Cambrielle climbed out of the passenger side once she saw us and said, ‘One of you can sit up front with Nash. He’s annoyed at me for texting you about his kissing fail.’ Then with a smirk on her lips, she said, ‘Apparently, he’s trying to impress the new girls.’ She shot Elyse and me a wink.

I gave Cambrielle a look that said, I’ve got this . Then I stepped closer to Nash’s BMW and said, ‘Wow, this is an amazing car. Almost as awesome as the guy driving it. I totally call shotgun!’

‘See, Cambrielle,’ Nash replied in a loud, overly exaggerated voice that I could imagine him using on the stage. ‘I told you the ladies are always fighting over me.’

To which Cambrielle responded in an equally exaggerated tone, ‘Oh, yes, my dear brother. They’re practically fawning all over you. How ever will you make it through the party tonight with so many girls begging for your attention?’

Nash put a hand to his chest, and this time he slipped a British accent in as he said, ”Tis a hard job. But I’ll do my best to rise to the occasion.’

Okay, these two were a riot.

After the spur-of-the-moment theatrical production had ended, Cambrielle and Elyse slid into the backseat and I took the spot beside Nash up front.

It was a beautiful fall day, sunny and warm, as we drove to the other end of the small town. I’d never ridden in a convertible before but as we drove and the wind whipped at my hair, I was thankful that I’d decided to wait and curl it while getting ready with Cambrielle.

We pulled off the main road about fifteen minutes later. After driving down a long residential road where the houses just seemed to get bigger and bigger the farther down we got, we took a right turn onto a private drive lined with pleached linden trees.

When we came to a large, wrought-iron gate, Nash pushed a button on his car’s visor and the gate started opening.

I turned back to Elyse, wondering if she was as curious as I was about what we were about to see. She just looked back at me with wide eyes and mouthed the word, Wow .

Yeah, my thoughts exactly, sister.

The asphalt road we’d been driving on turned into a Belgian block driveway, and after another thirty seconds, we finally emerged from the tree-shrouded path until we reached the terrace of the biggest house I’d ever seen in my life.

‘Here we are,’ Nash said, putting his car into park in front of a huge stone country house. ‘Home sweet home.’

Home sweet home?

More like mansion sweet mansion.

I blinked a few times. The gigantic house was so tall and wide that I had to turn my head up and down and side to side to take it all in.

And as I looked at the beautiful gray stone exterior, the dozens of windows with white shutters, and the tall white columns of the portico, I couldn’t help but think that wondering over whether tonight’s barbecue would be like a nineteenth-century ball might not have been too far off, because this was exactly the kind of house that belonged in a Jane Austen novel.

Nash must have noticed the way I was gaping at the house because he reached across the center console and nudged my jaw shut with his finger. ‘Don’t look impressed yet,’ he said with amusement in his voice. ‘You still haven’t seen the inside.’

‘Well, if the inside is even half as impressive as the outside, I may need to rethink my wardrobe choices for tonight because I forgot to bring my prom dress.’

Nash chuckled as he climbed out of his side of the car and came around to open my door. ‘Seeing as how I forgot to have the maid take my tuxedo to the cleaners after our family dinner last night, I’m sure whatever you brought is perfect.’

I paused, glancing at Nash and then at Cambrielle behind me. ‘You wear a tuxedo to your family dinners?’

‘Maybe we should call Scarlett and ask her to bring something else for us to change into,’ Elyse said at the same time.

The siblings both laughed. Nash said, ‘I was joking. If we haven’t already changed out of our school uniforms before dinner, we’re lucky to wear anything fancier than a T-shirt and sweatpants.’

‘So you guys aren’t like one of those crazy, weird, super rich families?’ I asked.

‘We’re as normal as any other family,’ Cambrielle answered.

But as we got out of the car and walked through the huge double doors and into a foyer with white marble floors, a huge chandelier, and a grand staircase with the most intricately designed handrail I’d ever seen, I couldn’t help but think that the Hastings family’s definition of ‘normal’ was a lot different from my definition of the word.


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