“Say cheese!” the photographer chirped.
No one in my family did what he asked, but there was a quiet shuffle to look ever more presentable.
My father Eric Davenportsmoothed down the lapels of his tailored suit and puffed his chest.
It was his signature pose, befitting of his role as property developer, philanthropist, and third-richest man in America.
Mom turned a little toward him, giving the camera her best angle while looking the devoted wife.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see my sister, Casey, standing a little taller and angling her face down in a way that would make her look even slimmer.
Me, I adjusted the shoulder straps of my unironed, vintage frock and forced my face into a smile.
I’m pretty sure I blinked just as the camera flashed.
After our portrait session, we were driven to a private section of the Boston Veteran’s Day Parade.
I never much liked this kinda crap to be honest, but as we watched the horses trot by with their banner holders riding tall, I couldn’t help feeling nostalgic.
I glanced over at Casey.
She looked so poised with her twinset and pearls, joined by her white-bread lawyer boyfriend, Digby Fairbanks III.
Back when we were kids, we used to do everything together. Backyard camping, making up songs, and holding concerts in the living room.
Riding. We loved riding together.
We’d spend weeks at summer horse camp, mucking about, taking the ponies through forest trails.
Those were some of my happiest memories.
But at that moment, they felt like a hazy, half-forgotten dream.
I don’t ride anymore. I don’t do much.
And my sister and I barely spoke anymore.
That was because she was busy being my dad’s chief advisor.
And I’m busy being everything he hates.
“You ready for the party later?” she asked coolly, referring to the main event of the day, a fundraiser my dad was throwing for his friend, Massachusetts senator and presidential hopeful Neil Bowry.
“I guess, though Dad would probably prefer for me not to go. He hates me right now.”
“He doesn’t hate you,” Casey sniffed as a brass band marched by, tooting out some inappropriately cheerful tune.
“Well, he sure as hell doesn’t like me,” I murmured.
“He’s just upset that you didn’t finish the school year,” Casey replied.
The truth is I should be at Purdue right now, back in West Lafayette, Indiana.
Instead, I’m stuck at home after dropping out the first semester of my sophomore year.
I guess you could say I’m the bad apple of our family. Dad blamed me and my “hard partying”—helpfully documented by some more nefarious tabloids.
I blame myself too, but not for the same reasons.
Yeah, I went a little off the rails, but after growing up in an insanely controlling family, it was easy to give in to temptation.
But the reasons I dropped out had very little to do with partying.
It was pressure.
The pressure to pick a suitable major that Dad would approve of—business, obviously, with a minor in political science.
Then, as well as being academically successful, I had to be:
And if that wasn’t enough, I had to keep up a positive online presence, develop professional networks, know what I would do after I graduated…
It seems so easy for some people.
My sister, for example, never struggled like this. She skipped from milestone to milestone effortlessly.
But I felt so overwhelmed by life that I caved and failed at everything.
So it’s no wonder I partied a little; it was something I was good at.
Something that made me feel better.
At least until the next day.
As the procession petered out, it was time to return to the main focus of the day: Neil Bowry’s fundraiser.
Dad was donating a buttload of cash to Neil’s fledgling presidential campaign, so I guess we were the guests of honor.
This is gonna suck.
Once we arrived at the Senate House, I was meant to mingle, which meant one thing…
Lots of fucking questions.
“So, Riley, what’s the plan after college?” a friend of my dad’s who I vaguely recognized asked me as I waited at the bar.
“I dropped out,” I replied simply.
If there was something I could confidently say I was good at, it was pouring ice water on conversations I didn’t want to be in.
“Oh, well good for you, like Steve Jobs!” the man replied before hurriedly slipping away.
The bartender handed me a bottle of IPA, and I downed about half in one gulp.
It’s going to be a long night.
I mingled among the crowd of well-heeled society types, smiling and greeting people as I passed.
From across the room, I clocked my sister downing a beer like she was at a frat party.
Can’t she learn to sip?
No wonder she dropped out.
I shouldn’t be so judgy, I know, but I wish she’d behave with a little class.
I had pulled all the strings to make this event happen, so I was feeling the heat.
Not that I was going to show it.
My father caught my eye and nodded—his way of saying, “I need to speak to you, now.”
“Your sister,” he murmured under his breath once I had navigated the crowd. “I told her not to tell people about her disgrace at school, but she’s doing it anyway.”
I pursed my lips, unsure of what to say.
My sister and I had grown apart over the last ten years. Now that I was working for Dad, I guess she saw me as the enemy—even if she didn’t say as much.
“I’ll go find her someone to talk to so she doesn’t go round making us look bad,” I offered.
“And while you’re at it, get her to put a sweater on. She looks like a hussy.”
I nodded, glancing at my sister’s rockabilly dress. It was cute, although it was more Warped tour than ~political fundraiser~.
I drifted toward where she was standing at the buffet table.
“How’s it going?” I asked tentatively.
“Good. Eating my weight in shrimp. Did Dad tell you to come talk to me?”
“You were talking to him and then came right over.”
“Just wanted to check you’re okay?”
She glared at me.
“Casey, great job on the catering. These guys are dope,” said a jovial voice from behind me.
Oh God, not Neil.
“Hey, I’m so glad you like it,” I said, turning to give Senator Bowry an air-kiss. I noticed his eyes on Riley as he threw a caviar blin into his mouth.
Of all the people I wanted to keep away from Riley, my dad’s most important political contact was right up there.
“Have you met my sister, Riley?” I asked.
“Not properly,” he said, grinning as he extended a hand to her. “Sorry, I probably have hot sauce all over my hands,” he added as they shook.
“No worries, I’ve got all sorts of shrimp guts on mine,” she said.
I cringed inside.
“Well, that’s one hell of a combination,” Neil replied. “We’re halfway to making a jambalaya.”
Riley grinned at that.
I should have expected her and Neil to get along. At 39, he was way younger and way more gregarious than Dad’s other friends.
He cultivated that everyman, “guy you could go for a beer with” image, and it had seen his profile skyrocket.
Dad felt he was the perfect guy to support in the primaries.
And Neil thought, should he be successful in his bid, that Dad would be perfect for the Supreme Court.
Sure, he’d dragged himself up from being a factory worker’s son to a billionaire, but Dad wanted real power—and the respect that came with it.
What better way to get it than a lifetime appointment in the highest court in the country?
Hence the fact that I felt uneasy letting these two get to know each other.
It didn’t help that Neil was warm and charming. He would encourage her to be herself, which was not who I needed her to be right now.
“Neil, I have some people I’d love for you to meet…,” I said, trying to get him to move on from Riley.
I caught her looking at me, a smile pulling at her lips.
“In a bit. So, are you enjoying the party, Riley?” Neil purred at my sister.
“Sure am. Great place you got,” Riley said dryly, before shoving another canapé into her mouth. “Must be a pain in the ass to furnish.”
“I like you,” he told my sister with a chuckle. “Can I get you a drink?”
“It’s a free bar,” Riley shrugged.
“Perfect,” Neil replied smoothly as he gently guided Riley away.
I felt a hand slip around my waist.
Digby. My college sweetheart.
While the spark sure seemed to have died between us, we’d been together five years.
Too late to give up on it now.
“I’ve been looking for you forever,” he said, pecking me on the cheek.
I glanced at my sister and Neil, deep in goofy conversation.
At least he’s not a reporter.
A couple of hours and several drinks later, Neil and I were deep in conversation, sharing a cigarette as we stumbled around the gardens.
I initially started speaking to him to piss off Casey, but now we were actually starting to hit it off. It probably looked like I was hitting on him.
I probably am.
He’d led me outside to visit the parade horses. They’d been put in a temporary pen set back from the great house. The horse trailers were parked beside it.
I beckoned to one from the fence—a friendly giant with soulful eyes.
“I used to love riding,” I told Neil as I rubbed the horse’s nose.
“Why did you stop?”
I shrugged. “Other stuff got in the way, I guess. School. College. Though you know how that went.”
I’d already filled Neil in on the dumpster fire that was my life. I was surprised at how open I was being with him.
He was nice company. Argumentative in a way that invited candor and debate. Fun. Most of all, he was totally nonjudgmental.
“So what if you dropped out?” he asked as he joined me in patting the horse. “All the best people do.”
“I graduated with honors from Princeton, but then again, I am an asshole,” he joked.
I couldn’t help but snort at that.
“Thanks for trying to make me feel better. But all the successful people who drop out did it so they could single-mindedly pursue something else. And unlike them, I have no idea what to do with my life.”
Neil shrugged. “It’s so dumb that we think our job should complete us anyway.”
“Says the guy who’s literally running for president.”
“Which means you should probably take my advice—which is just to pick one thing you want and find something that helps you get there.”
“What did you pick?” I asked.
“At least you’re honest.”
“And now it’s your turn. What is one thing you want?”
I took a long drag of the cigarette. “I want to stop feeling judged.”
“Well, that’s simple. You just need to stop feeling it.” He grinned. I rolled my eyes.
“That’s easy for you to say.”
“Because you’ve volunteered for this life, while I’ve grown up always being scrutinized—by my own family and everyone else.”
“Without wanting to minimize your suffering, a lot of people would love to be in your position.”
“I know, I’m super privileged. But the downside is, I get to be followed around by paparazzi and micromanaged by my family but never openly acknowledge it sucks.”
I stubbed out the cigarette, feeling a twinge of regret for being so open.
“That does sound rough,” he replied. “But I’m sure you’ll be fine. I mean, look at you…you’re rich, beautiful, funny. A triple threat.”
Despite myself, I was crushing on him hard.
Why not? He’s handsome. Smart.
Twice my age.
Neil must have seen something in my eye. His hand drifted to my face.
His expression suddenly had this strange, hungry look as he leaned toward me.
Is this really happening?
I was frozen in the moment as he kissed me hard on the mouth.
At first, I kissed back, thrilled that such an accomplished man saw something in me.
But then he got more aggressive. His fingers suddenly found their way under my dress.
“Slow down,” I said softly, trying to push his hands away.
Instead, he tugged hard at my panties, groping my most private place.
“Let’s take it slow,” I whispered fearfully. He laughed cruelly and grabbed my upper thigh even harder as his other hand found its way around my neck.
“You’re hurting me,” I yelped, trying to break free, panicking as I struggled to breathe.
“I know you want it,” he growled as he pinned me hard against the side of a horse trailer.