❝ love is a ruthless game ❞

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Love is a ruthless game,
Unless you play it good and right.
These are the hands of fate,
You're my Achilles heel.
This is the golden age of something,
 Good and right and real.

"State of Grace" -Taylor Swift

       Ashton and Nathan let me stay in one of the many guest bedrooms.

       I had fed Nathan a bullshit story about how I had gotten into a fight with my parents over something for school. It had gotten me a dubious look, but Ashton had dragged me away to show me my temporary room before he could question the makeshift lie.

       I skipped school the next day, since that was inevitably where Kaden would look for me. Another tick on my ever-growing absent sheet. Since I was skipping school, Ashton had decided to as well. I doubted it was to keep me company though. He probably wanted to ask what had happened since I had gotten out of telling him the night before my feigning tiredness.

       Except before he could ask me anything, Jacen had shown up. Why? I had no idea. Ashton had simply scowled, shoved him out the front door and told me to stay in the Sinclair's mansion while he drove Jacen to school.

       I had considered taking that chance to run, but then I would really be stuck with nowhere to go. At least Ashton hadn't told Kaden where I was. Yet. Though, I wouldn't be keeping this up for much longer.

       By the time Ashton came back, it was almost ten, which told me he had definitely not simply dropped Jacen off at Blaire Academy. He looked alright, though, and as far as I could tell, his knuckles weren't bruised or anything, so I don't think he got into a fight.

       I found out part of the reason why he was late when he pulled out two smoothies that were still ice cold. It didn't count for everything, though; getting smoothies wouldn't have taken almost two hours.

       "Do you want mango-pineapple or chocolate-cherry?" Ashton asked, setting the two drinks down on the kitchen counter where I had been attempting to catch up on some homework.

       "Can I take chocolate-cherry?" The taste was comforting and familiar to me, though I wasn't sure why since I didn't have it too often.

       He nodded and slid the darker smoothie towards me. "I saw Kaden at Blaire Academy."

       A strangled groan escaped from the back of my throat.

       Attractive, Lena, real attractive.

       "He was looking for you," he said.

       "Really?" I replied sarcastically. "I thought he was hunting big foot."

       "Want to tell me what happened?" Ashton asked after rolling his eyes at me stalling response. He slid onto the bar stool beside me.

       I shook my head. "Not particularly, no."

       He gave me an exasperated look. "Elena."

       "What?" I blinked at him innocently. "It's what you asked."

       "What did you and Kaden fight about? Or should I call Kaden and ask him why his adopted daughter is sitting in front of me and staying at my house?" he added when I chose to take of a sip of my smoothie instead of responding.

       I scowled at him. "Don't threaten me. I only came to you because it was raining last night and getting late. Getting mugged isn't on my bucket list, you know."

       He raised an eyebrow.

       "It isn't," I said flippantly. I knew I was acting like a spoiled brat, especially considering Ashton had let me stay at his house last night, but I didn't really want to tell him about Kaden and I's fight. I had a feeling he would side with Kaden on this one as well, and I really wasn't in the mood for another lecture.

       "And don't talk like that; it makes you sound like him. Or Devon." I scrunched up my face. "It's weird."

       Ashton sighed. "Just tell me, Elle? If something happened, I want to know."

       "Nothing happened," I insisted. "Maybe Kaden just got upset because I got a seventy-eight in math instead of an eighty-seven."

       He gave me what was probably the gazillionth exasperated expression he had made in five minutes. "I don't think something that small would cause you to... Run away."

       "I'm not running away," I protested. "And how would you know? Maybe I get annoyed with little things like this all the time."

       "Yeah, that explains why you haven't ran for the hills yet," he replied sarcastically.

       "It's none of your business," I said.

       Ashton rolled his eyes, then gave me a flat look. "You of all people, should not be telling me to mind my business."

       "Now you definitely sound like Kaden and Devon," I muttered, taking another sip from my smoothie and shifting a little on my bar stool. "Fine. I'll tell you. But you're not allowed to comment or judge or anything."

       He nodded and looked at me expectantly. Reluctantly, I recounted what had happened after I got home from the cottage trip with the Elite. As I had predicted, he agreed with Kaden. "You probably should've gone," he said.

       I glared at him. "You said you wouldn't say anything."

       "You said I wasn't allowed to comment or judge," he reminded me.

       "That was commenting," I told him.

       He sighed. "It'd be safer for you in Los Angeles."

       "I'm not in the mood for a lecture, Ashton," I said, rolling my eyes. "I got that from Kaden already."

       "You're treating this like it's a game, Elena," he replied.

       You have got to be kidding me.

       I scowled. "I only learned from the best."

       "I'm serious," he said.

       "So am I!" I exclaimed. "You and Kaden think I'm playing fucking Monopoly or something here! I'm not! You guys just won't tell me anything when I'm the pawn that's about to get killed off in a game of chess!"

       He was silent for a moment, then his mouth quirked up. "You know, comparing this to board games doesn't make me believe that you don't think it's a game."

       I swear he has more mood swings than a girl does when she's PMSing. "You and your friends are the ones who treat it like kindergarten circle games instead of murder."

       "You're not going to get hurt, Elle," he said, sounding serious again. See? His mood is all over the place. And they say girls are complicated. "You don't get it," he continued, oblivious to my inner seething. "Kaden and I aren't keeping things from you because we like making you mad or because we like watching you fumble around confused."

       I opened my mouth to interrupt, but he held up a hand, stopping me.

       "Don't deny it, you've accused me of it several times," he said. "We're trying to make sure you don't end up in a coffin."

       "I can take care of myself." It was probably the millionth time I had told him, but he never listened.

       "If you were only interested in taking care of yourself, you'd be on the first plane to Los Angeles right now," he pointed out.

       "Running away isn't the only form of self-preservation," I replied.

       "It's the only guaranteed one," he said.

       I sighed. "You don't have to pretend to care, Ashton."

       He stared at me. "What?"

       "You don't have to worry for Kaden," I explained. "I get enough of it from him." At this point it was the only thing that really made sense. Sometimes he cared, other times he avoided me like I was poison.

       "You think I don't- I kissed you," he said.

       I gave him a flat look. "You were drunk."

       "It takes a lot more than what I had to get me drunk, Elle," he replied.

       "Then-then stop doing things to fuck with my mind!" I sputtered. I had been counting on him being drunk as the reason why he had kissed me. Even though he hadn't really seemed drunk aside from being a little more talkative than usual.

       "I didn't kiss you to fuck with your mind!" he shot back.

       "Then why did you?"

       He stared at me. "You're an idiot."


       "It's not my fault I don't know what's going on, no one will tell- mphm!" Ashton decided to shut me up by doing the most unexpected thing-

       He kissed me.

       This time, neither of us was even the slightest bit drunk- at least, as far as I knew. He tasted like mango and pineapple, which admittedly wasn't the best with chocolate.

       But I found I didn't really care.

       Ashton Sinclair was a good kisser- not that I'd ever tell him that. My hands slipped up to grab his shoulders and I forgot about what we had been talking about before. Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew this was a horrible idea- I wasn't sure how I felt about Ashton, or how he felt about me, but I found that I didn't care about that either.

       Unlike last time, I was the one who broke away. My brain had finally started catching up with what was going on.

       "I kissed you, because I like you," Ashton said quietly.

       "You said you liking me would make things worse," I pointed out after sucking in a deep lungful of air. His forehead was against mine and my hands were still on his shoulders but for some, stupid reason, I didn't want to move.

       You are just digging yourself deeper, Lena.

       He grimaced. "It does."

       "Are you trying to get me killed?" I asked.

       "No!" he exclaimed. He took a step back and shook his head, dragging a hand through his hair. "But I don't want to see you with Jacen, either."

       What the hell? Are we on a whole other topic now? I swear it's impossible to have a normal conversation with him where we actually finish talking about something before a subject change.

       "Jacen?" I repeated. "What does he have to do with this?"

       Ashton sighed and I could almost visibly see him closing up. Not again!

       "Stop doing that!" I exclaimed.

       He stared at me. "What?"

       "Changing the topic and moods so fast!"

       He blinked. "What?"

       I let out a frustrated groan. "You drive me insane."

       "Trust me, Elle," he said with a wry smile. "The feeling's mutual."

♡ the trouble with love ♡

       The next day, I asked Ashton to drive me to school. I didn't want to miss too much, but if Kaden was there, then I couldn't really go. I still hadn't figured out how long I wanted to hide away from them. It was halfway though first period when we pulled in, so the parking lot was devoid of students.

       "Do you see his car?" I asked Ashton, glancing around. This wasn't the only parking lot at Blaire Academy, but it was the main parking lot, and the only one available to visitors.

       "No," Ashton said evenly. "But I see him."

       I swore and glanced in the direction he was looking to see Kaden standing by the front entrance. Thankfully, he was looking staring down at his phone, so he hadn't seen me yet. I ducked down in my seat, sliding until my knees touched the mats on the floor of the car.

       Ashton chuckled quietly, then unfastened his seatbelt. "I'm going to go talk to him."

       "Don't tell him I'm here," I told him.

       He raised an eyebrow. "How long are you going to keep this up for?"

       "Another hour? Day? Week? I don't know," I whispered back.

       "He was here yesterday too," Ashton remarked. "You're gonna be missing a lot of school if you want to keep it up for more than a week."

       "You know, most people would just blow it off since they have a multi-million company they can inherit." Not to mention the Elite- well, everyone at this school, actually- could hire a highly skilled tutor to make up for anything they missed.

       "But it still takes work to run that company," he said. "Besides, I'm not the one with a perfect attendance record."

       Yeah, that kind of died two months ago...

       I shook my head, then leaned back so my head was resting against the edge of the passenger seat. "Gone the moment you guys dragged me into this."

        "We really fucked up your life, didn't we?" he asked, frowning.

       I shrugged. "Yeah, I guess."

       "Sorry, Elle-" Before he could continue, though, a buzzing sound filled the car. Ashton pulled out his phone and checked the screen. "It's Kaden," he muttered. He glanced up to where Kaden still was, then back down at his phone.

       "You and Kaden text?" I asked, wide-eyed as he began typing. He nodded. I scrunched up my nose. "That's weird."

       "I have to go talk to him," Ashton said. He dropped his phone into the cup holder and opened the car door. "I'll be right back."

       I shifted forward, peeking over the dashboard to see Ashton approach Kaden. I set my hands down to steady mysel-


       My hand brushed against something sharp. I moved back and glanced down.

       What the hell?

       It was a syringe. I picked it up gingerly, careful to avoid the needle part. It was small, with a tiny bit of clear liquid still inside. It also looked familiar, but I couldn't remember from where...

       Then it clicked.

       The syringe was tiny, only the length of my pinkie finger and the width of a penny. I knew where I had seen it before; Kaden had showed me a picture of it a while ago.

       Ashton had a Methanonel syringe.

       Why the hell does he have a Methanonel syringe?

       And why would he leave it in plain sight?

       Well, maybe not plain sight, since I hadn't noticed it until I sat down. It had been almost wedged under the seat, but it still wasn't a very good hiding spot.

       What worried me more though, was why he had it. The killer had used Methanonel to kill Olivia and almost kill Skylar...

       Maybe it's not what you think.

       What other explanations were there, though?

       Methanonel wasn't something to play around with, and even with the Elite being who they were, it'd still probably be hard for them to get a hold of. It wasn't something like pepper spray that you had for self-defense, it was serious.

       To make things worse, there was only a little left, like it had already been used. On Skylar? Olivia?

       How well do I know Ashton Sinclair, really?

       Before I could think any more of it, Ashton's phone buzzed. It wasn't a text this time, though, instead someone was calling.

       Keira Winston.

       Should I answer? It wasn't my phone, but Ashton wasn't here. I couldn't go and get him since he was talking to Kaden who didn't know I was staying with Ashton. I really didn't want to have an awkward conversation with Keira -who I was ninety-nine percent sure hated me- though.

       The call stopped before I made a decision. Guess it's not answering then.

       I glanced over the dashboard again. Kaden and Ashton were still talking, but they looked tense. Then Ashton nodded and started making his way back to the car. Kaden headed to the left side of the parking lot, then disappeared behind a jeep.

       So that's why I couldn't find his car...

       Then it realized I still had the syringe in my hand and quickly shoved it back into its hiding place. I could figure out whether or not I wanted to take it later.

       "Keira called," I told Ashton when he got in the car. I didn't mention what I had found.

       "Fuck," he muttered. He sounded annoyed, and a little bit angry too.

       "What happened?" I asked.

       "Keira," he said. "They arrested her."

       I blinked. "For what?"

       "She's a suspect for Olivia's murder," he replied. "They found evidence."

       "Evidence?" I repeated.

       He nodded. "They finally got a hold of the receptionist working at the hospital that night. She said she didn't remember much, but..." he trailed off.


       "She said Keira was there the night Olivia died." He glanced at me. "And she was the last one to see her alive."

-- ♡ --
Teaser: "Don't you want to know why you're so curious about everything?"
QotC: What are you guys theories? (I asked this a while ago, but I want to see of they've changed)

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