The Envy of Idols Page 1

His gaze is like ice, but his fingers feel like fire.

I put my hands up to cover my face, but Tristan reaches over and tugs them down, sharing a private grin with me that I feel my lips suddenly desperate to match. We’re lying on our backs on the bed, panting, when the door opens and Lizzie Walton walks in.

“Shit, I thought that was locked,” Tristan says, sitting up and raking his fingers through his dark hair. It’s not so perfect right now. Instead, it’s all mussed up and as cute as I’ve ever seen it. Well, if you could ever call Tristan Vanderbilt cute. Sexy, definitely. Tall, dark, and handsome. Sure. But cute?

Anyway, it’s hard to focus on that because the look on Lizzie’s face is like broken glass. Guilt stabs through me like a knife. I didn’t ask for this though, not any of it.

“The guests are arriving,” she whispers, looking at us, wondering, maybe guessing at what we’ve done. It’s probably torture, though, not knowing. If I’d walked in on her and Tristan in a similar position, I’d lose my mind. It’s not what it looks like though; it’s not what it seems. “William is furious; he’s looking for you.”

“Of course he’s furious,” Tristan says with a scowl, swiping his palm down his sweaty face. “I’m not just a bastard anymore; I’m an embarrassment.”

Lizzie steps into the room and closes the door behind her, putting her back against the wood.

She locks eyes with Tristan.

Somewhere downstairs, my other four boyfriends are waiting. It doesn’t feel so strange to say it anymore, boyfriends, plural. It’s almost natural now. Eventually, I’ll have to choose. But today is not that day. Next week isn’t that day. But at the end of next year … what will happen then? My heart hurts just thinking about it.

“What?” Tristan asks, his entire body going taut, muscles locked and straining.

Lizzie closes her eyes and then lifts her hand, twisting her engagement ring off her finger. When she opens her eyes again, I can see it: love, want, and desperate need.

“I don’t know what’ll happen if I tell my parents no,” she says, looking down at the ring. “I think they love me enough to get over it, but … I can’t do it. I can’t marry Marcel.”

I stand up from my side of the bed, swiping my palms down the front of my cream-colored satin dress to get out the wrinkles. Lizzie isn’t looking at me though. No, her attention is all on Tristan. Her amber eyes are bright with determination while Tristan’s are a flat, neutral gray. I can’t read him; I can’t read him at all.

“Why are you telling me this?” he asks, standing up and reaching for his shirt. He slips it over his head and looks at her with this strange mixture of frustration and confusion. “My dad’s on the warpath. He doesn’t like you, and he doesn’t like Marnye, and he doesn’t want the entire board of directors for the Infinity Club waltzing into our house to pass judgment.”

“I don’t care about the Infinity Club right now,” she says, and my heart begins to race, echoing the throbbing pulse point I can see beating in her throat. She takes a step forward, but Tristan doesn’t move. “All I care about is you, Tristan. I love you.”

And there it is. The truth. The truth I’ve been dreading since I first laid eyes on Lizzie Walton at that party by the lake.

I shouldn’t be selfish. I should let him go. I should … I have four other guys that I care about, so why am I standing here feeling like my heart is being ripped out? If I’m already dreading that final moment when I have to make a choice between them, then why not let Tristan go now? Why not let him be with a girl who loves him, a girl who’s been nothing but a loyal friend all year? And if he loves her, too, then maybe they were meant to be together.

“I—” I start, drawing both their gazes. I’m not sure what I’m about to say. I love you? Or I think you should be with her? Maybe something else entirely? But then the door opens and there’s Windsor York, expression relaxed, the very picture of nonchalance.

He isn’t concerned about this meeting; he doesn’t care.

“William Vanderbilt’s a clever man, isn’t he?” the prince says, his accent crisp and sharp. He steps into the room, dressed in his third-year uniform, and looks between the three of us. I know he senses the tension: Windsor is one smart cookie.

“How so?” Tristan asks, hands shaking. He’s avoiding the confrontation with Lizzie completely. “What has he done now?”

“He’s found a woman to pay his Infinity Club dues.” Tristan’s face hardens, but Windsor isn’t done. “Not yours though. Just his. He’s already started the rumor that he’s disowning you.” Anyone else might think that Tristan takes this news as smooth as could be. Hell, he looks almost bored. But I know better. There’s an almost imperceptible widening of his eyes, the barest clenching of fists.

“I see.” Tristan’s voice is as smooth as cognac, silky and dark and luxe. There’s so much pain hidden by it though. So much pain. Lizzie reaches for his hand, but he steps back and withdraws into himself. Hurt flashes across her gaze, but there’s no time to talk about it.

“I’ve paid it for you,” Windsor says, and this time, Tristan can’t hide his surprise. He lifts his gaze up in shock, and stares at the prince. Wind simply tucks his hands into his pockets and smiles. “Whatever my princess wants, she gets. And she doesn’t want you homeless and kicked out of Burberry Prep.” The prince saunters into the room, reaches out, and smooths a few wrinkles from Tristan’s shirt with his palm. “He pulled your tuition, too. But you already knew that, right?”

My eyes go wide, and I turn to Tristan in shock.

“You knew you weren’t coming back to Burberry next year, didn’t you?” I ask, but he won’t look at me. He’s still too focused on Windsor.

“I’ve paid that, too.” Wind pauses, sighs, and drops his hands back by his sides. “So … I guess Marnye isn’t the only charity case at the academy, now is she?” Windsor smiles, and it’s got that edge to it, the one that feels like a double-edged sword. Like a weapon. Sharp, smooth, deadly. It can protect … but it can also kill. “You can thank me later. For now, we have a Club meeting to attend.”

Windsor turns to me and puts his hands in a prayer position as Tristan turns away, storms off, and slams his bathroom door. Lizzie puts her face in her hand and says nothing.

“You, milady, will have to go. Miranda’s waiting outside for you. No non-Club members allowed.” He steps forward and pushes some hair off his forehead, making it stick up like it always does. His hazel eyes glitter as he reaches up to tangle his fingers in my rose-gold locks. It’s gotten so much longer now, but I think I might cut it short again. I like it that way; it feels bold.

“You’ll take care of Zayd, Creed, and Zack for me, right?” I ask, not that they really need taking care of but … it feels like Wind’s my backup, a silent shadow always there to defend me and mine. He makes me feel safe and protected. “You’ve already taken care of Tristan.” I pause and glance over at Lizzie, but she still has her head in her hand. When she turns and walks away, I let her go. Clearly, she needs a minute.