Chapter One

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CHAPTER ONE

Tuesday, 7:45am.

Ellie Walker briskly made her way past the dozens of black town cars that clogged the curbside of Georgetown Academy every morning, giving a quick tug on her black, pleated Marc Jacobs skirt. It was just a tad too short on her. But her best friend, Brinley, who Ellie easily conceded knew a lot more about fashion than she did, had convinced her this was the perfect outfit for today. The first day of a new political administration didn’t mean much at almost every other high school across the country, but at Georgetown Academy, it was the most important day of the school year and Brinley had reminded Ellie that she needed to dress to impress.

She passed throngs of students congregated around the vibrantly green, manicured front lawn and the bare Willow Oak trees surrounding them, her straight chestnut-colored hair blowing in the wind behind her until....

She was suddenly shoved off the brick pathway, saving herself ungracefully at the last second from flashing the entire school and face-planting into the grass.

“Oops, sorry!” The culprit, a hopelessly disoriented student, exclaimed. He was skinny with glasses too big for his face and he gazed up at the expansive building in front of him, looking like he might break down in tears.

Definitely a rookie.

That’s what the lifers, like Ellie, called all the new students whose parents were serving their first term in the government. Today was their first day at G.A. and she felt a pang of sympathy. They really had no idea what lay ahead of them.

“Don’t worry about it,” she said, giving him what she hoped was a reassuring smile. She readjusted her black cashmere sweater, then dodged a few more confused, wide-eyed students on her way up to McKinley Hall, the Victorian-style three-story red brick building that marked the main entrance of Georgetown Academy. The campus sprawled out for another twenty acres; several buildings dotted the grass and connected by brick pathways from the state-of-the-art Science Lab to the glass-enclosed Visual Arts Studio.

As she walked up the steps and past four monstrous white columns, she nervously licked her lips, realizing she probably didn’t have any gloss left on them. Every year for the past ten years, this particular day made Ellie anxious. But today was worse, and it was difficult to swallow the thick lump that had appeared in her throat with a vengeance a few days ago. The new administration brought her mother’s political enemy, Richard Mills, back into the Senate. He had been re-elected to his seat after a brief hiatus, and though she had tried to convince herself for the past few days that his return wouldn’t affect her family, deep down she knew that was naïve. She should be bracing herself for a difficult few weeks, as he was most likely gearing up for a new round of personal attacks on her mother. Senator Mills preferred to strike below the belt.

Just as she was about to walk through the school’s massive double doors, a familiar arm encircled her waist. She turned to see her boyfriend, Hunter McKnight, and her nerves melted away like an ice cube dropped in boiling water. Even though she and Hunter had been dating for almost two years, she smiled every time she heard his voice.

“Hey, babe,” he said, his voice a perfect blend of confidence and assurance that always gave her a boost. And of course it didn’t hurt he was so good-looking. Today, he was wearing the navy polo she loved on him. There was something about the color of the shirt against his dirty-blond hair and light blue eyes. In khakis and brown Docksiders, Hunter mastered the East Coast preppy style every guy at G.A. sported, though they could only aspire to look as good in it. When Ellie looked up at him, it still felt surreal he was actually her boyfriend.

“Ready for today?” she asked, slipping her hand into his as they made their way toward her locker. She knew the answer before it was even out of her mouth. Hunter was always ready for anything. Nothing ever seemed to faze him.

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