Bloody Heart (Brutal Birthright #4) - Sophie Lark


Simone Solomon

“Simone! Why aren’t you ready?”

My mother stands in the doorway, already dressed for the party.

By contrast, I’m wearing sweat shorts and a Wonder Woman t-shirt, because I was curled up in my window seat, lost in a book.

“What time is it?” I ask, confused.

“What time do you think it is?” Mama says, smiling slightly.

I would have said two or three in the afternoon, but the fact that she’s already put on her evening gown clues me in that it must be later.

“Uh . . . six?” I guess.

“Try seven-thirty.”

“Sorry!” I say, jumping up from the window, knocking my copy of Wuthering Heights onto the carpet.

No wonder I’m starving. I missed lunch, and apparently dinner too.

“You’d better hurry,” Mama says. “Your father already called for the car.”

“The car is waiting, actually,” my father says.

He stands next to Mama. They’re the most elegant pair imaginable—both tall, slim, impeccably dressed. His rich, dark coloring next to her fairness is the only contrast between them. Otherwise, they’re perfectly matched.

Sometimes my father wears bright Kente cloth on formal occasions. Tonight he’s dressed in a black tuxedo with a velvet lapel. The lavender calla lily in his boutonnière is the exact shade of my mother’s gown.

Next to their sleek perfection, I feel like I’m all elbows and knees. Too awkward to even be seen with them.

“Maybe you should go on without me . . .” I say.

“Nice try,” Mama says. “Hurry and get dressed.”

I stifle my groan. At first, I was excited to be home from boarding school. Chicago seemed like a whirlwind of parties, galas, and events. Now, only a few months later, they’re all starting to blur together. I’m tired of champagne and canapés, polite conversation, and even politer dancing. Plus, I wish my sister came along more often.

“Is Serwa coming?” I ask Mama.

“No,” she says, a small line forming between her eyebrows. “She’s not having a very good day.”

My parents leave me alone to dress.

I have a whole closet of gowns to choose from, most of them bought this year. I run my fingertips down the rainbow of fabric, trying to choose quickly.

I could spend an hour like this. I’m a bit of a daydreamer, and I love beautiful things. Especially clothes.

An interest in fashion can be perceived as frivolous. In my mind, clothes are wearable art. They’re the statement that precedes you into every room. They’re the tools that shape people’s perception before you’ve spoken a word.

That’s how I would describe it to anybody else.

To myself, they mean so much more than that.

I have an intense reaction to color and texture. They create a mood inside of me. I don’t like to admit it to anyone, because I know it’s . . . strange. Most people don’t feel physically repulsed by an unattractive shade of puce. And they don’t feel an irresistible desire to touch silk or velvet.

I’ve always been that way, as long as I can remember. I’ve just learned how to hide it.

I have to force myself to grab a dress, without poring over them for ages.

I take one of my favorites, a pale rose gown with fluttering chiffon down the back that reminds me of a butterfly’s wings.

I dust on a little pink blush, and lip gloss in the same shade. Not too much—my father doesn’t like me to dress overly “mature.” I only just turned eighteen.

When I hurry downstairs, my parents are already waiting in the limo. There’s an odd tension in the air. My father is sitting stiffly upright in his seat. My mother glances at me, then looks out the window.

“Go,” Tata barks to the driver.

“I got ready as quickly as I could . . .” I say tentatively.

My father ignores that entirely.

“Would you like to tell me why I just found an acceptance letter from Parsons in the mail?” he demands.

I flush, looking down at my fingernails.

I’d hoped to intercept that particular envelope, but it’s difficult to do in our house, where several different staff check for mail twice a day.

I can tell my father is furious. Yet, at the same time, I feel a wild swoop of elation at his words . . .

I was accepted.

I have to hide my happiness. My father is not happy at all. I can feel his displeasure radiating outward like a cold fog. It freezes me down to my bones.

I can’t meet his eyes. Even in his best moods, my father has sharp features and an intense stare. When he’s angry, he looks like the carved mask of