Perfection comes at a price.
As soon as the government passed legislation allowing humans to be genetically engineered and sold as pets, the rich and powerful rushed to own beautiful girls like Ella. Trained from birth to be graceful, demure, and above all, perfect, these “family companions” enter their masters’ homes prepared to live a life of idle luxury.
Ella is happy with her new role as playmate for a congressman’s bubbly young daughter, but she doesn’t expect Penn, the congressman’s handsome and rebellious son. He’s the only person who sees beyond the perfect exterior to the girl within. Falling for him goes against every rule she knows…and the freedom she finds with him is intoxicating.
But when Ella is kidnapped and thrust into the dark underworld lurking beneath her pampered life, she’s faced with an unthinkable choice. Because the only thing more dangerous than staying with Penn’s family is leaving…and if she’s unsuccessful, she’ll face a fate far worse than death.
“Do you mind if I sit?”I jumped a little, surprised to see one of the young men Penn had been talking to earlier standing next to the foot of my chair. He smiled broadly, bringing two deep dimples to his cheeks. He was dressed in the same sort of black tuxedo Penn was wearing.
“Please.” I gestured to the chair next to me.
“Thanks.” Ignoring my gesture, he brushed my feet to the side and sat down near my legs. “I’ve been looking at you all night. Have you not noticed?”
I shook my head.
“I’m Collin,” he said, sticking out his hand for me to shake. I took it lightly, surprised when he brought it up to his lips.
“I’m Ella.” I didn’t know how much Penn had told him about me, but I didn’t want to make the congressman’s wife angry by saying too much.
“It was kind of rude of Penn not to bring you over to meet us,” he said, resting his hand on the cushion near my leg.
I was suddenly very aware of how short this dress was compared to the other gowns I was used to wearing and I tugged at the bottom of it, trying to get it to cover my knees.
“But I can see how he’d like to keep you to himself,” Collin went on, scooting a little closer. “So, is it true what they say about pets?”
I fumbled to pick up my drink, which still sat on the small table by my chair, and took a small sip, but with the bubbles gone it didn’t taste good at all. I swallowed. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“Sure you do,” Collin said, reaching out to put a hand on my thigh. “I’ve always wondered what they taught you at those kennels. It can’t just be how to sit there and look pretty.”
“I…well…there’s etiquette…” I stumbled.
“Not that I have a problem with you just sitting there looking pretty,” he said. “Has anyone told you how gorgeous you look?”
“That’s very kind of you.” I swung my legs over the side of the chaise lounge to give myself some distance. I needed to get out of here, somewhere where I wouldn’t be such a distraction. I was afraid this was exactly what the congressman’s wife had been talking about.
“I’m sorry, but if you’ll excuse me.”
“Wait,” he said, tightening the grip on my leg. “We were just getting to know each other.”
My stomach knotted and I tried to scoot farther away from his grasp. “It really has been a pleasure meeting you, but I think Mrs. Kimball is expecting me.”
Collin laughed softly. “No, she’s not. Come on, we both know she’s trying to hide you. I mean, look at this dress.” He rubbed the fabric between his fingers. “When has a pet ever worn anything like this?”
I shook my head, trying to find my voice. “I don’t…I don’t know what you’re talking about.
“It’s all right,” he said, stretching his hand more fully across my thigh.
I swallowed back the embarrassment that burned the back of my throat. “I…I shouldn’t be talking to you. Mrs. Kimball asked me to keep my distance from the guests.”
“How about we keep our distance from the other guests together?” He nodded his head at the dark house. “I bet it’s nice and private in there.”
My gaze traveled up the shadowed brick to Penn’s room on the second floor. My heart stuttered, imagining how different it would feel if he had been the one to invite me inside. I remembered the way he’d kissed me. Is that what this boy wanted to do? I didn’t want to kiss him.
“That sounds lovely,” I said, pushing down the fear in my voice. “I just need a minute to freshen up. If you want to head inside, I’ll meet you in the conservatory in just a few minutes.”
Collin grinned. “Don’t keep me waiting.” He traced a finger along the collar of my dress.
“I’ve been imagining what’s under here all night. I don’t know how much longer I can stand it.”
“I won’t,” I choked out. As soon as he closed the door behind him, I slid out past the pool house and onto the cool lawn. A swarm of tiny bugs hovered in front of me like a cloud and I batted them away.
Never. I would never let him touch me.
My legs wobbled as I broke into a run. A dark undercurrent surged beneath the congressman’s picture-perfect world, threatening to pull me down and it frightened me…almost as much as what waited for me at the kennel if I was to make a mistake.