Home > Empire of Lust (Empire #4)

Empire of Lust (Empire #4)
Author: Rina Kent








It’s the night of mischief.

Commonly known as Devil’s Night.

My mother used to tell me that the gates of hell open tonight and the demons are allowed to roam the earth and spread their evil.

It was one of the few occasions I saw my mother excited, smiling, humming a happy tune.

She made it a habit to hand-sew me a costume and take me trick-or-treating while wearing a huge grin on her face.

That was my mother in a nutshell—innocently childish, irrevocably naïve, and stupidly in love.

And that love? It cost her her life.

And mine, in retrospect.

Because ever since she died four years ago, I’ve turned into the cynical little monster she tried to save me from becoming.

Maybe she didn’t try hard enough.

Maybe she didn’t care enough.

Because nothing she could’ve done would’ve made a difference. I have my father’s genes, after all.

The chilly autumn air penetrates my skin and embraces my bones with ominous persistence. As if that’s not enough, it blows my hair and jams it against my eyes.

Thanks to Mom, I was born with naturally bright, excruciatingly attention-grabbing red hair. At times, it resembles the horns of the devil.

Extremely fitting for this night, if you ask me.

“You stand out, and not in a good way, Aspen,” the blonde angel to my right says. Clearly fake, unless wearing a costume with wings makes you one.

Caroline is a friend I met in middle school when I first moved to her neighborhood after my mother’s death and Dad’s disappearance. We’ve been close ever since because her abusive household mirrors mine. We often find refuge in each other’s company, despite having extremely different personalities.

She’s the bubbly type who likes being at every party.

For instance, this one.

I didn’t really want to come. Not only am I an exemplary student who spends every free moment studying so I can get out of the custom-made hellhole my aunt and uncle have made for me, but I’m also not good with people.

However, after having a pan thrown at my back because I didn’t heat dinner to my drunken uncle’s liking, I was like “fuck it” and asked Caroline to give me the address to the party.

Obviously, I had to sneak out of the house by climbing down a tree from the attic I use as a bedroom.

My friend jacks up a hand on her tiny waist that serves as the wings’ belt holder. “When you said you were coming, I thought you’d be in a costume.”

“I don’t have one.” Nor do I want to hide behind anything. I already have a mask I wear in public; I don’t need another one.

“It’s Halloween. Everyone has a costume.” She throws her hands around, motioning at all the high school kids slipping into the mansion clad in their Halloween outfits. A myriad of colors, clichés, and the ultimate American fairy tale—or in this case, a nightmare.

It’s a hilarious parody of vampires, monsters, and the latest popular horror movies.

As for me, I’m wearing a simple black dress, my old sneakers, and a denim jacket my aunt got me from the local church donations.

Definitely not a costume. Unless dressing poor has become a trend, which wouldn’t be a surprise in circles like these.

Circles that Caroline does her best to cram herself into. She only befriends those of higher status, class, and definitely have a trust fund. It’s how she managed to get herself invited to this party at a preppy boy’s house.

Callie and I don’t attend the same high school as the owner of this place—no surprise there. He’s from the other side of town—the Upper East Side—and goes to a private school whose tuition could send me to college.

I don’t know him personally. Being from Harlem’s ghetto, we don’t usually get to mingle with people like them.

Caroline does, though. People have dreams of becoming doctors, lawyers, and astronauts. She has dreams of dating and marrying rich.

It’s a legitimate goal for those of us who’ve lived on scraps all our lives, go home at night looking over our shoulders, and never ever go out without pepper spray.

It’s the Cinderella complex of it all that doesn’t sit right with me. Why search for a man to give you a glass slipper when you could get it yourself?

Mom was completely and utterly into that fairy tale, and see where that got her.

“Look, Callie. I don’t have a costume, so if that’s a problem, I can just leave.” It’s an ego thing. I don’t like being belittled or mocked for who I am. That’s what’s landed me in trouble since I was little and often gets me a beating from my aunt or uncle.

They’re Mom’s brother and his wife who got custody of me after Dad was sent to prison.

But they might be worse than him.

However, I never lower my head, never let them make me feel small. I stare into their beady, vicious eyes, even as they hit me.

Which naturally makes them angrier and they beat me harder. Often with a belt or the nearest object.

“No, you’re my ride or die. You have to stay.” Callie rummages in her fur bag. “Besides, you’re beautiful as shit. It’ll be their loss if they don’t have you at their party.”

She pulls out a black feather mask, straps it on my head, and fixes my hair so it’s framing my face. Then she removes my denim jacket and throws it behind one of the decorated bushes.

“Hey! It’s cold.” And that’s actually the only good jacket I have.

“You can handle some cold for fashion. Also, that thing makes you look like a hillbilly.” She fusses in her wonder bag again and brings out some cheap red gloss, then takes extra care to apply it to my lips. After she’s done, she studies her creation with the critical eye of an amateur artist. “Perfect. You look like a bad bitch.”

“Really, Callie? Red?”

“It goes with the hair. If anyone asks, you’re a witch.”

Hell no.

But I don’t tell her that as she grabs me by the hand and drags me toward the house. She stops before the entrance and stares at me over her shoulder. “Remember, we’re sixteen or seventeen. Almost everyone here is a senior and we can’t be considered too young. Besides, we look the part anyway.”

That, we do. Caroline and I hit puberty two years ago, and ever since, we’ve been developing breasts and asses that earn us creepy looks from grown men—including our male teachers.

In school, she’s the blonde bombshell. I’m the hellion redhead.

She slips the strap of my dress off my shoulder so that it teases more of my cleavage, then interlinks her arm with mine. “Let’s snatch some rich boys.”

“You do realize they’ll throw us out the moment they find out we’re from Harlem, right?”

“Shhh.” She inspects our surroundings. “There’s no reason for them to know.”

“They will eventually.”

“Maybe by then, it’ll be too late.” She gives me a sly smirk and flips her hair.

I drop the subject, partly because we arrived at the entrance. But mainly because there’s no speaking logic to Caroline when it comes to her boy-hunting endeavors.

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