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Broken:Flirt New Adult Romance

By:Lauren Layne

CHAPTER ONE

Olivia


Only in Manhattan would parents throw a dropping-out-of-college party  for their daughter. And only on the Upper East Side would people  actually show up.

Now, to be fair, the invitations didn't actually acknowledge the whole  dropping-out bit. Nothing so crass as that. I mean, this is New York,  after all. People have standards. At least when other people are  watching.

See, the twelve-dollars-each invitations spun the whole debacle as a "sending-off celebration for Olivia Elizabeth Middleton."

Sending-off indeed.

The destination? Bar Harbor, Maine.

The reason? Charitable endeavors.

Ahem. Not exactly. At least they got the location right, although even  that's a bit of a joke. It's not exactly Rwanda or Haiti or any of the  places that Olivia Elizabeth Middleton originally intended to go with  the intention of saving the world. But when your parents know someone  who knows someone who knows everyone, you're bound to get hooked up with  someone who needs help a little closer to home. So Bar Harbor, Maine,  it is.

But the whole do-gooder motivation? Total bullshit. I should know.

See, I'm Olivia Elizabeth Middleton: NYU drop-out and soon-to-be resident of Middle-of-Nowhere.

And let me tell you, my reasons have nothing to do with charity. I'm not  that good. Not even close. I certainly don't deserve a freaking party  for the things I've done.

But I'm a Middleton. Parties are what we do. At this point, I'm just  counting myself lucky I talked my mother out of the Mother Teresa ice  sculpture.

I wish I were kidding.

So here I am, dressed in a brand-new Versace cocktail dress, trying to  make everyone believe I was bitten by the philanthropic bug just in time  to bail on my senior year of college.

The most depressing thing is that everyone seems willing to just go with  it. Well done, Liv! So proud of you, Olivia. Lovely inside and out.

Blech.

My best friend, at least, doesn't seem to be buying it. "Liv, you can't  be serious. I mean, where are you going to get your hair highlighted all  the way up in Maine?"

Some deep part of me wants to snap at my oldest friend to stop being so  superficial. But the other part of me-the one that's more familiar-is  dying to grab her by the shoulders and give her an oh-my-God-I-know!  shake. Because the truth is, I've spent way too much time wondering  about how I'm going to keep my honey-blond hair from returning to its  natural mud color while in Maine.

Bella Cullinane and I have had the same hairdresser since our mothers  decided it was time we become versed in the difference between  highlights and lowlights. We were thirteen. But Bella and I were  inseparable long before that. She was the cute brunette to my classy  blonde all through twelve years of private school. Bella taught me the  art of rolling my plaid uniform skirt just enough to be interesting  without being obvious, and in return, I was her alibi when she let Todd  Akin talk her out of her couture lavender dress on prom night. Even when  Bella went off to Fordham and me off to NYU, we made a pact to see each  other at least a couple times a month. So far we've stuck to it.

And since I dropped my off-to-Maine bomb on her two months ago, she's  been telling me she'll be my best friend no matter what (the no matter  what, of course, being the not so minor fact that I won't be finishing  my senior year with that management degree I've spent three years  chasing).

But deep down, we both know things have changed. Phone calls just aren't  the same as Wednesday wine nights. And even when we do see each other  again, we'll have nothing in common. Bella will be knee-deep in studying  for her LSATs and cherry-picking the law school of her choice while I'm  shuttling a war vet back and forth to physical therapy and coaxing him  to eat split-pea soup, or whatever it is irritable elderly people  subsist on.

"I'll be home for Thanksgiving," I say by way of response to Bella's  horror over my hair crisis. "I'll make an appointment then."

My best friend purses her glossy lips and takes a sip of Taittinger  champagne-a tiny one, since champagne has carbs, and Bella lives in  constant fear that her hourglass figure will turn lumpy before she can  make it down the aisle in a size-2 wedding dress.

"So three-plus months," she says, giving my hair a once-over. "Your ends  might survive it if you don't flat-iron your hair, but the roots . . .  ugh."

"Maybe I could just wear a bag over my head," I say, taking a sip of my  own champagne. A bigger sip than Bella's, because unlike my curvy  friend, I'm more of the willowy (read: flat-chested) type, and if my  parents' genetics are any indication, my beanpole figure will probably  outlast my teeth.         

     



 

Being able to legally drink at my parents' frequent social gatherings is  pretty much the only good thing about getting older. I suspect that's  one of the reasons the drinking age is twenty-one. It's as though some  wise person way back when knew that alcohol would start to get  reaaaaally helpful at that point of your life. I'm nearly twenty-two,  and God knows I've found a drink handy a time or two. Especially in the  last year.

I catch a whiff of candy-scented perfume a second before an arm goes around my waist.

"You'll never guess who dared to show his face," my friend Andrea murmurs in my ear. "And he brought her."

Bella and Andrea are giving me that wary, wide-eyed look that everyone  gets when Ethan Price and I are in the same room, and before I know it  I'm flanked by four of my other friends, all nearly identical in  jewel-colored cocktail dresses and designer high heels.

I don't have to turn around to know that the girl Andrea is so concerned  about won't be matchy-matchy with anyone. Ethan's new girlfriend has a  distinct style that the socially polite set refers to as unique and the  total snobs among us would call weird. In my circle, there's nothing  worse than weird.

"What the hell is she wearing?" Sarah asks cattily.

It's no secret that my friends fall into the snob category, Bella  excepted most of the time. Sarah's the worst of the lot, and not for the  first time in my life I wonder why I continue to let her pretend we're  friends.

Knowing that they'll continue to hover around me like a pack of  glamorous guard dogs until I've dealt with the newcomers, I sneak a tiny  peek over my shoulder at where Ethan and Stephanie stand talking to a  mutual family friend.

My heart twists the tiniest bit at the sight of Ethan. In his gray  slacks, perfectly tailored white shirt, and Burberry tie, he looks as  well groomed and gorgeous as ever. He has the dark blond hair and broad  shoulders better suited to Hollywood than the Manhattan business world,  but luckily he's got the brains and the charm to keep his head above  water amid the Manhattan sharks.

Then I look at her.

From the sneer on my friends' faces, I was expecting Stephanie to be  wearing torn jeans, a leopard-print catsuit, or something else  ridiculous, but the truth is she looks kind of cute. Her dark eye makeup  is the perfect complement to her wide blue eyes, and the strapless gray  dress would be downright demure if not for the bright orange belt  around her tiny waist. She's paired the whole thing with these  beat-up-looking riding boots, which, while not exactly an Upper East  Side standard, gives the whole effect of a girl comfortable with  herself.

Of course she's comfortable. She's perched on the arm of the boy you thought you were going to marry.

I push the bitchy thought away. I've had months to accept that Ethan  isn't coming back. Hell, I was even the one who insisted that he and his  new girlfriend be invited to the party. Ethan's parents and mine have  been best friends since long before we were even in the womb. I'm not  about to let a little thing like betrayal throw a wrench in that.

"You okay, Liv?" Bella asks softly.

I tear my eyes away from Ethan and Stephanie. "Yeah. Give me a minute,  though, 'kay?" I hand her my champagne glass. "And don't let them attack  Stephanie," I murmur to my best friend.

But escaping is no easy task. I'm stopped at least five times by  well-wishers who want to tell me that they always knew I had such a good  heart.

Ha.

Finally I'm able to pour myself a glass of my raspberry iced tea to  stave off the impending headache and head toward the stairs to escape to  my bedroom, just for a couple of minutes.

My mother grabs my arm. "Where are you going?"

I point down at my six-hundred-dollar Jimmy Choo pumps. "Blister. I just want to grab a Band-Aid."

Mom's green eyes-the ones everyone is always saying are identical to my  own-narrow slightly, but her grip eases on my arm. "Everyone is so proud  of you," she says, looking both relieved and delighted. "Holly Sherwitz  said she wouldn't be surprised to see you win a Nobel Peace Prize  someday."

Inside, I'm cracking up in bitter amusement, but years of training in  social appropriateness have me merely lifting my eyebrows. "I hope you  told her that was absurd."

Mom's smile slips. "It's not absurd. It's admirable, what you're doing.  Moving to the middle of nowhere to help out one of our injured  veterans?"

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