Princess (Kindled #2) - Claire Kent

ABOUT PRINCESS

I guess I'm one of the lucky ones.

When the asteroid hits and the world falls apart, I'm seventeen, and my dad buys us a place in an underground bunker. We're supposed to be safe down there, but we're not. Gradually, I lose everything until all I have left is a bewildering relationship with a stoic, unknowable man.

As one of the guards in the bunker, Grant has lurked in the background of my life for years, teaching me to defend myself, making sure I'm safe, and infuriating me by treating me like a sheltered princess in a tower. I don't even know if he likes me, even after we end up in bed together. All I know is that he's always there beside me--during the bleak half-life of the bunker and the hostile, unfamiliar world we discover when we finally come out of lockdown.

Maybe one day he'll open up. Let down his walls. And maybe eventually our days can be about more than surviving. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones, but right now all I have left in the world is him.

1

Five years ago

The last day of my former life is a Friday, and I spend most of it in a fight with Melanie Brubaker.

Melanie and I have both been in Fairfield Academy since fifth grade, and we’ve always been classic frenemies. For the first half of our senior year, we’ve stayed friendly since I helped her prepare for the SATs and asked my dad to write her a recommendation to Brown. But now she’s decided that I’m making a play for her on-again, off-again boyfriend, whom I’ve known since kindergarten and is more like a brother to me than romance material. So we’ve been closing social ranks against each other for most of the day, rallying as much support for our sides as possible.

It’s not a new thing. It’s modus operandi here at Fairfield, one of the most exclusive boarding schools in the country. I find it only mildly stressful, but it’s been occupying most of my time today.

So when I return to my room after classes to change for swim practice, I’m distracted but not really in a bad mood.

I’ve only managed to take off the green jacket of my school uniform, worn over the plaid skirt and white top, when my phone rings.

The screen shows Dad, and a cold chill washes over me.

My father is the billionaire founder of a tech company, and his world revolves around work. His days are scheduled down to the minute, and for years he’s called me three times a week at the same precise times.

Any deviation from this routine means bad news. The last time it happened was when my mother died in a boating accident four years ago.

I hold the phone in both my hands, dropping into my desk chair and staring down at the word Dad.

If I don’t answer, he’ll keep calling. Then he’ll contact the main office and have someone come and find me. I can’t avoid whatever he has to tell me—not for more than a few minutes.

So I finally connect the call. “Hey, Dad. What’s going on?”

“Hi, Pickle.” He’s always called me that. When I turned thirteen, I tried for months to get him to stop and use my real name, Olivia. He tried but couldn’t manage it and kept feeling bad about his failure, so finally I just resigned myself to being Pickle to him all my life. “We’ve got a crisis here.”

My father loves me. I’ve never once doubted that fact. But his manner is often brusque and businesslike, so the lack of small talk isn’t unusual.

“I figured. What’s going on?”

“You need to leave Fairfield right now. No questions asked.”

“What? Leave school? I have midterms next week—”

“I know. But none of that can matter right now. I’ll explain everything when you get here.”

For the first time, I hear something else beyond the matter-of-fact timbre of his voice. He’s scared.

Scared.

It’s that recognition more than anything else that keeps me from arguing. I’m suddenly terrified too. “Okay.” My voice wobbles slightly. “Where are you? Are you sending a car to pick me up?”

“I’ve got someone there who will escort you. He’ll give you instructions. Just do what he says. Please.”

I have to swallow hard before I answer. My hand is shaking slightly. “All right. I will. Where do I meet him?”

“He’s at your door right now.”

With a gasp, I lurch to my feet and swing open the door to my room. Sure enough, there’s a