FILTHY RICH BOYS (Rich Boys of Burberry Prep, Year One)
by C.M. Stunich
My uniform—and my dignity—are in tatters.
My eyes scan the gathered crowd, but there are three faces in particular that catch my attention. Cold, cruel, beautiful. An ugly sort of beautiful, I think as I meet a narrowed silver gaze and catch the faintest edges of a smirk. Tristan Vanderbilt thinks he’s beaten me; they all do. But what they don’t understand is that I’m not the nervous, eager little charity case I was when I first started at Burberry Prep.
Lifting an arm up, I swipe a bit of blood from my mouth. My bra is showing through the torn remnants of my white blouse, and it’s the pretty red one I wore just for Zayd. He made me believe he cared about me. Flicking my eyes in his direction, I can see quite clearly now that he doesn’t. He isn’t smiling, not like Tristan, but the message in his green eyes is clear: you don’t belong here.
“Had enough yet?” Harper du Pont purrs from behind me. I don’t bother turning to look at her. Instead, I let my attention slide to the last of the three guys. My three biggest mistakes; my three greatest betrayals. Creed is frowning, like this whole confrontation is a necessary evil. Get rid of the lower-class trash, clean up the school.
The wind picks up, the ragged red pleats of my academy uniform billowing in a salty breeze. In the distance, I can hear the sea. It crashes against the rocks in time to the frantic beating of my heart. A storm is coming.
Tristan moves toward me with predatory grace, his expensive loafers picking up droplets of dew as he comes to stand toe-to-toe with me, as close as he was that first day when he insulted me and then laid out the challenge: how long do you think you’ll last? Well. It’s the final day of freshman year, and I’m still standing here, aren’t I? Tristan, though, he thinks that while I’ve won the battle, he’s going to win the war.
I stay stone-still as he lifts his fingers and tangles strands of my paint-splattered hair through them, giving the brunette locks a light tug. White paint smears across his perfect skin as I meet those gray eyes of his with a defiant glimmer in my own.
“I take it you won’t be coming back next year, will you, Marnye?” he whispers, his voice like whiskey over ice. Tristan thinks he’s the master of this school, a veritable god. The other boys think of themselves like that, too. I’d like to be a fly on the wall when a confrontation finally comes. They think their money will buy them the world. Maybe, in a way, it will.
But it won’t buy them true friendship, and it won’t buy them love. It definitely won’t buy them me.
I glance past Tristan to Zayd and Creed, and then I refocus my attention back on the asshole that started it all. From day one, he went out of his way to make my life a living hell. He succeeded. And Zayd and Creed, they loved every horrible, filthy second of it.
“Just go home, Marnye, and it’ll all be over,” Tristan says, the softness in his voice edged with cruelty. He’s like a predator who’s too cute to be afraid of. I made the mistake of letting him get too close, and now I’m cut and bleeding—physically and emotionally. I’m fucking shattered. “You don’t belong here.”
Zayd listens to the whole conversation, and then slides his tattooed arm around Becky Platter, putting the final nail in my coffin. He’s chosen her over me. He’s chosen her and her cruelty and her mocking laughter over me. My hands curl into fists so tight that my nails dig crescents into my palms.
I meet Tristan’s haughty, self-assured stare. There are tears on my face, and when he removes his fingers from my hair, he touches one with his knuckles, bringing it to his lips for a lick. It’s a derisive, awful move, like a knife in the back. I can feel the blade beside my heart, but it’s just missed. I’m not broken yet.
“I’ve already enrolled in my classes,” I state, and the entire courtyard goes silent. Nobody is expecting this, the poor girl, the lamb in a pack of wolves, standing up for herself. What they don’t know is that the hardest hearts are forged in fire. With their cruelty and their jokes and their laughter, they’ve forged me into something spectacular. “Come September, I’ll be the first in line for orientation.”
“You wouldn’t dare,” Tristan says, still cold as ice, still full of wicked triumph for what he thinks he’s done. His dark hair flutters in the breeze, softening some of his hard lines. It’s all an illusion though. I know that now, and I won’t make that same mistake again. “I’ll make your life a living hell.”
“You can try,” I retort, reaching into my pocket and pulling out my registration form. I’ll be back at Burberry Prep come hell or high water. This is my opportunity, and I won’t let three handsome faces, three pairs of hot hands, three sets of ardent lips destroy that. “Because what you don’t know …” I take a deep breath, and then bend down to grab the handle on my ratty, old duffle bag. Everybody else here has hired help to carry their luggage. Not me. Straightening up, I lift my chin in defiance and Tristan scowls. “Is that my life outside of these walls was already a living hell. This is just another level of Dante’s inferno, and I’m not afraid.” My gaze flicks past Tristan and back to Zayd and Creed. “Not of any of you.”
I move around Tristan, intent on the school gates and three months of freedom from these jerks, but he puts his hand around my arm and holds me back. Glancing down, I stare at his fingers pressed against my flesh, and then look back up at his face. He’s smiling, but it’s not a pretty smile.
“Challenge accepted,” he purrs, and then he releases me.
As I head down the path in my torn uniform, I keep my chin up and my fears pushed back.
Challenge accepted is right. I won’t be driven away from the best opportunity in my life. Not by Tristan, not by anyone.
As I walk, I can feel three sets of eyes on my back, watching, waiting, plotting.
I’ll have to make sure I stay one step ahead.