by Tara Tolly
The universe brought them together...can it tear them apart?
Eden Warren's world is about to change. When she's uprooted from her laid back Midwestern lifestyle and thrown into the fast-paced society of Washington D.C.'s elite, she finds herself enrolled in school with Andrew Wellington, the president's gorgeous son.
But Andrew is not known for his good looks alone. He is famously known as "First Disaster" for his reputation as America's biggest player. And he has set his sights on Eden. Eden is less than impressed by Andrew's antics and has no intention of becoming his latest conquest.
What could this former bad boy do to convince Eden that he has truly changed his ways, especially when she discovers he's hiding a government-protected secret that could permanently alter the course of life on Earth?
BUY THE BOOK
Countdown: 108 Days
August 19, 2021
Of course he would be in my first class. And of course the only open seat would happen to be directly in front of him so I would get to be tortured by the sensation of his eyes boring through the back of my head the entire class. I had to hand it to him. Andrew Wellington was a hotty. His tall, built stature was noticeable even when he was sitting. It was almost comical how folded up he had to be to squeeze his long legs under the little desk he sat at. His short, dark hair was styled in a way that made it look messy even though every strand was articulately manipulated into a spiky coif. His tan skin glowed around a plain white t-shirt paired with expensive-looking jeans.
Andrew’s big blue eyes watched me clumsily walk to the seat in front of him and plop down. My face radiated heat from the intensity of my embarrassment.
As I tried to compose myself, a voice from behind me said, “Hey, how’s it going?” Surely he couldn’t be talking to me. I sat as still as I could while listening for a response so as not to give away my eavesdropping. “Are you the new teacher’s daughter?” he continued.
Okay, so he was talking to me. Why was he talking to me? I swiveled around as gracefully as I could manage under the circumstances and replied, “Yep. That’s me. Famous already, huh?”
He smirked ironically and said, “Definitely the most famous person in the school, hands down.”
“I work fast, but apparently not as fast as you,” I answered without a beat. Oh crap. Why did I always speak before thinking? What did that even mean? I knew he burned through girls like wildfire, but he wouldn’t know that was what I meant. He probably just thought I was crazy. Oh well. Who cared? He wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to mess with anyway. And it was true. He did work fast.
He briefly looked startled, but then transformed his face back into a warm, heartfelt smile. It made my heart skip a beat. God was he gorgeous.
Eden, he’s a total jerk. Don’t forget that.
“Where are my manners?” he said, extending his hand. “Andrew Wellington. Welcome to Sidwell.”
“Eden Warren.” As I shook his hand, his eyes never left mine. It may have been my imagination running wild, but if I wasn’t mistaken, he held onto my hand a little longer than necessary. The physical contact sent shivers through my body.
“Eden, huh? As in the Garden of Eden? Eden...” He let the name roll off his tongue. I’d be damned if I didn’t love hearing my name slip out of his sultry mouth. “Pretty. Now I just have to figure out if you’re the forbidden fruit.” More smirking.
How did you even respond to that? I went with a simple smile, which wasn’t so simple given the odd exchange. I probably looked like a deranged hyena. Luckily, the teacher, Mr. Yang, called the class to order with a clap and put me out of my misery.
The rest of chemistry went by pretty quickly. The first day of school was usually reserved for procedures and icebreaking activities, and Sidwell was no exception. I had to hand it to Mr. Yang. His little game of “What’s your favorite element and why?” actually prompted quite a few smart Aleck remarks and responsive giggles. Some of my favorites were, “Helium, because it gives me the ability to sound like Alvin from Alvin and the Chipmunks, instead of Alvin from Alvin and the Camdens,” (Alvin Camden, a robust redhead sitting in front of me), “Platinum, because it’s precious, just like me,” (Katie Chadwick, a cute brunette a couple rows over), and “Calcium, because some day it will help me grow up to be big and strong,” (Sam Rogers, a very short and skinny freckle-faced boy in the back whom I could see being a fun guy to be around). Andrew answered, “Titanium, because you can try all you want, but you can’t break me.” What a typical meathead response. Yuck.
I decided to go bold and after taking a deep breath said, “Oxygen, because although you’ve never seen me before, you won’t be able to live without me.”
My first bell at Sidwell Friends School promptly rang moments later. I fiddled around in my backpack for a couple of moments in hopes of avoiding any more awkward conversation with Mr. Titanium on the way out the door. No such luck. I looked up to see if my little plan worked, only to find Andrew standing above me, waiting. Waiting for me?
“Where to next, Oxygen?”
Crap. He is waiting for me.
“I can show you to your next class. I’m a Student Ambassador and happy to be at your service,” he said with a swift, perfect salute.
Oh my gosh, that smile. His lips curled over his perfect white teeth in this mischievous, lopsided way that almost pointed to the twinkle in his eye.
“That’s okay, I’m good. The principal took me on a tour a few days ago and showed me where all my classes are. I know where I’m going.” He must have noticed my clipped tone, because he visibly blanched at my response.
His shoulders wilted and he quietly said, “Ah. So you are the forbidden fruit. I get it. See you later, Eden.”
I was suddenly embarrassed by my behavior. Why did I sound so irritated with him? He was being really nice, and I was being so rude. Maybe he’s not as bad as the press made him sound. It wouldn’t be the first time the media had painted someone the wrong color.
As he slumped away, I noticed his secret service for the first time. They tried to be discreet, but they were about as camouflaged as peacocks in the snow. There were two of them, both dressed in civilian clothes, but their huge physiques and gun bulges gave them away. They were fascinating to watch. One never took his eyes off of Andrew, and the other one’s eyes flitted expertly in all directions as if it were second nature. They waited until Andrew was far enough away to give him his privacy, but close enough to keep him safe, turned on their heels and followed him down the hall in perfect synchronization.
“Fascinating to watch, huh?”
Startled by the fact that someone was reading my mind, I turned around to find the cute brunette girl from class shaking her head in mock awe. “Yeah. I’ve never seen anything like it before. I didn’t notice them in class.”
“They don’t usually come to class. The school is well monitored and safe, so they try to give him his distance and all. They stand outside the classroom to make sure no boogie monsters come in and then follow him from class to class. Fun job, huh? Babysitting the president’s kid?”
“Yeah, real nail biter.” We chuckled.
The girl stuck out her hand and introduced herself. “Katie.”
“Eden,” I said, accepting her handshake.
“Watch out for that one. You don’t want to become his next flavor of the week,” she warned, brown eyes gleaming mischievously.
“Don’t worry. My flavor’s way too plain for Andrew Wellington—you know, much too vanilla for his kind. He seems more like a Ben and Jerry’s Half-Baked kind of guy.”
Laughing, Katie snatched my schedule from my hand and compared it with her own. Luckily she was in a couple more of my classes, which helped me make it through the day a bit easier. Unfortunately she wasn’t in my last class of the day, Family and Consumer Sciences. I approached the room as if walking the green mile toward my death. Cooking was not my thing. Any concoction I had ever tried to make ended up dried out, burnt, or raw in the middle. The only food I could produce that would actually turn out edible was chocolate chip cookies. And I had a feeling they would not be on the menu. But when I crossed the threshold into the classroom, I smiled in surprise. It was the cutest room ever. It was divided into two sections; one set up as a classroom with rows of desks, the other with quaint little kitchenettes. Around the perimeter of the kitchen section were about eight stations, each with an oven/stove combo, a sink, and a row of cabinets with a counter on top. In the middle were two stainless steel refrigerators. A plethora of windows sent rays of sunlight streaming in through red and white gingham valances. Dividing the two sections were three circular tables topped with matching red gingham tablecloths and small white vases with a single red carnation in each one.
Maybe this class wouldn’t be so bad after all. But as I pictured myself standing in front of one of those stoves with smoke billowing in the air and the piercing chirp of the smoke alarm alerting the universe of my adversity to cooking, my excitement waned and was replaced with trepidation. What horrors awaited me at the stove this semester? Fried chicken? Consommé? Or the worst of all evils...a soufflé? I shuddered at the thought.
“What’s the matter, Oxygen? Cold?”
Oh, you have got to be freaking kidding. I looked up at the ceiling and rolled my eyes at God. Nice one. I made a mental note to kill my mother for talking me into taking this class. Her mocking words, “But honey, you might pick up a skill or two,” echoed through me.
“No, just so excited for cooking I can hardly stand it,” I said sarcastically.
“So this must be your favorite class then, huh? Me too! Who knew we had so much in common?” He smirked and slipped into the seat next to me as the teacher called the class to order.
Ms. Martin welcomed us to “FACS,” as she lovingly called it, and explained that we would begin the semester with a study of kitchen utensils and their proper uses. She assured us, however, that we would begin cooking soon, starting with pancakes. I could hardly wait.
As Ms. Martin continued our welcome and went into her version of procedures and expectations, I looked beyond the spatial environment to the faces of my classmates. I was beginning to recognize some students, but still struggled with most of their names. I noticed Sam, the small, happy, freckle-faced boy from my Chemistry class right away, and he excitedly waved at me from a couple rows over. I grinned and waved back. As my eyes moved on, they fell on a strikingly pretty blonde whom I recognized from my Perspectives on American Government class. She was model gorgeous. Her perfect shiny platinum blonde hair hung in exquisite loose curls down her back and a skimpy sundress showed off a body any girl would sell her soul for. She had big boobs, a tiny waist, and flawless skin. The only thing I could find to criticize was how she exuded high maintenance. She wore too much makeup, even though she didn’t need it, her skin was way too tan, and her fingers and toes were painted to perfection. She also had an air of over-confidence to her. The kind that suggested she knew how blessed she was and would use it to her every advantage. She looked awfully familiar, but try as I may, I just couldn’t place her. Was she a celebrity or something? There was something about her that made me uneasy. I decided not to worry about her and turned my attention back to Ms. Martin.
“Okay. Enough with the first day stuff. Let’s see who we’re going to work with this semester in our kitchenettes!” She rubbed her hands together in excitement and retrieved a cup from her desk filled with craft sticks. “I have each of your names on a stick. I’ll pick two at a time, and those two students will be partners.”
The entire class focused intently on Ms. Martin. Her little lottery drawing could make or break the entire semester. I didn’t care who my partner was, as long as it wasn’t Andrew Wellington. Sam would be okay. Anyone else would be okay.
“Rob, you will work with...Leila!” They seemed content with their partnership and smiled at one another.
“Logan will work with...Cole!” They shrugged at each other.
She went on for another couple of pairings before pulling out Andrew’s name. “Andrew, you will work with...” Every girl in the class leaned forward in anticipation. Except for me. “Ava.” My stomach dropped. Did I actually want to work with Andrew? Because much to my surprise I was certainly disappointed. I glanced around the room, trying to locate the lucky winner. It wasn’t too difficult to deduce that the familiar-looking blond girl was Ava, as she was the only girl left with a smile on her face. Only it wasn’t really a smile. It was more of a sneer. She desperately tried to catch Andrew’s eye to celebrate their pairing, but it didn’t appear as though he was interested in celebrating.
Instead, he cleared his throat and raised his hand a little to get Ms. Martin’s attention. “Um, actually, Ms. Martin, I was hoping I would get to work with Eden.” The entire class turned to me in shock.
“Oh, well...um...” Ms. Martin was at a loss for how to handle this little request. I could see Ava fuming out of the corner of my eye. Lovely. Andrew was really helping me fit in.
Ms. Martin looked at me. “Would that be all right with you, Eden?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I managed to force out, trying to sound indifferent.
“Okay, then. Andrew, I guess you will work with Eden.” She shrugged and stuck Ava’s stick back into the cup and moved on. I could feel the disbelieving stares of my classmates linger and tried to appear as though I were interested in the remainder of the pairings. I refused to look at Andrew. What was he doing? It just didn’t make sense. He didn’t even know me. Was he just interested in me because I blew him off in chemistry? Was it because this was uncharted territory to him? I was the girl who didn’t automatically swoon in response to his attention. After only one day of school, it was easy to see the effect he had on girls. They all wanted him and most, if not all, would jump at the chance to be the object of Andrew’s affections. Heck, from the sounds of his extra-curricular “activities” perhaps most of them already had been the objects of his affections. I would not make the same mistake.
When the bell finally rang, I bolted out the door in avoidance of Andrew. Unfortunately he must have anticipated my escape and easily caught up to me. “Hey, Oxygen! Where’s the fire?” he called, prompting every student in the vicinity to whisper and stare. It just fueled my anger. I ignored him and picked up my pace. Undeterred, Andrew easily kept my pace, strolling along casually beside me. I stopped in frustration and turned toward him, only to find an annoying little amused smile painted on his beautiful face. Oh, huh uh. I would not fall for his little tricks.
“Can’t you take a hint?” I asked bluntly.
“I can. But I’m a little confused why you hate me so much,” he responded.
“I don’t hate you. But I do think you’re a little arrogant.”
“Ouch.” His face contorted into a pained grimace.
“Plus, I’m just not into what you’re into.”
“How do you know what I’m into?”
“Take a guess.”
“Ah, I see.” He let out a long frustrated breath and ran a hand through his dark hair. “I’m not like that anymore. I’m going to prove it to you. It’s my new mission in life.” The twinkle returned to his eyes and he flashed a heart-stopping smile as he walked away, leaving me amidst a litter of nosy spectators.