Home > Empire of Hate (Empire #3)

Empire of Hate (Empire #3)
Author: Rina Kent








I have an unhealthy obsession.

Or maybe a few.

Not sure what that expression means. Unhealthy obsession. But I heard Mum’s therapist friend tell her that once.

She said Mum needed to control herself and not let her obsessions take hold of her or else it’ll start to affect me.

I think it’s too late and Mum has already passed that gene down to me.

When she was sleeping, I tiptoed to the living area, took the tablet and hid under the blanket, and typed the term on Google.

It was dark except for the tablet’s light that I brought down to its lowest level so Mum wouldn’t catch me. She doesn’t like me staying up past my bedtime.

She doesn’t like me to do many things, actually.

Like being too friendly, talking to people, or playing.

I should always be studying to become something important and make her proud.

I should always remember that ever since Papa drowned last year while saving me, we’re on our own.

Papa might have been a knight and part of the aristocracy, but he accumulated enough debt that cost us our house and everything we owned.

Mum managed to marry a lord soon after. Uncle Henry is nice. He paid all our debts and treats me better than my mum sometimes. He doesn’t tell me to always eat my vegetables or study or not make friends because they’ll use me.

He tells me I’m smart, too, which Mum has never said, even when the teachers tell her that.

But I’m not smart enough to understand what “unhealthy obsession” means on my own, which is why I searched it last night while I was holding my breath and typing with sweaty fingers.

The results that showed up made my mouth fall open.

An unhealthy obsession is to have an extreme interest in something or someone.

It’s to constantly think about them.

It’s to do something repetitively, even against your will.

It’s to have a compulsive preoccupation with them and being unable to chase them away, no matter how much you try.

I stared at the words written on the tablet in disbelief. How is it possible that they found exactly how I feel about things?

Are they psychic?

The thought made me shiver and I had trouble getting to sleep. So I kept reading on and on about obsessions, especially the unhealthy type. And the more I read, the harder I was struck.

It was as if someone had peeled my skull open and poured hot liquid inside it.

That liquid has been burning my brain ever since. Maybe this is one of the times where I have to put on a smile and pretend everything is fine as Mum taught me to.

Never show people how you feel, Nicole. Always wear a smile and be on your best behavior like a lady should.

Her words flow through my veins instead of blood. Everything she told and taught me is always the first thing I think about before I do anything.

She saved us, my mum. She got a rich, influential husband who’s also nice and lets us live a luxurious lifestyle.

I think she had to make him divorce his previous wife and leave his biological daughter behind, but that’s okay, right?

If Uncle Henry wanted them, he wouldn’t have left them.

They’re lower class, Mum said. They don’t fit with him like you and I do, Nicole. You’re lucky I made this life happen for us, so don’t screw it up.

I won’t.

I can’t.

I’m lucky.

So I don’t even talk about Papa. I miss him, but if I tell Mum that, she’ll be angry.

I don’t want her to be angry, which is why I can’t be a disappointment.

She’s done everything for us, so I have to lower my head and follow the rules.

That’s why I’m smiling at one of her friends now. Mum is hosting a tea party in Uncle Henry’s mansion and invited other powerful men’s wives and their children.

I took them on a tour earlier and showed them my toys. Uncle Henry bought me many of them—after Mum made me donate the ones Papa gave me.

She told me they’re cheap and not suitable for our current standing.

I hid one small doll that has peach-colored hair and a snow globe that Papa brought me for my fifth birthday. I don’t care if they’re cheap. I like them better than the expensive ones. It’s weird, but I can still smell Papa on them and it makes me calmer.

I hid them so the children won’t touch them. They can play with all the other toys, but not those two.

The whole time, I kept smiling and laughing and being the perfect child that Mum has brought me up to be.

“Nicole is so well-mannered.”

“She’s like an adult in a little body.”

“Mark my words, Nicole will grow up into a fine young lady.”

“Like mother, like daughter. You raised her so well, Victoria.”

That’s what all the women tell Mum, fawning over me as if I’m a miracle child.

A conservative, elegant smile pulls at her lips.

Everything about my mother is. Conservative and elegant, I mean. She’s beautiful—the most beautiful woman I know. Her blonde hair seems to be in competition with the sun on which can shine brighter. She always wears it in a neat French twist, which highlights the soft lines of her face and her full lips that she usually paints a light color.

I take after her in almost everything except for the eyes. Hers are a cobalt blue that appear as deep as the ocean and just as mysterious. Mine are green, muddy, like my papa’s.

Mum is like a goddess and I don’t think I’ll ever grow up to be as beautiful as her. Despite her appearance, she’s completely compliant with the aristocratic way of doing things. Which means she never enhances her beauty, wears red lipstick, or dresses provocatively.

Even now, she has on a soft green dress and a simple matching sweater. But she’s still the prettiest of all the women present.

And they hate that, so they talk behind her back. Once, we were at a charity event and when I went to the bathroom, I heard them call her a gold-digger and a whore who sells herself to the richest man available. Mum caught me listening and told me to go back to where the kids were.

Her expression didn’t even change, as if she didn’t hear them talk badly about her behind closed doors after praising her in front of everyone.

I think that’s how the world works. As Mum said, it’s best to never show your emotions in public.

It’s how she got this far after surviving an abusive household when she was young.

It’s how I became lucky.

So I shouldn’t be thinking about leaving the children that she explicitly told me to keep company.

The girls and I are sitting in the garden across from our mothers and having a tea party like them with my extravagant tea set.

The boys are playing football far enough away that they won’t interfere with our peaceful time.

It’s a rare sunny day in London, although the clouds sometimes decide to play peek-a-boo with the sun.

I pour more tea for one of the girls, but my attention is unfocused. Or more like, it’s stolen by something I shouldn’t be giving weight to.

The boys.

One of them, to be more specific.

His face has turned red from all the running after the ball, and his lips are parted with each pant.

He has weird hair that’s neither dark nor light, as if it couldn’t make up its mind on which color to be, so it settled on a mixture of both. Like the color of the earth under the sun and the tone of premium wood.

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