Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Kings of Charleston (Vol. 1) by Kat H. Clayton

Chapter One

~ * * * ~

The buzz of my alarm clock jolted me from my pleasant dreams. I turned over and searched for the snooze button. Piercing rays of sunlight streamed in through the double French doors and infiltrated my bed. Ugh. I had forgotten to close the curtains the night before.

I stepped onto the cool floor and jogged over to the French doors in an effort to close them, but my eyes had already adjusted to the warm, peach-colored light. I looked out onto the rolling hills of our farm. One of our colts pranced across the field, kicking his hooves up like a practiced soldier. I smiled to myself and a warm, fuzzy feeling filled my chest. There was no peace and happiness I could find like flying through the woods on the back of a beautiful thoroughbred. No expectations, no rules to follow.

I refocused my attention to the dreary day that had already been planned for me. I decided after breakfast, church, the luncheon party, and the CNN interview, I would spend some time reading in the comfort of Wendy’s stall. I needed to read four chapters of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice for English class before Monday, and I couldn’t think of a better place to do it. That thought alone would get me through the rest of the day.

I walked toward my closet in search of something to wear. Without stepping outside, I knew the air was still icy, so I looked for a warm skirt or pantsuit. I found a skirt suit in an emerald tone, with black lace trim around the collar and cuffs. I knew the color would bring out my eyes and pretty up my ghostly-pale skin. Funny and ironic that my family owned “Ghost” Hill Farms and had named me Casper. I was ecstatic that vampires were the cool thing right now so I didn’t have to waste time on self-tanner. No matter how much time I spent outside, I only burned before returning to my pasty shade of white.

I pulled the skirt and the black shell off the hanger and threw them on. Ugh, I had forgotten the pantyhose before putting the skirt on. I pulled out a drawer in my closet and searched for a pair of black hose. I couldn’t wait to go to college, where I could wear sweat shirts and jeans every day. No more prim and proper suits that were so not what I wanted to wear. They weren’t trendy, comfortable, or anything that my friends at school had to wear on a regular basis.

After finally getting the suit on—and the ugly black pumps—I went back into the bathroom and applied a little makeup. I pulled out a pair of diamond stud earrings and a simple necklace, and rushed downstairs for breakfast.

As I walked into the formal dining room, I instantly realized something was off. The aura in the room felt too calm and peaceful. Normally, Mother would be staring at her reflection in the large gold mirror behind the dining table, fixing her hair, makeup, or clothes, all the while fussing about the maid’s inability to pick up after a party. Dad should be lounging at the table with the paper in one hand and a coffee mug in the other.

He had a cup of coffee in his hand, but neither The Lexington Herald Leader nor The Wall Street Journal appeared on the long mahogany table. They were both sitting quietly, looking up at me with timid-smiles. A sense of panic crept into my empty stomach. Mother tapped her French-manicured nails on the table, and then signaled for me to sit beside her. I did her bidding without any protest. I sat down at the table and took a deep breath.

“Honey, I’ve got some good news,” Dad said with a big smile. His face was finely tanned from the hours spent out on the farm. His black hair was slicked back in a way that always made me think of a mobster.

“What?” I said in a clipped tone, crossing my arms over my suit jacket. This wasn’t going to be good news at all.

“We’re moving to Charleston,” he said matter-of-factly.

No discussion? Simply a stated fact. I was blown away. So Mother hadn’t been lying last night. This was big news and I regretted not getting up from bed to talk to them. Several emotions were all competing in my head.

“Charleston? West Virginia?” Bewilderment won the mental fight.

Dad gave a hearty laugh. “No, honey, Charleston, South Carolina.” He looked over at Mother, shaking his head at my inability to telepathically understand what he had meant in the first place. As if I shouldn’t have even considered West Virginia, even though it’s way closer than South Carolina.

Without warning, hot tears stung my eyes and threatened to cascade down my burning red cheeks. I looked up at the crystal chandelier dangling above the dining room table and bit my bottom lip. I refused to let a single tear fall. I hated crying in front of anyone, especially my parents.

“I’m not going.” I closed my eyes and shook my head.

“It’s not up for discussion,” said Dad, his voice deep and commanding.

I took a deep breath and opened my eyes. I stared at his cat-green eyes, which I had inherited. They were flat and without their normal sparkle. I wasn’t used to him being so firm with me. He had always been my ally when my mother and I had one of our famous fights.

“But what about the horses? And it’s going to be my senior year!” I got up from the table and stood behind the chair I had been sitting in.

I looked over at my mother. She sat with her bony arms crossed over her chest, looking down at the table. Normally, by now Mother would have said something, but she was quiet and refused to look at me. She wasn’t completely on board with this idea either.

“The farm manager will handle things here. Since the Derby is over, we don’t have too much to worry about until the Preakness. And you’ll make new friends.”

I felt the tears coming on again. Yeah, I knew I could make new friends at school, but I had no desire to try to fit in somewhere new my last year of high school. I didn’t want to be the kid who everyone barely remembered after graduation, and the thought of facing a new school without the horses to run home to was unbearable.

“No.” I clenched my hands around the back of the dining room chair.

“We’re moving and we’ll move right after school lets out.” He took a gulp of coffee, sat the mug on the table, and snapped his fingers for the maid to come in and take the empty cup.

“That’s only a week away!” I shouted. How could they have made a decision like that so fast? Or had they been planning it behind my back for awhile? That thought sent my temper through the roof. I let go of the back of the chair and backed away from my parents.

“Yes, I know. We’ll leave that weekend. No need to pack, really, just a few things. The movers will pack what we need, and we’ll buy the rest.”

I searched desperately for the words to challenge this lunatic idea. “If we’re keeping the farm, then why do we need to move?” I was beginning to get desperate to change his mind. Stabbed in the back by my own parents! I was so angry that the tears were starting to blur my vision.

“I got a call a couple of weeks ago from a friend offering a business deal that I couldn’t afford to pass up in this economy. You have to understand this is in our family’s best interest. I’m doing this for you,” he said with vindication. He was trying to make me feel guilty, because I was being ungrateful in his mind.

Please—all for me. He always used, “You’re the future of this family and it’s all for you,” to justify any thing he did. I wasn’t buying it today.

“Then I’ll stay here until I finish school and then I’ll go to the University of Kentucky. There won’t be any need for me to move to Charleston. I’ll stay here . . . at the farm,” I said as my final offer.

“That’s not an option. We want you with us during your last year of school before you go to Harvard.”

I instantly bristled at his demands for me to not only come with them, but that as a Whitley I was attending Harvard. Sure, I had the grades and the scores to get into Harvard, but I had no desire to go to that pretentious school. I wanted to go to the University of Kentucky, where I could stay close to the farm.

I wanted to eventually take over the family’s thoroughbred legacy. I had no desire to take over any of my dad’s other ventures. Our family owned several factories in Lexington, Louisville, and Cincinnati. We also owned a publishing company, a movie production company, and a stake in a fashion house. But none of that interested me. I didn’t want an empire to run. Money always changed people into zombies who were only looking to feed their greed.

I looked over at Mother, who was still suspiciously quiet. Her lips were pursed and she fiddled with her pearl earrings. When I stared at her, she intentionally avoided eye contact.

“What do you think, Mother?”

She finally looked at me. “I think it’s a great idea,” she said quietly, her lips pursed. I was convinced she was telling the truth.

“Fine, I guess there isn’t much I can do about it, but don’t expect me to be happy. And, by the way, I’m not going to Harvard,” I said, turning my back on them and marching out of the room before he had time to respond.

I stomped up the stairs, charged into my room, and slammed the door behind me. I flung myself onto the bed, not caring if I messed up my makeup or hair. If they were lucky, I’d show up for their stupid press conference. I was seriously thinking of riding Wendy across the rolling fields into a picture perfect horizon and never coming back.

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Genre – YA / Mystery / Suspense

Rating – PG13 (No sex scenes, some violence)

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