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Once Upon a One Night Mistake: Book 1
Once Upon a One Night Mistake: Book 1
Once Upon a One Night Mistake: Book 1
Ebook609 pages8 hours

Once Upon a One Night Mistake: Book 1

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"What if Cinderella absolutely hated Prince Charming?"

Several years and a handful of scandals were enough to make Taliana Avilla forget all about her sworn enemy, Sebastian Phillips. Too bad a one-night stand and a lost diamond ring made her remember all over again.
LanguageEnglish
PublisherRadish
Release dateNov 10, 2021
ISBN9781956969047
Once Upon a One Night Mistake: Book 1
Author

Simone Shirazi

Simone Shirazi is an avid reader and writer from Washington, D.C. who started posting novels online at the age of 14. When she’s not reading or writing, she can be found baking cakes, watching makeup tutorials on YouTube, and cuddling with her dogs.

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    Once Upon a One Night Mistake - Simone Shirazi

    2

    Homecoming

    Six years later…

    Watching Andrea Colton emerge from the backseat of the black Mercedes was like watching a movie star step out onto the red carpet. She moved with an easy grace that came from a lifetime of ballet, and she carried herself like a woman who could handle anything life threw at her, which—so far—had been quite a lot. Her vintage shift dress and oversized sunglasses only accentuated her classic beauty and remarkable bone structure, something Taliana was grateful to have inherited. Her mother may have been a few years past forty, but she still had men half her age on their knees.

    Circle around, Andrea instructed the driver as she stepped onto the curb. This could take a while.

    She pushed her sunglasses to the top of her head as she turned to Taliana, revealing those all-knowing gray eyes. For once, the smile that always seemed to play around her mouth was nowhere to be found.

    You don’t have to do this, honey.

    Taliana ignored her, choosing instead to untie and retie her shoelaces. She’d been doing that for the past minute to distract herself from the situation at hand.

    I mean it, Taliana. You don’t have to go.

    If the woman told Taliana that one more time, she was going to scream.

    Mom, I know. She sighed, finally losing interest in her shoes and rising. I want to do this. Really.

    Her mother still looked unsure. No one is making you leave, she continued, reaching out to take Taliana’s hand in hers. "Honey, are you sure you want to go live with your father?"

    Honestly, Taliana was anything but sure about it. She hadn’t visited her father in years, and now there she was about to get on a plane to go live with him. They’d talked about it over the phone a few weeks ago, and he sounded excited to have her back in Washington, D.C. with him, but it was still going to be odd, especially since she’d left so abruptly all those years ago.

    After her expulsion from Georgetown Trinity Day School, her parents had decided it would be best if she went to live with her mother in California. It had a little to do with the fact that no other private school in D.C. would accept her, and a lot to do with the fact that her father was at his wits’ end with her. So he’d sent her packing off to LA with mommy dearest, and that was where she’d stayed—until now.

    I'm sure, Mom, Taliana said, knowing that if she asked her one more time, she was going to throw herself at her mom and sob to go home.

    And that couldn’t happen. Taliana desperately needed to get out of Los Angeles; the place had never really felt like home, and now there were too many bad memories attached to it. She needed a fresh start, and D.C. could offer that, even if it did hold its own set of memories. But anything was better than the ones she had here.

    Why don’t you just stay? her mom pleaded, squeezing Taliana’s hand gently. "I know some, ah, bad things have happened these past couple months, but running away isn’t going to solve anything."

    I’m not running away, Taliana grumbled as she drew her hand back, glaring at the cars that sped past the terminal. I just need a change of scenery.

    If you only wanted a change of scenery, you would have let me buy that gorgeous house in San Francisco, her mom pointed out. This is a pretty dramatic change.

    Taliana rolled her eyes and finally found the nerve to look up at her. They may have both been tall, but she still towered over Taliana in her four-inch pumps. I was wrapped up in enough scandals last year alone to last a normal person a lifetime. I just need…out.

    Andrea sighed heavily and nodded, finally admitting defeat after weeks’ worth of trying to convince Taliana to stay. She knew better than anyone how a scandal or two could drive a person away.

    I wish you weren’t leaving. Who’s going to model all my designs in the future?

    Taliana shuddered, thinking about her mother’s latest collection. Though Andrea was a prominent fashion designer, Taliana sometimes wondered how her mother managed to be so successful. Sure, some of her creations were beautiful, but others were, well, just plain awful.

    "It’s art, Taliana!" she was always saying, but Taliana couldn’t see it. So while Andrea adorned herself in three-thousand-dollar dresses, Taliana stuck to her shorts and t-shirts and flip-flops. At least, she did whenever her mother wasn’t zipping her into various designs and shoving her in front cameras.

    In no way did Taliana consider herself to be model material, but Andrea had always thought she was perfect for it. Being five-foot-ten and skinny as a twig was exactly what the fashion industry wanted, unfortunately.

    Her mother had gotten her dream come true—and Taliana’s nightmare—when she’d finally broken down and allowed her mother to shoot an ad campaign with her as the face of the line. That experience ranked in the top five worst in Taliana’s life, which was coming from someone who had been arrested too many times to count and had narrowly escaped being sent to juvie. Taliana swore she’d never do anything like it again. She had to admit though, the shots had come out okay, but she didn’t think they were anywhere nice enough to be plastered throughout magazines. Not to mention it was more than a little embarrassing to grab the nearest magazine and find her hardly recognizable face in there.

    If there was one good thing about moving to D.C., it meant escaping the horrible fate of having to do next season’s campaign as well.

    I’m sure you’ll find someone, Taliana promised, trying not to get wrapped up in that again. Maybe even a real model this time.

    Andrea flashed a wry smile before glancing away and letting it fade. With one last sigh, she looked back at Taliana and squared her shoulders. Well, if this is what you really want...

    It is, she said firmly. Besides, I think that east coast way of life might help shape me into a proper young lady.

    Her mother laughed. I can’t really disagree with that, she said, reaching out to touch Taliana’s cheek with a perfectly manicured hand. It sure as hell did wonders for me. Just don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, okay?

    Taliana was pretty sure her expression mirrored Andrea’s perfectly. You would do just about anything, Mom.

    She wrinkled her nose but grinned nonetheless. Guess that’s true, she admitted, dropping her hand back to her side. Just have a good time, honey. And remember, you’re always welcome to come back here with me. You may be seventeen, but you’ll always be my baby.

    I know, I know. You’ve given me the speech a thousand times already. If I want to come back, I’ll just hop on a plane and do it.

    Andrea smiled sadly and reached up to sweep a stray lock of dark hair out of her eyes, the massive diamond on her right hand glinting in the light. The sun’s rays splashed rainbows across the sidewalk, distracting both of them for a moment until she finally slipped the ring off her finger.

    Take this, she commanded, holding out the massive diamond ring. I think it’s about time I gave it to you.

    Though Taliana had seen the thing thousands of times before in the past, its sheer size never ceased to amaze her. It was a family heirloom that had been passed down from mother to daughter in their family for generations, a semblance of wealth that the women could call their own. Taliana had marveled at it when she was younger, wanting to wear it as soon as she possibly could, but she’d long since outgrown her obsession with sparkly things, and had practically forgotten it was going to be hers one day.

    It’s...big, Taliana muttered weakly, unable to make herself reach out and take it.

    Your grandmother loved things over the top, that’s for sure. This actually started out as a diamond necklace that she got from her mother, but of course she preferred to wear her wealth on her finger. She shook her head wistfully at the memory of her mother before focusing her attention on Taliana again. "She gave this to me when I went off to college. Now, I know you’re not going off to college just yet, but you’re still leaving me."

    Andrea looked like she was trying hard not to cry as she pressed the ring into Taliana’s hand, curling her fingers around it.

    Keep it safe, all right? Your grandmother will haunt you from the grave if you lose that thing.

    The thought of her grandma’s ghost coming to haunt her was enough to make Taliana snicker. I’ll be sure to remember that. She tucked it into a small pocket in her carry-on bag. Once it was safely inside, she flung herself at her mother and hugged her tightly, trying not to cry either. Love you, Mom.

    Love you, too, sweetie, she replied, voice thick with tears. She hugged Taliana back briefly before pulling away and nudging her toward the entrance of the airport. Get going. You don’t want to miss your flight.

    Taliana offered her mother one last smile before turning her back on LA and her past life.

    It could only get better from here.

    * * *

    If there was one thing Sebastian Phillips hated about living in the nation’s capital, it was the tourists.

    Excuse me, a rosy cheeked man in a tacky shirt cut in, disrupting the calm of the museum. Could you tell me how to get to the White House from here?

    Though the man was probably just an innocent sightseer from some Midwestern state, Sebastian was having a difficult time keeping his temper in check. Then again, it didn’t take much to piss him off.

    Do I look like a fucking geographer to you? he snapped. Go buy a map.

    It was the fourth time in this museum alone that some over eager tourist or one of their snotty nosed brats had made him want to break someone’s neck. God, he couldn’t wait for summer to end and for all of them to get the hell out of the city.

    You done offending middle America?

    Sebastian glanced to his right, gaze landing on his smirking companion. I hate tourist season, he scowled. It makes me crazy.

    Michael Richardson pushed off the wall he’d been leaning against, sparing one last look at the offended vacationer before turning back to his best friend since birth. Just about everything does that to you.

    Sebastian rolled his eyes as he scrawled notes about the exhibit onto a sheet of paper. He wasn't usually this easily annoyed, but the past couple weeks had been stressful. After returning from a whirlwind trip to Paris, Milan, Monte Carlo, and Dubai, his summer had been devoted to an internship at his family’s oil company, finishing obligatory projects for school, and planning his eighteenth birthday party.

    While the internship and projects were hard in their own right, planning this party seemed to be taking up most of his time. No matter how many people were onboard to help pull it off, it still seemed like there was a ton of work ahead of him. The fact that the party was in two days didn't make it any better.

    Aw, cheer up, buttercup, Michael teased as he narrowly avoided being run down by a group of chattering preschoolers. What’s got you feeling so murderous? This stupid assignment?

    Sebastian sighed as he gave up on answering the questions required for one of his classes that started next week, too distracted to finish it. No, my party, he muttered, tucking the sheet into the back pocket of his jeans. It’ll be a miracle if this entire thing actually comes together by Saturday night. If not, I’m going to be the laughingstock of Georgetown Trinity. Everyone expects this to be the best party of the year.

    Oh, please, the other boy scoffed, rolling his eyes. Like anyone would have the nerve to laugh at you.

    You never know, Sebastian replied, though his answer trailed off when a girl breezed by.

    With fiery red hair, ivory skin, and a smattering of freckles across the bridge of her nose, she could have been considered simply cute, but the fact that her I heart D.C. t-shirt was two sizes too small for her impressive chest and her shorts barely cleared her ass meant she was firmly in the hot as hell category instead. Though her attire all but screamed that she was a visitor to the city, she was attractive enough to make him wonder if tourist season was entirely bad after all.

    And he wasn't the only one eyeing her.

    Think the carpet matches the drapes? Michael murmured amusedly, just loud enough for him to hear.

    A smirk found its way to Sebastian’s lips as he let his gaze linger, watching as she strolled through the exhibit. She wasn’t his usual type, but fuck it, he needed a distraction.

    Doubt it, he answered, dragging a hand through his hair. But I wouldn't mind finding out.

    Fifty bucks says you never will.

    Sebastian had always prided himself on never backing down from a challenge, and honestly, he didn’t think it would be too difficult.

    You’re on.

    3

    Metamorphosis

    It had begun to drizzle when the plane touched down at Reagan National Airport.

    Ominous, gray storm clouds loomed in the distance, promising a downpour in the near future. The small screen on the headrest in front of Taliana proclaimed the current temperature outside was a sweltering ninety degrees, an average number for D.C. in August, and also what turned a little bit of rain into a massive thunderstorm. Those summer storms were one of the things she’d missed desperately upon moving to LA, since the rolling thunder and bright cracks of lightning had always managed to lull her to sleep at night.

    It was comforting to see that first bright strike splash across the sky as she strolled through the terminal, though she was glad she hadn't been stuck in the air during the storm. However, when she turned away from the windows and began her trek toward the baggage claim where her father was supposed to be waiting, any sense of calm disappeared as reality set in.

    Gone was the dry heat and drama of LA. Gone was her mother and the home Taliana had lived in for the past seven years. And gone was Lia Colton-Avilla, the name Taliana had taken and the girl she had become upon moving there.

    This was her chance for a fresh start, to be Talia Avilla again, just as she had been so many years ago. She’d been wanting that back for so long, but now that she was there, she wasn’t so sure anymore.

    Taliana didn’t linger on the subject for fear she would turn around and get on the next flight back to LA, but she wasn’t a wimp. She could do this.

    At least, she hoped she could.

    With a heavy sigh, Taliana adjusted the strap of her carry-on bag on her shoulder and trudged forward, scanning the crowd for the familiar face of her father.

    Charles Avilla wasn’t hard to miss. He still sported the same meticulously combed dark hair, a jaw that could have cut steel, and calculating ice-blue eyes that Taliana had snagged from the gene pool. Her pace quickened in an attempt to get to him, gently nudging people out of her way. It wasn't until she was a few feet away that she managed to catch his eye. The look was fleeting, but he did a double take soon after.

    Talia?

    The laugh she’d been holding back finally surfaced when she reached him. It’s me, Dad.

    A smile finally broke out across his face, the corners of his eyes crinkling, the only indication of his age. Before Taliana could even comprehend what was happening, he pulled her to him in a bone crushingly tight hug, and the familiar scent of his cologne flooded her nose.

    Taliana hesitated briefly before bringing her arms up as well and hugging him back, her own shock slowly fading. It felt like an eternity before he pulled away, his grin wider than before.

    My firstborn is all grown up, he teased, his hands locked firmly on Taliana’s upper arms as he looked her over. Charles let out a soft, disbelieving chuckle before shaking his head and letting Taliana go.

    She couldn't help grinning back at him. And you’ve gotten old, Dad.

    A booming laugh came from him, causing a few people to look over in surprise. But Taliana’s father paid them no mind. He simply draped an arm over her shoulders and continued to grin. Still got your charming sense of humor, I see.

    Mom always tells me I got it from you, Taliana chuckled as he guided her toward the baggage carrousel.

    After grabbing her oversized suitcases—she still couldn’t believe she’d managed to pack practically her entire life away in them—her father nodded toward the exit, a silent command for her to follow him.

    A hot breeze brushed over her cheeks, gently stirring the dark hairs that had slipped out of her ponytail as they stepped outside into the rain. While she’d been half expecting to see her mother’s black Mercedes idling in front of the terminal, she wasn’t surprised to see a massive SUV instead, especially when a petite, blonde woman hopped out and bounded up onto the sidewalk.

    Talia, sweetheart! Katherine greeted, rushing toward her with arms spread wide. It’s so good to see you!

    That time Taliana was semi-prepared for the impending hug, but she hadn’t anticipated the sheer force of it. Her stepmother may have been tiny, but what Katherine lacked in height she certainly made up for in affection. She practically threw herself at Taliana, arms wrapping tightly around her waist. It was a slightly uncomfortable position, seeing as her cheek was pressed firmly against Taliana’s not-so-ample chest, thanks to the fact that she stood a good ten inches taller than Katherine. The last time Taliana had seen her, they’d been practically the same height, although she’d had an inch or two on Katherine’s five-foot frame even back then. Apparently, Taliana had grown more than she thought.

    Katherine leaned back a moment later and beamed up at Taliana, brown eyes sparkling with joy. We missed you so much.

    And then Taliana was pulled into yet another one of those motherly hugs as she awkwardly patted Katherine’s back.

    There was no denying that Katherine was the complete opposite of Taliana’s mother. While Andrea was constantly calm, cool, and collected, Katherine was bubbly and unafraid to show what she felt. Taliana had always enjoyed the weekends she got to spend with her father and stepmother when she was younger, just because it was nice to be with someone who wasn’t afraid to have fun. She and Katherine had gone to the zoo and made funny faces at the monkeys, splashed around in the ocean on their annual trip to the beach, and ordered every type of flavor available at Thomas Sweet Ice Cream. For a stepmother, she was the best anyone could have ever asked for. Taliana certainly knew she had lucked out in that department.

    After a few more uncomfortable seconds, she released Taliana and ushered her toward the car, opening the back door for her and shutting it once Taliana had clambered inside. A flash of white-blonde hair caught Taliana’s attention as she settled in, causing her to turn and look at the two girls sitting in the third row.

    Had it been under any other circumstances, she probably wouldn't have recognized the twins. They’d been towheaded kids the last time she’d seen them, and while their platinum-blonde hair hadn’t darkened a single shade, they certainly didn't look like the tomboys she remembered. No, the sixteen-year-olds looked more like the fashionistas Taliana’s mother wished she could’ve been.

    Vanessa was the first to notice Taliana’s presence, momentarily glancing up from the phone she’d been furiously messaging away on. She flashed Taliana a quick smile before elbowing her sister gently, causing her to look up from her own phone as well.

    Hey, Talia, Marissa said before returning her attention to her phone. Glad to have you back.

    And that was the only greeting Taliana got from them. Fine with her. Despite being relatively close in age, she and the twins had never really had much in common or run in the same circles. And after she’d left for LA, they hadn’t done much but share a few happy birthday messages via social media for the ensuing years. They may have been half siblings, but they certainly hadn’t bonded. Though Taliana had to admit, she was hopeful that would change.

    Her gaze returned to the front of the car where her soaked father had just slid into the driver’s seat. It’s a monsoon out there, he complained, hair plastered against his forehead. I can’t wait for summer to end.

    Taliana glanced out the window, enjoying the sudden onslaught of water. It’s been a while since I’ve seen rain like this. She was almost tempted to stick her hand out the window, but she held back.

    I suppose you don’t get much rain in LA, Katherine conceded, swiping her damp forehead with the back of her hand.

    Taliana kept her eyes on the window as the car pulled away from the curb. We’re lucky to get an inch this time of year. It’s usually just hot and dry.

    I think I’d take that any day over this humidity, Charles said, glancing in his mirror before changing lanes and entering the highway. Are you glad to be back?

    Taliana hesitated before answering, not sure if she really was or not. Sure, she was glad to be away from the drama of LA and glad for the current thunderstorm, but she’d only been in D.C. for less than twenty minutes. That definitely wasn't enough time to decide whether or not she was happy to be back in a city she hadn’t visited in several years.

    Yeah, Taliana lied, flashing them a small smile. It’s good to be back.

    Soon the conversation turned to things that were going on in their everyday lives. Taliana tuned in for a while, but her attention was soon diverted once they crossed over one of the many bridges and finally entered the city she could call home again.

    Though she’d been exposed to the sights of D.C. since the day she was born, she couldn’t help but admire how beautiful it truly was. The Potomac River was probably even more polluted than it had been years ago, but it still seemed to sparkle. And while the Washington Monument was barely visible through the thick sheet of rain, it seemed whiter and brighter than Taliana remembered.

    Her eyes were practically glued to the window as they slowly made their way through the evening traffic, and before long, they entered familiar territory. Georgetown was a section of D.C. that had always been synonymous with money and power, seeing as it was one of the oldest and most expensive areas in town. Plenty of influential people from the government and society could be found in the Italianate row houses that lined the narrow streets, and while the homes may have looked diminutive from the outside, the insides tended to be huge. Well, the Avilla household was at least.

    Home, sweet home! Katherine sang as the car came to a halt in front of the house.

    The five of them climbed out of the SUV and grabbed whatever they could before making a mad dash to the front door. They all took a moment to shake off the rain in the foyer before Charles nodded toward the staircase.

    Come on, Talia, he said. Let’s get your bags upstairs.

    Katherine flashed her a warm smile before Taliana turned away and followed her father upstairs, struggling slightly under the weight of the massive bags. Eventually she made it up to the second-floor landing and dragged herself down the hallway until she caught up with her father, who was standing in front of Taliana’s old room.

    Everything should be the same, he told her, glancing inside as she approached. I couldn’t bring myself to pack up your stuff when you moved away with your mother.

    One step inside revealed he wasn’t lying. Posters of old boy bands adorned the walls, stuffed animals sat on top of the dresser, and she could swear there were glow in the dark stars on the ceiling. It was practically a shrine to her childhood in there, which was slightly embarrassing. Taliana quickly decided that everything would have to go soon. Very soon.

    Thanks, Dad. She chuckled, scanning the room one more time. It’s just the way I remember it.

    Should be. He reached out to ruffle her hair like he’d always done when she was younger. His hand drifted down to her cheek momentarily before he let it drop completely and glanced at his watch. Go ahead and relax for a bit; I know you’ve had a long trip. Dinner will be at seven.

    Taliana nodded and waited until he left the room to change out of her wet clothes and collapse on the bed. There was no denying she was exhausted after her flight and worrying about how her new life was going to be.

    But so far, she couldn’t complain. Things were looking good, and all she could do was hope they’d stay that way.

    * * *

    Sebastian was unsure of how many times he’d sneaked out of the hotel rooms of random girls, but the number was now one higher than it had been yesterday.

    As he stood under the promenade that led to the entrance of the Ritz-Carlton in Georgetown, he found himself questioning what the hell he was doing. He knew he’d become a bit of a womanizer, but when had it gone this far? It certainly hadn’t always been like this.

    For a while, he’d been into relationships with meaning, not one-night stands—or two-hour stands in this case—with random girls. But since he’d had his heart served to him on a silver platter, this had become his new normal.

    The thought of his most recent heartbreak was enough to make his stomach churn with misery, and no number of new girls had been able to soothe that feeling either. Luckily, he was spared from thinking about what had happened and what he had become when a sleek, red Ferrari pulled to the curb in front of him. Sebastian only knew of one person in the city who drove such a flashy car, and any doubt as to who was in the driver’s seat disappeared when the window rolled down.

    Need a ride? Michael drawled as he stared at Sebastian with a half-disdainful, half-amused expression.

    I’d love one, he grumbled, yanking open the door and quickly sliding inside to avoid getting drenched by the torrential downpour. You owe me fifty bucks by the way.

    Well, damn. Michael playfully slapped the steering wheel as he navigated the car down the narrow street. I was convinced there was no way that shade could have been natural.

    Sebastian let his eyes shut as he leaned his head against the cool window, though part of him was vaguely amused. Leave it to this guy to cheer him up. We’re not having this conversation.

    He could sense Michael’s sparkling hazel gaze on him. Since when do you kiss and not tell?

    Since I realized you don’t need a play-by-play of my sex life. His eyes drifted back open when the car took a sharp left turn. Where are we going?

    Cool Beans, Michael replied, referencing the coffee shop that had been their hangout since they’d been freshmen almost three years ago.

    Sebastian’s heavy eyes scanned the streets, watching women in high heels avoid puddles while men in khaki shorts and colorful polos ducked into stores to avoid the menacing bolts of lightning. Are Jacob and Marcus going to be there?

    Marcus was the one who wanted to meet, Michael responded, shifting gears with ease as traffic slowed. He didn’t sound too happy about something.

    Sebastian snorted softly. That's nothing new.

    The conversation lapsed into an amicable silence until the car came to a halt in front of the quaint coffee shop five minutes later. Sebastian entered the dimly lit space first, letting his eyes adjust for a moment before searching the room for the familiar faces of his other two best friends.

    It took no time at all to pick out a gloomy Marcus Patterson and an utterly stoned Jacob Weston sitting at their normal table in the back corner of Cool Beans. After a quick nod to Michael to follow him, Sebastian slid past the other tables and dropped into the oversized armchair between his friends.

    Jacob was the first to glance up from his coffee cup, though it looked like he had just been gazing into its murky depths as if it held the answers of the universe. His red-rimmed eyes only confirmed Sebastian's suspicion that he'd partaken in a certain substance recently, and the relaxed smile on his lips made Sebastian wish he'd had some as well.

    Jacob raised his coffee cup in greeting before bringing it to his lips and taking a sip. Sebastian took this time to focus on Marcus, who was frowning as if someone had just taken away his favorite teddy bear.

    Why the long face, sweetheart? Michael questioned, beating Sebastian to the punch. Mommy tell you Santa isn’t real?

    Marcus scowled and pushed a chocolate curl out of his eyes of the same color. No, he mumbled, playing with the pack of cigarettes in his hand. Marcus may have been a good boy when it came to school, girls, and responsibilities, but his one vice was smoking. It’s worse than that.

    What happened? Sebastian prompted, signaling to their usual barista to bring him a latte.

    Marcus heaved a sigh and settled his hands in his lap. You remember Zak, right?

    Sebastian had to rack his brain for a moment, but a face finally came to the name. Zak? Your cousin from California with all the tattoos and so many piercings he could pass for Swiss cheese?

    The curly haired boy grimaced, his fingers tightening around the pack of smokes. Yeah. Him.

    Sebastian paused when the barista brought his drink, and he slipped her a generous tip as always, causing her to blush. He waited until she was gone before speaking again. What about him?

    He’s coming to live with us, Marcus revealed. Apparently his parents couldn’t handle him anymore and thought my mother could knock some sense into him.

    Jacob let out a bark of laughter, throwing his head back so his long, auburn hair fell away from his forehead. Yeah, good luck with that. That guy is batshit nuts.

    I don’t know, Michael mused. Victoria could probably handle him. She can instill fear in even the bravest hearts.

    Sebastian shuddered at the thought of Marcus’s mother. Senator Victoria Patterson ruled her home and represented her state with an iron fist. She was the main reason Marcus had turned out as a practically perfect child, seeing as her only son was too afraid to ever go against her wishes. Sebastian didn’t really blame him either. With her power suits and steely glare, even he knew not to get on Senator Patterson’s bad side.

    When is he going to be here? Sebastian questioned, cupping the warm mug in his hands.

    Saturday afternoon. Marcus’s look of dissatisfaction remained. And my mother wants me to bring him to your party so he can make friends.

    Sebastian paused before his cup reached his lips, his eyes swinging up sharply. Who is she to invite someone to my party?

    The devil, Michael answered, rolling his eyes as he kicked his feet up onto the table. But it doesn’t seem like there’s anything you can do about this, unless you really want to take it up with Victoria.

    Sebastian shut his mouth.

    My thoughts exactly.

    Sebastian slouched farther down in his seat. I swear, if he even considers making a scene, I’m going to—

    The obnoxiously loud chirp of a phone interrupted his threat, and Sebastian shot a glare at its owner. Michael paid the look no mind as he slipped a hand into the pocket of his jeans and produced it a moment later, a loud laugh escaping his lips once he read the text on the screen.

    Oh, that’s a good one, he snickered, looking up at Sebastian a few seconds later. You won’t believe who’s back.

    Please don’t tell me it’s some dumb celebrity here to see the president, Marcus groaned. All those Hollywood assholes just need to stay on the west coast where they belong.

    Nope, Michael replied, fingers flying over the screen. Guess again.

    It was Jacob's turn. The son of that ambassador who incessantly hit on Sebastian that time at the zoo?

    There was no missing Michael’s amusement this time, which was punctuated with a loud snort. I wish. But no.

    Sebastian lazily flipped his friend the finger. Who is it, Michael?

    You’re going to love this one, Seb, he said, a smirk sliding over his lips. It's Taliana Avilla.

    Sebastian choked on his coffee, causing Marcus to pat him hard on the back. After the coughing spell passed, he stared at his friend in shock.

    "You mean Stick Girl? he questioned incredulously. What the hell is she doing back here?"

    Michael’s phone beeped again. I’m hearing different things from different people, he said, continuing to read, but word is that she tried to kill some guy in California and now she’s coming back here to live with her father to get away from it all. Stupid rumor, but considering her history, I might actually believe it.

    Jacob ran a hand through his hair, the rings snagging a few strands. That psycho just needs to be institutionalized.

    Marcus grunted his assent. I second that motion.

    If it was possible, Sebastian would’ve passed the motion and thrown her in the nearest maximum-security prison where she deserved to be. After what happened in sixth grade and their numerous run-ins before that, he wanted her as far away from him as possible. The fact that she was in the same city made him feel slightly on edge, not to mention nauseated.

    Hopefully he’d never have to see her sorry face again.

    4

    Model Behavior

    Breakfast in the Avilla household was a little more hectic than Taliana remembered. By the time she was up and dressed back in the day, Katherine would have had breakfast made, Charles would be happily sipping his morning coffee, and the twins would either be sitting at the table playing a game or still at a friend’s house from the sleepover they'd gone to the night before.

    This summer morning, however, was much different.

    Come on, Vanessa! You drank all the orange juice!

    Charles! Go upstairs and change your pants, they’ve got syrup on them!

    Ugh! Mom, this milk went bad days ago!

    Katherine! You’re burning the eggs!

    The sheer volume of the back-and-forth banter coming from the kitchen was what had woken Taliana in the first place, but now that she was standing right outside the doorway, she was convinced her eardrums would burst if she got any closer.

    Deciding to risk life and limb, she stepped into the kitchen and took a seat at the kitchen table. In the background she heard Katherine shout good morning over the sound of the television, which was spewing the latest news about the stock market, causing her father to let out a distressed groan every time the Dow dipped further. While Taliana was unsure what all those numbers meant, watching her father's reaction to them was immensely entertaining.

    However, her attention quickly shifted when a towering plate of pancakes appeared in front of her.

    Eat! Katherine mouthed as she ushered the twins into their seats around the table.

    Taliana didn’t need to be told twice.

    A wave of calm washed over the kitchen when the television shut off and her father dropped into the chair on her left.

    Morning, he greeted, reaching out to ruffle Taliana’s hair. He then turned his attention to the twins, who were glaring venomously at each other. Girls? What’s the problem?

    Marissa’s eyes narrowed a fraction more, but she didn’t turn away from her sister as she answered the question. She’s wearing the same outfit as me and refuses to change.

    Taliana glanced at them, taking in their matching blue tank tops, miniskirts, and sandals. All in all, it looked great on both of them, but it was an outfit Taliana wouldn’t have worn in a million years.

    Why should I have to be the one to change? Vanessa huffed. I was wearing this first.

    No, you weren’t.

    Yes, I was.

    Were not.

    Was, too.

    Were not!

    Was—

    Girls! Charles cut in, putting an end to an argument that was bound to end with hair pulling and screeching. At least that was how it used to end when they were kids. Hopefully they had moved on from that kind of problem solving. How about you both go change?

    I shouldn't have to change, Marissa whined, flipping her hair over her shoulder as she finally swung her brown eyes away from her twin. She’s the one who insists on copying me.

    "Oh, please. Like I would ever want to copy you."

    Marissa opened her mouth to counter the insult, but their father beat her to it. Both of you change or you’re not getting the credit card to go shopping today.

    The girls were out of their seats before Taliana could even blink.

    Gets ‘em every time, Katherine chuckled. Think they’ll ever learn?

    Let’s hope not, he said, digging into his food. We won’t have anything else to threaten them with if they grow out of it.

    She took a seat next to him. I doubt they ever will. I just hope they don't go overboard like last time.

    My father cringed, remembering a previous disaster. They were lucky I’d just sealed that deal at work or else they’d be getting jobs to pay off that ten-thousand-dollar credit card bill.

    Though Taliana’s dad, Katherine, and her mother all came from money and had raised her and the twins with the comfortable lifestyle, Taliana still couldn’t comprehend how two sixteen-year-olds could spend that much money in one sitting. She had a hard time when it came to paying five bucks for a cup of coffee or more than forty for a new pair of jeans.

    Maybe you should go with them, Talia, Katherine suggested. You could help keep those two in check. Plus, I’m sure you’d like to get out of the house for a little while.

    Taliana almost choked on her orange juice. Yeah, sorry, I’ll pass, she answered once she recovered. Not really my thing.

    Oh, come on. It’ll give you a chance to bond with the twins. Plus, it should be fun.

    Shopping was not synonymous with fun in Taliana’s vocabulary, but the look on Katherine’s face was making her feel guilty. Okay, sure, she agreed hesitantly. Are they looking for anything in particular?

    Dresses for some boy’s party tomorrow night, I think.

    Taliana hadn’t even looked at a dress since she’d been zipped up in one of her mother’s awful creations a few months ago. Memories of that event made her cling to her comfy athletic shorts and t-shirts for dear life.

    He’s not just some guy, Mom, Marissa cut in from the entrance of the kitchen, now sporting a yellow sundress. "He’s Sebastian Phillips, the most gorgeous guy, like, ever."

    It took a moment for the name to register, but Taliana’s eyes widened when it finally did. Sebastian Phillips? she asked, having practically forgotten about his existence. As in the kid who got me expelled from Georgetown Trinity?

    That’s the one! Vanessa chirped as she breezed in, her outfit modified with a white button-down shirt.

    Taliana couldn’t help but stare at the girls in disbelief. You’ve got to be kidding me.

    Talia, it’s going to be amazing, Marissa went on. "He always goes all out for his parties, but this one is supposed to be the best of the best. I mean, it’s Sebastian, what else would you expect?"

    She continued to watch them carefully. I would expect it to be stupid like his birthday party back in fourth grade when he had to invite the entire class, just because his mommy insisted.

    Marissa giggled and took her seat again, Vanessa joining her a few seconds later. I forgot you haven’t seen him since you guys were, like, eleven. He’s changed.

    "A lot, Vanessa added, reaching for a piece of toast. He’s not that scrawny little boy anymore."

    He’s hot as hell now.

    Taliana didn’t believe a word of what they were saying. Is he still a raging asshole?

    Marissa looked to her twin for help, but Vanessa merely shrugged

    We wouldn’t say that, Vanessa murmured, treading carefully. He’s just a little...standoff-ish.

    Taliana snorted. A little standoff-ish, her pasty white ass. It had to be ten times worse than that. Sounds like the same Sebastian to me. You two have fun at the party, though.

    Before the girls could get in another word, their father cut in. Why don’t you go too, Talia? There’s bound to be people you know there. Go socialize a little.

    She shook her head as she took a sip of her juice. I wasn’t invited. I wouldn’t want to crash it.

    Charles waved it off. I’m sure it’ll be no problem. I know the owner of the club hosting the party. You won’t have any issue getting in.

    I don’t know...

    You’re going, Vanessa said, an air of finality in her words. People already know you’re back anyway.

    Taliana’s brow knit together in confusion. How did they find out?

    Marissa shot her a look. How do you think? Suddenly, a sparkly pink phone was being waved in Taliana’s face. News travels fast.

    That wasn’t surprising. Word of her countless scandals back in California had spread faster than wildfire, causing her to go from practically invisible one day to the top ring of the social echelon at school the next. But that was a whole different story.

    Do you have something to wear to the party? Vanessa asked, tapping her manicured nails against the table top.

    Taliana shrugged. I'll just wear jeans or something.

    The horrified looks on their faces told her she’d just said something wrong.

    Jeans? Marissa spluttered, obviously repulsed by the choice. No, no, no. You need to be going all out. Don’t half-ass it.

    Give the girl a break, their father cut in, reaching out to pat Taliana’s shoulder comfortingly. She doesn’t have to be a fashionista like you two.

    I just don’t get it, though! Marissa exclaimed. "I mean, her mother is the Andrea Colton, aka the hottest designer at the moment. How can you not be into fashion when you come from that kind of greatness?"

    Charles shrugged, obviously at a loss as to why Taliana didn’t dress as fabulously as her mother. It sort of made her wonder if she was even related to either one of them.

    Whatever. Marissa shook her head, brushing it off. "We’ll help you out. Because you can’t go to Sebastian's party looking anything like that."

    Her eyes disdainfully took in Taliana’s outfit of athletic shorts, an oversized white t-shirt, and flip-flops that she’d had forever. Her face was makeup free and her hair was thrown haphazardly into a bun, telling of the fact that she had just rolled out of bed. But obviously, her appearance wasn’t up to Marissa’s standards.

    Agreed, Vanessa said, taking Taliana in as well. I think we’ll have something good when we’re done.

    Taliana wasn’t sure whether to be excited or scared for her life, but she was leaning more toward the latter for the time being.

    The twins glanced at each other before getting up from their seats and motioning for Taliana to join them.

    Let’s go, Marissa instructed.

    The next thing Taliana knew, she was being shoved into the backseat of Vanessa’s car, and before she could even figure out how to get her seatbelt on, they shot away from the curb. Her white-knuckle grip on the seat didn’t ease until ten minutes later, when Vanessa swung the car into a parking spot on M Street, the heart of the shopping district in Georgetown. Soon Taliana was being yanked out onto the crowded sidewalk and into a little boutique full of dresses.

    Ooh! That is so cute!

    "Talia, you have to try this one."

    This would look amazing on you!

    Oh, and this one, too!

    Go on! What are you waiting for?

    I took a deep breath and let the twins pile things into my arms, heading for the dressing room. So much for a relaxing day.

    * * *

    There were numerous anger management techniques out there, many of which had a proven effect on people, but all hope was lost whenever Sebastian Phillips hit that crucial boiling point.

    With his jaw set, Sebastian shot a glare across the room at his cousin, whose phone had been buzzing incessantly for what seemed like ages. Jude, if you don’t turn that thing off or answer it in the next two seconds, I’m going to hang you with your stupid tie.

    The boy in question merely rolled his eyes, practically immune to Sebastian’s threats after so many years. Touch my tie and you’ll get a pair of cement shoes and a bath in the river, Jude calmly shot back, eyes locked on the mirror he was preening in front of.

    Clearly, a love of threats ran in the family.

    His hand darted out to grab his phone and with a quick glance at the screen, Jude hit a button to silence the noise before tossing it onto the black leather couch where

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