Fuel the Fire - Krista Ritchie

[ Prologue ]

CONNOR COBALT

“Name?” Behind a desk, a woman shuffled through white cards with crimson lanyards attached.

“Richard Connor Cobalt.” I gave her an amiable smile.

She procured the corresponding nametag. “Welcome to this year’s Model UN, Richard. Good luck.” Her last phrase—while nothing more than a meaningless farewell—punctured a part of my head, poking at a nerve.

Good luck.

I liked having control of my fate. And luck meant that I had none. That I’d have to let someone inferior decide my outcome. I understood that some judges were biased, most of which I could likely outwit. But climbing over people was my specialty. I wasn’t battling a slot machine or a computer.

People were malleable. People were predictable.

I would beat the judges. I would win.

Instead of wearing my irritation, I gave her another relaxed smile and put the lanyard around my neck. She was staring at me like I was a teenage boy trying to play the role of a grown man. It was that look that dug beneath my skin, the expression that said I was small and undeserving because I was only just fifteen.

“You should remember my name,” I said.

She laughed hesitantly. “I’ll try, but there are a lot of you.”

“And yet, I’m the only one you’ll see win every year.”

Her uncertainty only grew like did I hear you right? Did you mean what I think you did?

My eyes barely flickered to her laminated pin and then I gestured absentmindedly to her stack of cards. “The twenty-seventh nametag is out of place. Rolland comes before Rose.” I smiled again. “Good luck, Marianne. You’ll need it.”

I was a prick.

An asshole.

A conceited, arrogant son of a bitch.

But to me, there was nothing more frustrating, more exasperating than being deemed unworthy for the pure fact that I was younger than whomever I faced. My thoughts, my ideas never mattered to most adults. To have someone seriously listen to me, as an equal, was nearly impossible. I was simply “a kid”—an intelligent kid but not one whose thoughts superseded theirs.

I would never talk down to an infant the way that people talked down to me, a fifteen-year-old.

I knew that I’d gain respect with age. I had to wait on some absurd timeline created by society. Bullshit, I thought. Life was bullshit, and the only way for it to not grate at me was to play along.

And so I always did.

She stared at me, open-mouthed and unsure.

I waved her goodbye, and my grin spread across my face as I walked down the lobby hallway, my leather duffel slung on my shoulder.

After I signed in, I headed towards the elevators. The hotel had sectioned off a number of floors for competitors. Faust Boarding School for Young Boys would take the sixth floor with three other preparatory schools.

Fourteen to eighteen-year-olds already rode up and down the glass elevators in boredom or with actual places to be, like me.

Guys in burnt orange blazers shuffled off the elevator. I entered and pressed the sixth floor button, tempted to hit the “close doors” button as well. But I waited, watching two girls approach. The taller one with glossy brown hair had these hellfire eyes that struck me as malevolent, pinpointed and blazing. No matter which direction she turned. Her mouth moved at a rapid pace, gesticulating angrily as she talked.

I couldn’t hear her, too much noise interference from people congesting the hotel.

I scrutinized the girls from afar. No nametags, so they hadn’t signed in yet. Both wore navy-blue plaid skirts, their white-collared blouses tucked in. I caught sight of the embroidered insignias along the breast pocket: Dalton Academy.

I didn’t have any preconceived notions of the co-ed private school. Last year, we beat them. And the year before that, we had no trouble. I assumed this year would be the same.

“No, I’m not letting it go. It’s utter bullshit, Lydia,” the taller girl cursed. They slipped into the elevator, the girl too pissed to realize that she needed to press a button, and I was too curious to interrupt.

“The manager had a point,” Lydia said with resignation. She had a slender frame, freckles, and one long, red braid.

The other girl placed her hands on her hips, fuming. She choked the elevator with each heavy inhale.

I grazed her from head to toe: black high heels, dark red lipstick, sleek brown pony and those tyrannical yellow-green eyes, burning holes into the glass. I was sharing an elevator with a tempestuous, electric storm that I refused to calm. I always wished to be swept into madness,