Empire of Hate (Empire #3) by Rina Kent

Empire of Hate (Empire #3)



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.