Freya Dresden stared at her stepmother, feeling small compared to the woman who intimidated her like no other. Even at the young age of fifteen she hated this life, hated that Meghan was the person she had to look at for a mother figure, a father figure, hell, the only family she had anymore.
After her mom died when she was only three her father had remarried, had found the woman that he could spend the rest of his life with in the form of his personal assistant. Freya was happy her father had found someone, that he didn’t have to be alone.
But then the unthinkable happened. Not only was she motherless, but she’d become fatherless as well, and the only person that she could rely on was Meghan in all her self-absorbed glory.
Meghan had been sweet at first, trying to befriend Freya because she clearly wanted her father and his money. And then when a drunk driver had T-boned her father’s car one rainy night, Freya had lost her father at the tender age of thirteen. Two years after that and here she was, sitting across from Meghan, watching her sweet-talk to her new husband, Elijah.
If Freya could have gone to live with a relative she would have, in a heartbeat, but she had no one else aside from this woman that didn’t want her, this woman that now had a legal responsibility because she’d married Freya’s father.
“You’re not hungry?” Elijah asked Freya. He was a nice man, a man that for whatever reason thought getting married to a self-centered, mean-spirited woman like Meghan was a good idea.
“No,” Freya said, pushing her plate of the burnt toast and the too-runny eggs Meghan had “cooked.” She stared at the food, her stomach churning. “I prefer my eggs a little less active and my toast a little less black.”
Elijah started laughing, and that had Freya smiling. But the exasperated sound that left Meghan told her that her stepmother really wasn’t all that pleased with her husband and stepdaughter making jokes about her non-cooking skills.
“I have to go to school anyway.” Freya couldn’t wait to turn eighteen, to just leave this place behind and let Meghan and Elijah have their perfect little life. They were still newlyweds, Freya assumed, seeing as they’d only been married a few months, but none of this concerned Freya. She tried to keep her nose out of everything Meghan related, tried to focus on doing well in school so she could get a scholarship and live in a dorm—far away from this life. She just wanted to forget about everything she’d lost, everything she was forced to gain, and just wanted be able to start over alone.
“I’ll take you. I have to go to the office early anyway,” Elijah said, stood, and smiled down at Freya.
“I’m okay to walk, really.” She grabbed her bag off the tiled floor and turned, making her way toward the front door. But before she could open the door Elijah was there opening it for her.
“Ladies first,” he said and grinned. He was such a nice man, and Freya couldn’t understand why he’d want someone as self-absorbed as Meghan. Freya ducked her head, stepped out of the front door, and murmured a thank you. She was minding her own business on all of this and just focusing on herself. She had three more years and she could get out of this damn house and away from Meghan, this town, and all the memories of what she didn’t have anymore.
They made their way over to his Range Rover. The fact that Elijah had money, and owned his own company, was most likely a very big reason Meghan married him.
Once in the vehicle and when Elijah was on his way to her school, she let the silence surround her. She liked the fact that she felt comfortable when nothing was said, when she was alone. But it was also sad because when she was alone the silence descended on her and she thought about her mom and dad. She didn’t remember a lot about her mother since she’d lost her at such a young age, but she had a lot of memories of her dad, a lot of happy memories that she clung onto.
“I know Meghan can be a … pill.” He chuckled softly. “For lack of a better word. Believe me, I know.”
She looked her at him. Elijah was a big man, tall, muscular, with a head full of short black hair, and these green eyes that were so intense they almost seemed unreal. Freya knew an attractive man when she saw one, and Elijah definitely was. But the fact he married Meghan, a woman that was beautiful on the outside but ugly on the inside, made him seem not so attractive. But he was nice, and it wasn’t a good thing for her to judge him because of the woman he decided to be strapped with.
“Can I ask you something?” Freya shifted on the seat, held her backpack in her lap, and saw him nod.
“Yeah. I know we really don’t know each other, but I’m here if you want to talk. Believe me, I know what can go through a kid’s head. I have a few nieces and nephews,” he said and grinned.
“What do you see in her?” Freya wasn’t ashamed or embarrassed to ask him that. She was honestly curious why someone would want to be married to a woman that only thought about herself.
He was silent for a moment, but then he exhaled and glanced at her for only a second. “She can be difficult, I admit, but she’s a good person at heart. I have to believe she is.”
Freya didn’t bother snorting at that. He clearly didn’t know Meghan the way she did, but he would. It was only a matter of time before he really saw Meghan for who and what she was: a woman only after a man with a fat bankroll and nothing holding him down. Elijah didn’t have any children, and she knew from hearing Meghan when she’d spoken to her father years ago, that she didn’t want any kids.
They rode the rest of the way in silence, and then when he stopped in front of her school she got out before he could say anything. She just felt like she was out of place in the only home she’d ever known. She hated that, hated that she didn’t belong anywhere.
One day she’d be gone, and she’d say fuck it all. She’d start her own life, make a new one where she didn’t have to rely on anyone, and that would be the end of it. If she stayed here longer than she had to Freya didn’t think she’d survive, especially not with a stepmother like Meghan being the shadow that darkened her life, and reminding her that her father was no longer here, that her life was no longer the same.
Three years later
Well, Freya had done it, graduated, gotten that scholarship to a school away from this town and from Meghan, and was currently getting so drunk she couldn’t see straight. But this was what Freya needed, to just become oblivious of anything and everything.
She’d come to the party with her friend Terra, but she couldn’t find her at the moment. The last time she’d seen her was when she was heading upstairs with one of the football players. So here Freya was, standing here watching people, getting drunk, but not feeling like she cared much because she was nice and loopy.
The party she was at was at some guy’s parents’ house. They were out of town, so the house was filled with seniors and juniors, but also some freshman and sophomores had weaseled their way in. She thought even some college kids were present. The booze was flowing, the joints being passed around, and half the student body at the party were either almost fucking, heading to one of the space rooms to do just that, or not caring about screwing right here out in the open. But then again she supposed anyone who was drunk or high didn’t care if people watched.
There was a group of guys sitting on the couch right across from her, and she was pretty sure they were snorting coke.
She stared at the lines they made with a credit card and at the mirror they were using as their surface foggy from the white residue. One of the guys rolled up a dollar bill into a tight cylinder, and then leaned forward and inhaled one of the lines through his nose. It was kind of fascinating to watch, but not something she’d ever want to try.
“You want some?” The deep voice beside her had her turning her head and staring at the guy that stood a few inches from her. She’d never seen him before, and he looked pretty old, maybe college-aged. He grinned, his eyes bloodshot, glossy, and the smell of beer coming from his breath.
“No, thanks,” she said and shook her head, looking back at the guys doing lines. “It’s just kind of interesting to watch, like I’m in the middle of Boogie Nights or something with all the drugs and sex happening.” She took a drink from her bottle of beer, finishing it off, and was about to go into the kitchen to throw the bottle away and get another one, when the guy that had asked if she wanted coke stopped her with a hand on her shoulder.
“Come on, just a line. I swear it’s like fucking heaven right up your nose. And dripping down the back of your throat.”
“Sounds tempting,” she said sarcastically, “but I’m not into having heaven snorted up my nose.” She moved away from him and went into the kitchen where a couple was currently making out and groping each other. The girl was sitting on the counter, her legs spread, and the guy wedged between them.
Freya went to set the bottle on the counter, but she was so drunk she didn’t calculate the distance right and it ended up crashing to the floor, shattering. She closed her eyes, feeling a wave of dizziness slam into her, and knew that she needed to go home. It was time to call this a night. She grabbed a rag, bent down, and started picking up the glass so no one got hurt.