“Good afternoon, passengers. We will be landing in about ten minutes. Please return your seats to their upright positions and put up your tray tables while the flight attendants make their final checks. The weather in Sacramento is a lovely fifty degrees, and local time is 2:37 p.m.”
The voice overhead might as well have been condemning me to a month of agonizing torture. It was as if the pilot knew I was headed for my worst nightmare, and she wanted nothing more than to be absolutely cheerful and optimistic in light of my very real troubles. If I could just get up there and tell her exactly what I thought of her overly friendly voice, maybe she’d turn the plane around and head back to Maryland. I already had to get up ungodly early to make my flight and hadn’t managed to ditch the driver Dad sent to make sure I actually got on the plane. It wasn’t like sleeping on planes or trying to dodge chaperones was an easy feat, so I was exhausted.
“Is there anything I can get you before we land, Miss Davenport?”
I shoved my sleeping mask from my eyes to stare up at the flight attendant who had done his very best to make the entire flight miserable. I was sure he saw his friendliness as endearing, even helpful, but after he refused to bring me a good, stiff drink—“I’m sorry, Miss Davenport, but you’re only seventeen. Would you like a soda?”—I decided he wasn’t worth paying attention to. Yes, I was only seventeen, but that hadn’t stopped a good many flight attendants from slipping me at the very least champagne. Most of the time it only took me a smile to get exactly what I wanted.
The awful man still stood there by my bed, all smiles and politeness that made me want to gag because none of it was real.
“Xanax?” I tried, though I could guess his response.
“Ginger ale?” he replied. His name tag said Hamir. I could only guess how he managed to sound so American.
With an exaggerated sigh, I shoved my many blankets off of me and struggled to sit up. “Don’t you have some business class person to annoy?” I grumbled.
Somehow, his smile didn’t even falter. Either he’d been doing this job for a long time, or that grin was permanently plastered to his face. “Your father was very specific in his instructions that you be well looked after, Miss Davenport.” Which meant dear Hamir had been paid handsomely for the five-and-a-half-hour flight.
Oh, my father. Always trying to hide the fact he was not really a father at all. Luckily I turned out just fine despite his negligence, but he seemed to think I had no idea he was crap at the whole parenting thing simply because his money followed me wherever I went. Not that I complained about that part.
“Get this plane to go to the Bahamas,” I told Hamir bitterly. “That’s where I’m supposed to be at Christmas. Not stupid California.” But no. Dad decided he and his new wife needed to go to Prague on their honeymoon and sent me off to whichever relative he could pay to babysit me. I should have been basking on warm, sunny beaches like I always did for Christmas, but while Dad got a vacation without me, I was left to scowl at the plainness of the Sacramento landscape as we descended.
I’d never been to Prague.
“That’s unfortunately out of my power, Miss Davenport,” Hamir replied, ever smiling and ever present. Better than I could say for my family. “I hear Lake Tahoe is beautiful at Christmas.”
I had a good number of things I wanted to say to Hamir, but I held my tongue, only because I figured the woman sitting across the aisle from me would throw up yet again if she heard me. I had no desire to add my more colorful language capabilities to her motion sickness.
And though I gave him my best scowl, Hamir just smiled and indicated I should put on my seatbelt before he went off to check on the other first-class passengers. So that was that. The one person who was supposed to take care of me had abandoned me to my old cousin and her husband who was probably a good twenty years older than her, as they tended to be. In my world, women went where the money was, no matter how old the man who had it.
Lanna Davenport. I hadn’t seen my cousin Lanna since I was a kid, and Dad expected me to be happy about going to stay with her? She was ten years older than me, and the last time I’d seen her, she was the most depressing person I’d ever met. She never wanted to play with dolls, and she never went shopping with us, and she was always knocking things over and tripping on her own feet. Dad said he wasn’t sure how she could be a Davenport, that she had too much of her mom in her, and he always talked about her like she was going to be a disgrace to the family name. The whole family was a waste, he said. One son went and got himself killed in a car accident, and the other drank himself into embarrassment.
I was as shocked as he was when we got a wedding invitation in the mail a few months ago, telling us she was marrying into one of the more famous families in Northern California. How her mom had managed to pull that one off, neither of us knew. Her husband, Dad said, was a Munroe, which meant he ran one of the biggest art trade companies in the country. Part of me wanted to go to the wedding, just to see how ugly the man was if he settled for someone as pathetic as Lanna.
But I had my standards.
And yet now I was stuck on a plane in the middle of December, about to spend about a month with the worst relatives, and there was nothing I could do about it unless I managed to avoid them after the plane landed. One more week, and I could have been left on my own. I was only a week away from legal adulthood, but Dad refused to accept my reasoning that I could survive a single week until that magical moment my age changed and I could do what I wanted. I suspected his new bride Daruska had something to do with that decision. Until he hitched himself to her Czechoslovakian wagon, he’d never had a problem with me taking a trip to Paris or Cabo on my own.
“Miss Davenport, welcome to Sacramento.”
I shuddered as I followed Hamir off the plane. Sacramento. It couldn’t have been Long Beach or even San Francisco? No, dear cousin Lanna had to think a place as lowbrow as Lake Tahoe was a fine place for a vacation. It was like she was raised in a stable. To think, I could have been in my favorite bikini by now, flirting with a cabana boy. But no, I was heading for the worst month of my life.
Unless I took matters into my own hands… As soon as I got my luggage, I had an entire airport at my fingertips, and if I played my cards right, I could be on a flight to Venice before anyone realized I hadn’t shown up yet.
“Catherine?” a deep voice said before I’d even fully cleared the gate yet.
You’ve got to be kidding me. Dad must have really worked hard to make sure I didn’t run off, and in a strange way it almost made me think he cared. But that was ridiculous. He didn’t care about me arriving to my family safely; he cared about me embarrassing him while he was enjoying his actual vacation.
But when I looked up and locked eyes with the guy who had spoken my name, I found myself smiling just a bit. He was gorgeous, tall and solid and with a sharp jaw as his blue eyes took me in. “Catherine, right?” he repeated. “Lanna’s waiting in the main terminal.”
Had she sent a driver to fetch me? Probably. And I flashed him the smile that had gotten me a car for my sixteenth birthday from a man I didn’t even know, because if this guy was going to be hanging around the next month, maybe it wouldn’t be all that bad. “That’s me,” I said sweetly.
He held out a large hand for me to shake. “Adam,” he said. “Shall we?” He headed for the baggage claim where my trolley would be waiting for me, and I slipped my arm through his before we made it very far. He gave me a look from the corner of his eye, and I smiled up at him, making his ears turn red. Goodness, he was tall. And smelled incredible, like Florida oranges. And though he put his hands in his pockets and hunched over a bit so he didn’t stand out quite so much, the shyness didn’t dissuade me from making a plan to charm him completely before we even hit the car. I could probably persuade him to drive me away from my fate if I had enough time to wear him down.
“Over here, Adam,” a woman said, and instantly I prickled. I usually didn’t mind a bit of competition, but I was too tired to fight for the affection of the handsome driver right now.
Adam perked up, standing straighter as a grin lit up his face. He slipped out of my hold and picked up his pace, heading straight for the pretty blonde who waved at him. Without so much as a word of greeting, he slipped his arms around her waist and held her like no one was watching, even though everyone in the area was.
Huffing, I grit my teeth and grumbled as I got buffeted by the crowd. It was the perfect time to try to make a run for it, but I couldn’t help but glare at the woman who had already claimed my best chance at escape. She was about my same height, similar in size as well, but she had the most incredible golden hair, long and wavy and perfect. I’d always wanted to be blonde, but I’d gotten stuck with boring brown. I’d tried to go blonde once, but it hadn’t gone well. Mom had given me too olive a skin tone to pull it off.
“Catherine?” the woman asked, having finally gotten her fill of the handsome man.
I stared at her, trying to figure out why she was looking at me with awe. I mean, I didn’t blame her, and it wasn’t like she was the only one in the vicinity who couldn’t keep her eyes off me as I stood there. But there was something familiar about her, something in the way her nose crinkled when she smiled. It reminded me a bit of Dad.
“Lanna?” I gasped.
She broke into a grin, grabbing Adam’s hand and moving closer. “Good glory, Catherine, you’ve grown up so much! I was half expecting you to still be in kindergarten.”
How did awkward Lanna turn into Malibu Barbie? Well, Barbie in jeans and a t-shirt, but still. Put her in a dress, and she would have fit right in with the parties I went to. But if this was Lanna… I turned to Adam and felt my face flush with heat as I realized who he had to be.
“You’ve already met my husband,” Lanna said, catching my gaze.
Handsome hunk of meat was married to Lanna? I was suddenly glad I hadn’t tried any harder to seduce him into taking me somewhere.
“And where did Matthew go?” she continued, unaware of how Adam seemed to hunch even smaller, which meant he’d probably noticed my attempts, even if they were small.
“Right here,” someone new answered, his voice a little breathless. He came from the side, my luggage trolley in front of him and a ridiculous grin as he met my eye. “Jeez, Kitty, did you bring your whole closet with you?”
Matthew. I had a cousin named Matthew. Clearly he wasn’t the one who died, but he didn’t look like a hopeless drunk either. Especially when his eyes darted about, taking in the people around us in the keen way only someone who was trained to be alert and observant could. But he used my childhood nickname I hated so much, so he couldn’t be anyone but Lanna’s supposedly alcoholic brother. And I had a feeling he was going to make it much harder to get away from this place than I hoped.
I should have run when I still could.
“I think we’ve terrified her into silence,” Lanna mock whispered to Adam.
“You do that to everyone,” Matthew replied, leaning on the trolley and looking about ready to laugh as he took in whatever incredulous expression I had on my face. “So, Kitty, are you ready to see what West Coast Davenport life is like?”
Not a single one of them looked how they should. They were elites. High society. The best of the best. I should have recognized what they were just by the smell of their $1000 cologne and a wardrobe that screamed of wealth. But no. They just stood there in the middle of an airport looking completely…normal. Average. And I had a feeling their mediocrity didn’t just exist in their fashion sense.
This was going to be the worst month of my life.
“What are we standing around for?” I grumbled. “Take me to my prison.”