Home > Stolen Hearts (Hearts #1)

Stolen Hearts (Hearts #1)
Author: M. O'Keefe





You want to know what the rich and powerful do? They go to parties like this one. And on little plates they carry food around that they don’t actually eat. In heavy crystal glasses they drink champagne and scotch. Rivers of it. They laugh and whisper and watch each other out of the corners of their eyes.

But really what they do is pretend. That’s all. They play pretend in their four-thousand-dollar tuxes and ten-thousand-dollar dresses.

They pretend to care what the person they’re talking to is actually saying. They pretend to give a shit about whatever cause to which they’re donating money. Or in the case of tonight’s party – the marriage of a 20-year-old girl to a 48-year-old man.

They pretend that it’s not gross.

My sister Zilla and I played a version of this exact same game that hot summer under the willow tree at the back of our estate. Wearing our mother’s nightgowns with thin little straps and lace that fell past our little girl knees, Zilla would hold out a leaf with a worm on it.

“It’s a delicacy where I come from,” she’d say in a ridiculous accent.

“After you,” I’d say, trying to sound like the Queen of England but getting tangled up somewhere in the deep south. And then, because she was fearless, Zilla would pick up that worm, bite it in half, and swallow it down.

“Show me,” I’d say, and she’d open her mouth to reveal nothing but her molars poking through the tender pink of her gums. And then she’d dab the corners of her mouth with the leaf, and we’d tip our heads back and fake laugh.

But the fake laughs always turned to real ones. Ones that shook our bellies and made us collapse onto the ground.

That was not going to happen at this party.

“Are you all right?” asked Mrs. . . . oh, god, what was her name? She was important, I’d been told that earlier. I’d been told not to forget that this woman in the vast sea of important women at this party, was important.

“I’m fine,” I said, but there was sweat pooling between my breasts. The sweat had nothing to do with the heat of summer in Upstate New York and everything to do with my life ending while people ate shrimp cocktail.

The harpist in the corner struck up what sounded like the exact same song she’d been playing for the last hour. It was. It was the same song. The harpist was playing a joke on all the assholes at this party.

Oh god, the thought just occurred to me – she thinks I am one of the assholes.

“As I was saying,” the important woman said. The diamonds in her ears were the size of pea gravel and could keep Zilla in Belhaven for a month. “The senator has done excellent work for the state in Washington. Everyone here fully supports his tax relief bill.”

“I’m sure he appreciates that.”

“Tell him, won’t you?” she asked, leaning in closer. “I have a nephew graduating Harvard and he’s hoping to intern with the senator next year.”

Little did Important Woman know, I had no power. Everything about me – from the dress I was wearing to the seven million thread count pillowcase I would lay my head upon tonight – was a loan I was in the process of paying back.

“Sure,” I said.

“You must be so excited,” Important Woman said. “How that man has managed to stay single is a mystery to me.”

“I think I just need to get a breath of fresh air,” I said and then rudely, really rudely, just walked away from that important woman.


I was really starting to unravel. Despite being in this house roughly a million times, I couldn’t seem to find a door leading to a room I wanted to be in.

There was like . . . a hysterical giggle in my chest. Or a scream? Maybe it was a scream. Or a sob.

All three?

Was that even possible?

I’d wished a million times since all this started that I was more like my sister. Tougher. Stronger. Angrier.

Strong was never a word anyone had applied to me.

I had to get out of the Constantine compound. Now. Three seconds ago.

The champagne glass in my hand was empty, and I handed it to a waiter, not waiting to answer his polite question about having more of the expensive bubbly. If I opened my mouth too wide I was afraid, well, not afraid as much as I was sure, absolutely sure that I would ruin not just this night. But everything – the whole spider web keeping my sister and me safe would be torn apart. So I kept my mouth shut as I pushed past Tinsley Constantine.

“Are you all right, Poppy?” Tinsley asked. We weren’t close, me and Tinsley. The Constantine children breathed rarified air, and when I was around them, I felt all the arrows of my circumstances. We’d been raised as cousins of a sort, but we all knew that was a lie. Now, since leaving college, I was staying in their pool house. And they never intentionally made me feel bad, but I could tell they didn’t like how much their mother cared about me.

And they really didn’t love me staying in the pool house.

“I’m fine,” I said with what I hoped was a smile. I could see across the room Winston and Perry, Caroline’s sons, tracking this conversation. And more eyes were not what I needed. “I just need some air.”

They were one hundred percent pitying me and barely hiding it.

I was one hundred percent freaking out and barely hiding it.

The front doors were still open, people walking in and out, and the big veranda would be just as crowded as this ballroom, so I followed a server out the door and through a wood-panelled study full of men in tuxedos.

I didn’t look at their faces. In this world, this place, they all looked the same. White, slightly saggy, watery-eyes behind glasses that assessed my worth as I went running past.

In my desperation, I got turned around inside the sprawling mansion and found myself in the small sitting room being used as a bar for the catering staff. The same room where Caroline had changed my life forever – god, was that . . . Christmas? How had my life changed so dramatically in a few months?

“You have to listen to me,” Caroline said, sitting next to me on the little settee facing the icy window. The white twinkle lights reflected in her eyes. “This is serious. And this is hard. But you’re not a little girl anymore.”

“I know,” I said. I’d turned 20 in the spring. And now that Dad was dead, I was Zilla’s legal guardian. Frankly, I hadn’t been a little girl since Mom died. I wasn’t sure I’d ever felt like a little girl.

“Your father . . .” Caroline took a deep breath. “There’s no money, Poppy.”

“For what?” I asked.

“There’s no money for you. For school. For Zilla. You need to sell the house to pay off what he owed.”

“Okay,” I felt the ground shifting under my feet. “The life insurance—”

“He cashed it out a year ago.”

“My college fund?”

“Gone. The money from your mother’s estate. All gone. There’s nothing, Poppy.”

“How will I pay for Zilla—”

“You’re going to need to drop out of school, and we need to figure something out.”

“You all right, miss?” a server asked while trying to get by me with a tray of empty glasses from the kitchen.

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