Chapter One: A Reunion

None of this, by the way, was my idea. It's possible that it could have been, but it wasn't. And it wasn't even Eleanor's, who is getting married and providing the excuse, and she's made that very clear to me several times. Come to think of it, I don't know whose idea it was, but it wouldn't have been my mother's and I think my father is trying to stay out of the whole thing anyway. The most likely candidate is Derek's mother, but I'm not going to decide for sure or I'll have to glare daggers at her for the next month and given my luck someone would notice and get annoyed.

But honestly, summer is for hanging out with friends (and now all of mine are in another state), for beaches (which I suppose we do have here) and pools (which we also have but don't need, what with all the beaches), for parties (with friends-I don't think parties with your half-sister's fiancé's grandmother really count, even if you love said half-sister dearly and the fiance is quite nice (and attractive, for that matter. But he's Eleanor's)), for sleeping in late in your own bedroom (and not one shared by however many cousin's they're going to cram into mine once they all start arriving) and generally doing whatever you want and not thinking very much about anything else (like your extended family).

Not this summer. Someone went a little overboard with the family reunion idea, and now I'm stuck most of the time in Florida with more people than could possibly fit in a rented house on the beach, namely Eleanor's (and Derek, Eleanor's fiancé's) entire extended family (surprisingly few of whom are actually related to me). Unfortunately, after Eleanor's father cheated on my mother, Eleanor's extended family doesn't exactly all get along, and it's a reasonably safe bet to say Derek's family has disagreements that I just don't know about yet, because all families are dysfunctional and besides, they produced Derek, which is saying less if you don't know him but is surely reason enough if you do.

But if someone gets killed, it's not my fault, and it's not Eleanor's either. And if I kill someone out of frustration... well, that's only a little bit my fault. Mostly it's the fault of my extended family, for having far too many kids.

"Audra." I scowled at my (half-I don't have any full siblings) brother Francis and he nodded. More people had arrived.

"Who is it this time?"

"Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Alexa. And Marguerite's staying with you. And you should come say hi. I know you don't like her, but Fredrick's looking mournful and I know it's because he's too shy to ask where you are."

I gave him a look, but I knew I'd come. Fredrick is one of my great blessings. He's only a year younger than I am, and he's really cool (by which I mean I like him a lot, not that he's up on all the latest trends, which sometimes he is and sometimes he isn't). I would much rather be rooming with him than with Marguerite, who can be kind of a pain, but the rooms were not co-ed and were mostly done by age, and Marguerite and I are only a few days apart. I did want to go see him, though. Generally we pretended disinterest in each other, but put us in the same room and we were inseparable, and I was going to need someone I liked to keep me sane. I set down my half-unpacked suitcase on my bed and walked to the entryway, where I assumed Uncle Jeremy's family was. There wasn't anyone there, but as I walked in the doorbell rang, so I answered it.

I pulled the door open to and looked at the family standing outside. To be honest, I was mostly looking at the son, who appeared a couple years older than I, but I registered that there were four of them and that I didn't recognize any before returning to take in teenage boy's incredibly handsome features and pale green eyes.

I was glad when the father said hello, because I might have just stood there staring otherwise.

"Hello. Are you related to Derek?" I figured he must be, since I didn't recognize him. I couldn't remember how many relatives Derek had or when they were planning to show up, and Derek was attractive, so it made sense he'd have an attractive cousin, even if Derek was blond and this cousin was dark, like Eleanor and Francis.

"Derek? Oh no. I'm Eleanor's father, Casey."

I stiffened. I almost spit out that Casey had given up being Eleanor's father when he'd slept with That Woman, but the more rational part of my brain was pointing out that That Woman was almost certainly standing on the doorstep, and that we had invited them (who had made that decision? They should be shot. And now I'm going to have to spend the whole reunion reminding myself that the eye candy is related to the cheating scum and should not be trusted no matter what) and that I had to be polite. Be polite. Introduce yourself.

"I'm Audra."

"Cynthia's youngest! It's a pleasure to meet you. And allow me to introduce my wife, Dina, and my children, Edwin and Carolina."

"It's a pleasure to meet you too." Not. Well, it might be a pleasure to meet you, Edwin, but it's not a pleasure to meet your lying, cheating, scumball father who ruined my mother's self-confidence and left her with two small children to raise on her own while he went out and... "Come in. I'm sure someone around here knows where you should put your stuff." Well, really you should take your stuff and put it back in the car and drive back to wherever you came from and don't even think about darkening my doorstep (or the doorstep of a house my family happens to be renting in Florida) ever, ever again.

That was when Francis walked in. "Dad. It's good to see you. And Audra, I was wondering where you went."

"I was looking for Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Alexa's family. I thought they would be at the front."

"No, they came in the back, but they're here now."

It was then I noticed that Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Alexa had come in the room behind Francis, followed by Marguerite, Jesse, Sheila, and Fredrick. I dutifully hugged my aunt and uncle and watched, amused, as Sheila and Marguerite looked at Edwin in the same way I had (although he, thankfully, did not appear to notice-not even Marguerite deserves to have her heart broken by a cheating bastard (and the bastard part, in this case, is literal; it was Dina's pregnancy with Edwin that caused Casey to own up to his affair, but it had taken a while to get his divorce from my mother finalized and they hadn't gotten married until a couple years after he was born) or a cheating bastard's (not literal this time, as far as I know) son). Then I said, "Where's Everett?"

Everett is Uncle Jeremy and Aunt Alexa's oldest son, and while I don't know him particularly well or care all that much if he was present, I did remember that he existed.

"Everett's flying out separately," Aunt Alexa said. That made sense. Everett was in graduate school now, he couldn't be expected to obey the laws of us mere mortals, still dependent on our families.

"So," Francis said, "let me tell you which rooms you're staying in. Marguerite, you're with Audra, and she can show you where that is." I didn't stay to here the rest, but beckoned Marguerite to follow me.

As soon as we were out of the room she said in a low voice, "He is so hot. So, so hot."

"He's related the cheater."

"Admit it: he's hot."

"It's irrelevant."

"You're not an exact copy of your mother, are you?"

"No."

"So he's not an exact copy of his father, either. I bet he wouldn't cheat. And he's so much more attractive, clearly."

"Are you sure? You think Casey might have been that good-looking when he was younger?"

"Ha. I doubt it. I don't think there's enough good-looking left in the world for another one of him."

I snorted. "You're exaggerating. There are plenty of movies stars that are better."

"Maybe a couple. But oh God, I am even starting to look forward to this vacation."

"He'd never look at you." He might, I thought privately. More likely than him looking at me. Not that I'd want him to. Just that Marguerite was stylish and almost beautiful, and I was pretty ordinary.

"Wanna bet?"

I didn't, so I didn't answer. "We're at our room. We should start unpacking."