Blurred Lines by R.A. Smyth

Chapter 1

Weariness tugs at me as I step off the bus, dragging my suitcase behind me. As I pass through the gates to Pacific Prep, I realize that this is the last time I’ll be doing this—coming back to campus after a holiday.

It's the final semester of senior year. The last four years have both flown by, and dragged on like a never-ending nightmare. However, everything has been different this last year, since Hadley arrived. Sure, I had friends before, and I was definitely caught up in less drama, but I had no one I could really confide in, no one that I knew without a doubt that they had my back. I hadn’t even realized how much I wanted a best friend until Hadley stumbled into my life, looking like a fish out of water—one that’s covered in razor-sharp spines that she wouldn’t hesitate to stab you with if you pissed her off.

I trudge the rest of the way to my room, tossing my suitcase on the bed before pulling out my tablet and messaging Hadley, letting her know I’m back and asking if she’s free.

While I wait for her to respond, I unpack and jump into the shower, feeling so much better as I climb into my bunny rabbit pajamas. I don’t know what it is, but they make me feel so good. It’s like, as soon as I put them on, all the stress from the day just disappears and I’m suddenly in relaxation mode. It’s the perfect end to a long day of traveling.

Hadley still hasn’t messaged me back, so I decide to hop across the hall and knock on her door, seeing if she’s in. She’s such a dunce when it comes to technology, so no doubt her tablet is on silent, shoved in her bag somewhere from when she last used it in class before the break.

I knock and listen to see if I can hear her moving around inside her room, but all seems quiet. I guess she’s with the guys then. Deciding I’ll spend the rest of my evening relaxing with a book and cup of tea, I fire her a message to see if she wants to grab a coffee before breakfast in the morning, and snuggle down in my duvet, getting comfortable for the night.

When my phone alarm goes off the next morning, I look at the screen, frowning when I still don’t have a message from her, but I shrug it off, knowing I’ll see her at breakfast anyway and can just talk to her then.

Glancing at the time, my eyes bug out of my head. Fuck! I forgot to change my alarm last night for an earlier wake-up time, and now I’ve got five minutes to get to the dining hall before breakfast finishes.

Scurrying out of bed, I rush through my morning routine, and by the time I throw open the door to the dining hall, I’m in a pissy mood. Stomping across the room, I glance toward the top table, frowning when I find it completely empty. Today should start a new round of the girl of the month nonsense, which explains the abundance of pathetic girls dolling themselves up and pushing out their tits in preparation for the Princes, but it doesn’t explain why neither Hadley nor any of the guys aren’t here yet. Sure, they like to leave it to the last minute, but the bell is going to ring any second now.

I grab a yogurt and a banana before heading over to my usual table. “Where is everyone?” I ask Wilder, dropping into an empty chair opposite him. He takes his time, swirling his spoon in his bowl of milk and cereal dregs before he lifts his head to meet my gaze.

I gasp as I take in the horrible purpley-blue shiner he’s sporting. “What the hell happened to you?”

He just shakes his head. “Doesn’t matter.”

Well alright then. Wilder is a very private person. He’s more than happy to shove his nose in other people’s business, but he hates it if you pry into his. So, naturally, I don’t even bother trying. Instead, I leave him alone as he drops his head once again, continuing to absently stir the milk around his bowl.

When the bell rings a couple of minutes later, I grab my tablet out of my bag and fire off another message to Hadley, telling her to get her ass to class before she’s late.

“Come on.” I nudge Wilder’s foot with my toe since he doesn’t seem to have even heard the bell ringing. “We’ve gotta get to class.”

Looking like he’s carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders, he slowly rises to his feet and trudges out of the hall with me.

Jesus help me, I do not have the patience to deal with a grumpy man-child today!

Wilder, weirdly, walks me to my classroom before mumbling a goodbye and heading to his own class. I take my usual seat in English and pull out my tablet, loading today's lesson while I wait for Hadley.

When Mr. Greer clears his throat in a subtle indication for us to settle down so he can begin, I frown and open the messenger app on the tablet to see if Hadley read my message earlier. It still says it’s unread so I send her another one, asking her where the hell she is.

She doesn’t show for the rest of the class, and as the morning drones on, I repeatedly check my messages to see if she’s responded. Nothing. Not even a blue tick to indicate she’s read my texts.

As soon as my class before lunch ends, I bolt out of the room, immediately dialing Hadley’s number, but it goes straight to voicemail. The feeling that something isn’t right has been gnawing at me all morning, getting progressively louder, until it’s become a constant ringing in my ears, and when I rush into the dining hall for lunch, finding it once again absent of Hadley and the guys, I lose the sliver of control I had.

“What the hell is going on?” I snap irritably at Wilder. I know he probably doesn’t know, but I’m getting frustrated, not to mention, worried. Hadley has never ghosted me like this, and I know I haven’t done anything to upset her. Even if I had, Hadley isn’t the type to hide away and avoid it, she would confront me about whatever it was. So that only leaves one option...that something bad has happened. “Have you spoken to any of the guys?”

“Not in the last couple of days.” He shrugs, deliberately not meeting my eye, and I narrow my gaze at him. The asshat continues to ignore me, picking at the fries in front of him, even though I know he can feel my intense stare drilling into the side of his head.

I am seriously fucking pissed off now. Something is going on, and he knows more than he’s letting on. I slap my hand down on the table, but he doesn’t so much as jump, even as I hold back my wince at the sting in my palm.

“What the fuck is going on!” It’s not a question this time, and when he comes out with some vague excuse, I spin on my heel and leave the dining hall, more frustrated than when I entered. Whatever is wrong, I know exactly who the fuck to harrass for answers. A year ago, I’d have peed my pants at the thought of going near them, but right now, concern for my friend drowns any anxiety I have about standing up to the Princes.

Adrenaline fuels my movements, and before I know it, I’m standing at their door, banging on it. It’s only when the door flies open and I’m standing face to face with a scowling Hawk that I realize the absolute insanity of what I’m about to do. For a second, I cower in front of him, before remembering I put on my big girl panties and straighten my spine.

“Where’s Hadley?”

He crosses his arms over his chest and uses every inch of his six and a half feet to try and intimidate me. Any glimpse of emotion is wiped from his features and he cocks a brow. “What are you talking about?”

His blatant denial only infuriates me more. He knows god-damn-well what I’m talking about.

“Don’t play dumb with me!” I snap, feeling empowered when his eyes widen in surprise. “Hadley hasn’t responded to any of my messages or calls. She’s not answering her door, and the last time I talked to her, she was here.” I step into him, standing on my tippy-toes to try and balance out our height difference. With our chests a hairsbreadth apart, I do either the bravest thing I’ve ever done, or the stupidest...I poke the beast in the chest. I jab my finger into his pec, ignoring the fact it feels like fucking granite beneath my fingertip. “I’m not stupid. I know something is wrong, and if you’ve done anything to her, I’ll…”

A smirk curls his lips. “You’ll what?”

My nostrils flare with rage. “I might not have the reach or resources that you Princes”—I spit the word—“have, but that doesn’t mean I can’t be pretty damn annoying when I want to be.”

He fixes me with his unusual gray-blue eyes that are so similar to Hadley’s, yet so different. The shade is slightly off, more gray than blue, making them appear harder. Where Hadley’s eyes are like looking at the sky on an overcast day, when I look into Hawk’s, I feel like I’m being sucked up into the center of a tornado. The ground under my feet becomes unstable before it’s whisked out from under me.

I sway on my toes, just as Hawk takes a step back, and I drop down onto my feet. His face is still shaped into its infuriatingly impassive mask as he says, “She’s been sick. A stomach bug. She’ll be back in class in a few days.”

“I want to see her.”

He’s already shaking his head before I’ve finished speaking. “She’s not up to seeing anyone right now. But I’ll tell her you stopped by.”

He takes another step back, and without another word, closes the door in my face. I still don’t move, staring at the grains in the wood for a long moment. Sick? It just doesn’t make sense. How sick is she that she can’t message me just once to say she’s not well?

Frowning, I turn around and head down the stairs, making a mental promise to come back every day and demand answers until they finally cave. I want to trust them, I know that’s what Hadley has been trying to do, but something is definitely not right.

***

For the next three days, I turn up at the Princes’ door, and each day they brush me off with the same story. Well, fuck that! I’ve had enough. No stomach bug should last this long, and if that’s truly what Hadley has, then perhaps she needs to be in a hospital instead of sequestered away in their dorm.

“Wilder,” I plead on Friday. “I know you know something. I’m getting really concerned.”

His behavior has become more and more closed off all week. He’s made it a point to join me for every meal, and he insists on coming with me when I go to the library, even though he just sits there. He doesn’t even open his books and pretend to study. He just stares off into space, his thoughts clearly elsewhere.

He lifts his head, his gaze locking with mine. There are dark bags under his eyes, similar to the growing ones I’ve noticed under Hawk’s every time I bang on their door. He shakes his head while sighing. “It’s not my place to say.”

What the fuck is that supposed to mean?

“Wilder, if something has happened, I need to know. She’s my best friend. She’s had my back since the second she showed up here. I can’t just sit back and pretend everything is okay when I know for a fact that it isn’t.”

Once again he shakes his head, this time with a more determined set to it. “I can’t. If the guys won’t tell you, then I can’t say anything.”

You know what, screw this shit.

I whip my hand out and grab a hold of his wrist, dragging him behind me as I march toward the Princes’ apartment—they’re guaranteed to be there, they haven’t been spotted on campus all week.

“Emilia,” Wilder grouses, but he doesn’t put up any more of a fight. We both know he could easily pull out of my grip, but he doesn’t. Instead, he lets me haul him behind me all the way to the now-familiar dorm door of the Princes.

“Emilia,” Hawk grumbles when he answers the door, looking unimpressed but not surprised to see me. He seems to have become the designated spokesperson every time I show up here. I’d hazard a guess that no one other than me dares to knock on their door. His gaze flicks up to Wilder standing behind me, and the look on Hawk’s face turns murderous. What the hell is that about?

“Wilder told me everything,” I snap out, funneling a confidence I don’t feel.

“I—”

I stomp on Wilder’s foot—hard—and he quickly stops, cursing me under his breath.

Hawk snorts. “Sure he did.”

He moves to close the door, but I stick my foot out, and it bounces off it. I take advantage of Hawk not having expected that move, and slip through the gap in the door, firmly planting myself within the much speculated sanctuary of the infamous Princes. Regardless of my curiosity, I keep my gaze firmly on Hawk’s fuming face.

“Seriously?” He throws up his hands, and turns his scowl on Wilder. “You just let her drag you up here?”

Wilder crosses the threshold with a shrug. “Maybe she should know.”

“It’s none of her goddamn business!” Hawk roars. When he turns back to look at me, his mask of rage makes the breath in my chest stutter. “Get the fuck out!”

I’ve seen him use that expression on others before, on Hadley even, but it’s never been directed at me, and holy fuck is it terrifying. How the hell did Hadley not just fall apart under the intensity?

I swallow around the lump in my throat, even as my hands shake. Pushing past my fear, I lift my chin. “I’m not leaving here without answers. You’ll have to carry me out if you want to get rid of me.”

He takes a menacing step toward me, clearly intent on doing exactly that, but Wilder claps a palm on his shoulder, holding him in place.

“Do not put your hands on her!” The promise of violence in his voice catches me by surprise, and I watch as the two of them face off against one another in some silent battle of wills.

An idea comes to mind, and with the two of them distracted, I take off like a bullet, running down the only hallway I can see. “Hadley!” I shout, throwing open the first door I come to. It’s nothing but an empty bedroom, and I quickly move on to the next room, screaming her name again.

My hand is wrapped around the door knob when thick bands of steel wrap around my waist, all but lifting me off the ground. I scream out Hadley’s name again and kick out, determined that, if Hadley is here, I’m going to find her.

I’m screaming like a fucking banshee until a large palm covers my mouth, and I feel Hawk’s warm breath tickle my ear. “Calm down,” he growls. Not seeing that I have any other option, I stop squirming and go still in his arms. I expect him to let me go, which is when I plan on making another break for it, but he doesn’t. Instead, he holds me tightly against his body, and I can feel his chest rising and falling against my back. Eventually, he sighs. “She’s not here.”

That gets me moving again, and I turn in his hold, pushing him back a step. “What do you mean she’s not here? If she’s not here, where is she? What did you do to her?”

His gaze darkens and he scowls at me. “I haven’t done anything to her.” The vehemence in his words is almost believable, but I know the type of person Hawk is. I’ve seen the atrocious acts he’s committed over the last four years. Hadley might have softened him somewhat, but that doesn't mean he’s not the same heartless person at his core.

“I don’t believe you.”

Something flickers in his eyes, but it’s gone in the blink of an eye.

I hear Wilder approach before he speaks up. “He’s telling the truth. It’s all my fault.”

I’ve never heard him sound so affected by anything. It’s enough to draw my attention. “Your fault?” I ask, confused. How can any of this be his fault?

He opens his mouth to say more, but before he can, Hawk interrupts. “What do you know about Hadley’s past?”

Now I’m really confused. “Uh, not much. She doesn’t like to talk about it. Just that she was raised in foster care. I’m guessing she had it pretty rough.”

Hawk nods like he expected that answer, and he chews on his bottom lip—the way Hadley does when she’s thinking something over—fixing me with a serious expression. The way he looks at me, it’s like he’s trying to pry me open, and I can tell he’s debating whether or not I can be trusted. I’m not entirely sure what he’s looking for, but whatever he sees must help him make his decision.

“It’s a bit more complicated than that. I can’t tell you anything—”

I go to open my mouth, but he lifts his hand, effectively shushing me.

“It’s not my story to tell. It’s Hadley’s. She has to be the one to tell you, if that’s what she wants.”

My tongue darts out to lick my lips as I mull over what he’s said. My gaze flicks to Wilder’s, but I can’t pin down what he’s thinking or feeling right now. Honestly, it looks like there is a war waging within him.

Looking back at Hawk, I ask, “What can you tell me?”

He presses his lips together, and I can tell he doesn’t want to tell me anything, but he’s already started down this path, so he might as well continue.

“Something has happened to Hadley. She’s...disappeared.”

My mouth opens, to say what, I’m not sure. I couldn’t form words right now if my life depended on it. I retreat into myself as I play his words on repeat in my head, trying and failing to make sense of them, and I’m only pulled back to the here and now when I feel Hawk’s hands on my shoulders, grounding me.

I lift my gaze to look into his chaotic gray gaze, and instead of the instability I felt before, today his gaze anchors me.

“We’re doing everything we can to get her back. We will get her back.”