Home > Princess Ballot (Royals of Arbon Academy #1)

Princess Ballot (Royals of Arbon Academy #1)
Author: Tate James

Chapter 1



“Violet Rose Spencer.”

I groaned. I’d literally just sat on the threadbare sofa, and of course, it was now that my name blasted across the loudspeaker.

“Someone wants you, flower bitch,” the girl next to me sneered as a derisive laugh left her mouth. “Must be a nice change.”

Yeah, yeah, I was an orphan. But so was she, so the insult really didn’t pack the same punch. Neither did the mockery of my “flowery” name. I was used to it.

“At least my name finally got called,” I told her, smiling sweetly. “Your last foster home sent you back in two days. New record wasn’t it?”

Her smile fell, and I turned my back, leaving her fuming. “Screw you, Violet,” she called, but I was already down the hall giving zero fucks.

“Violet Rose Spencer,” the matron called again, eliciting more laughter from behind me.

My mother had gifted me one thing: my name. Violets and roses had been her two favorite flowers, according to the nurse who’d been with her while she hemorrhaged and died on the operating table, leaving me an orphan.

Apparently she’d never mentioned a father, and so far no one had come forward to claim me.

“Violet Rose Spencer, you have five minutes to make your way to the matron.”

This time the matron sounded annoyed, but I didn’t bother to rush. I wasn’t a ward of the state anymore. I’d turned eighteen the week before, and they couldn’t punish me anymore. I was only here waiting for my final paperwork—which was probably what this summons was about—before I moved on to college. State college of course, but for the first time I would have control of my life. Freedom to make my own choices, instead of being shuffled around foster and group homes at the whims of people who wanted to play “family” with me.

“Vi!” Meredith yelled, rushing across the room. Meredith Mossman, with her waist-length, strawberry-blond hair, big blue eyes, and curves for days, was the closest thing I had to a friend in this shithole. A friendship born of circumstance, seeing as she was one of the five other girls I’d shared a room with for the last few years. She and I were going to be college roomies when we got our acceptance letters. Hopefully. We had a plan B if that didn’t work out.

“There’s someone in the front room waiting for you,” she whispered. “A man I’ve never seen before.” Her voice dropped even lower. “He’s kinda hot in an old-dude way.”

That gave me a moment’s pause because the paperwork shouldn't require a stranger’s input. And a hot stranger at that. Maybe the matron was finally getting some—might improve her temperament.

“Only one way to find out,” I said, linking my arm through Meredith’s and dragging her along with me. The matron had an office at the front of the group home. This was where she dished out the good and bad news, disciplined us, and hid away when she was just done with kids for the day. And considering Mission State Home was one of the largest in Michigan, housing fifty kids at a time, she was often hiding.

There was a real potential for violence and corruption with this many children under one roof, albeit a large roof, but the matron managed to keep it under control. One thing I could say about this place: I’d never felt unsafe. Unlike many other “homes” I’d grown up in.

When I knocked, the matron looked up, as did the man who was sitting across from her in the padded chair. The nice chair. If you didn’t get to sit in it, you were stuck with the rickety old stool that was propped in the corner.

“Violet, please come in,” the matron said as she waved me in. “Miss Mossman, you’re dismissed.”

Fuck. Looked like my moral support was gone. Meredith gave me a commiserating glance, before backing out of the room. The matron got to her feet then, crossing around the desk to close the door. She was dressed very nicely in a pressed, woolen skirt suit, the jacket closed over her round figure, the buttons looking like they were working very hard to keep all of her shit contained. Her steel-gray hair was slicked back, her lips a garish red, and despite the fact that she still looked every one of her sixty years, she was presenting quite the polished front.

“Violet, please take a seat.” She waved magnanimously toward the stool, and I sighed as I pulled it out.

I’d been doing my best to ignore the man sitting there because men in general made me wary, and strange men were at the bottom of my list of trustworthy species.

Pulling the stool in closer to the desk, I kept a decent distance between the man and me. Despite not staring at him, I made a mental note on how nicely he was dressed. His black suit didn’t have a single wrinkle or mark and flawlessly fit across his broad shoulders.

Additional impressions I got while not staring at him included that he was mid-forties, rich, and bored. He just sat there, waiting for the matron to stop fussing, his eyes half-lidded and empty.

“Are you sure I can’t get you anything to drink, Mr. Wainwright?” she asked.

The expensively dressed gentleman shook his head, letting out an almost inaudible sigh. “No, thank you, Madam Bonnell.” He lifted his wrist, revealing a gleaming watch under the cuff of his suit. “I’m on a tight deadline, as I explained last night when I phoned, and I really do need to be on my way.”

Mr. Wainwright was apparently a very important person, if his general attitude was anything to go by. With a small huff, he turned to me, and I was finally forced to acknowledge his presence. “Ms. Spencer,” he said with a nod, “are you ready to leave?”

He looked on the floor to either side of me like he was searching for something, then lifted his dark brown eyes back in my direction.

I refused to let my emotions show on my face, working very hard to keep it blank. “Excuse me? Leave for where?”

At this the matron cleared her throat. “Apologies, I haven't had a chance to speak with Violet yet, and as such, she has no idea this is happening.”

I narrowed my eyes at her. She meant that by the time she got the phone call last night, she was halfway through her schnapps and Jeopardy and had forgotten to tell me right until this moment.

I cleared my throat, a weird feeling swirling in my stomach. I had a decent radar for danger, but that wasn’t the vibe here. Still, I was anxious to know what this was all about.

Mr. Wainwright shot the matron a disparaging look, a look he did very well, before he reached into his jacket and pulled out a folded piece of paper. He leaned closer and held it out to me.

Warily, I reached out and took the paper, marveling at how thick and heavy it was. I’d never seen paper like it before. Since they’d cut back on cutting trees down, paper of any kind was rare to see, but this quality … almost never.

My hands shook as I opened it because for the life of me, I had not a single clue what was happening here.

The writing inside was hand-lettered in a sweeping, spectacular calligraphy.

Dear Violet Rose Spencer,

We are pleased to inform you that you have been randomly selected from a ballot of over fifteen million displaced children to attend the prestigious Arbon Academy. Our college has a long tradition of producing the finest leaders, professionals, and royalty the world has ever seen.

This is the opportunity of a lifetime, offered once every five years.

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