The one–storey house was dark and dusty what with spider webs hanging from the corners of the rooms and dusty and scratched windows giving a sense of horror to the dwelling. Even the ceiling fan was giving up on the very, very humble abode. It was creaking every time it spun, and it looked ready to fall off. Some of the floor boards had also gone missing, and those that remained were so dirty they looked more like hardened mud than wood. Things had been better actually until the global recession took its toll. The house had been in a better state, but now it was barely even livable, and that was why Emmanuelle Santoro Farris was forced to move out, to leave Mexico and go to the U.S. to stay with her father.

"I told you, Emmanuelle," Maria Santoro answered, her voice heavy with a Spanish accent. "You're better off with your father. I'm working two jobs already, and still, I can barely support us."

Emmanuelle, or Elle as her friends usually called her, raised her arms up in the air before flailing them down once again in irritation. Groaning, she paced across the room then stood beside her luggage. It was only one, big duffel bag, but that was enough to fit all her valuables – a few clothes, shoes, and her MP3 player. Her bag spoke for itself – her mother was right. They barely had any money, and she was going to die from starvation if she stayed in Guadalajara.

"So you're sending me away, but not your foster kids?" She was growing selfish, but she didn't realize that. All she cared about at the moment was to get a point across. "You're kicking out your own daughter?"

"Emmanuelle!" Her mother raised her voice, grabbing the attention of the neighbors. The house was that cramped up and small. Elle also noticed that the screams and laughter coming from the other rooms had grown silent. Obviously, her adopted siblings were listening. "These kids don't have parents to go to, but you have a father who is more than willing to take you in. Why are you so ungrateful?"

She stayed silent and listened to her mother's angry rant.

"Even if your father continues to send me money, it's still not enough, you hear me? I have your half–sisters' kids to take care of since they, too, barely earn anything. I also have your adopted brothers and sisters to look after. I foot the water and electricity bills in this place, and the food and the tuition fees. All I'm asking from you is to lessen the heavy burden on my shoulders."

Emmanuelle's eyes darkened. She loved her half–sisters and all the kids her mother adopted. They entertained her. Life was fun because of them. Most of them were her accomplices in all her scheming plans, but now, she loved to hate them. She was going away because of them, and with anger bubbling up inside her, she threw out the last speck of patience and understanding in her body.

"So I'm the one who has to pay the price for everyone's fuck–ups?"

Her mother's eyes turned to look at her, and Emmanuelle knew that if she didn't shut up soon enough, she was going to get slapped.

"So you want to lessen your burdens?" the eighteen–year old asked. Technically, she was a legal adult already, but she didn't dare disrespect her mother for fear of disownment. Yes, she might have always answered back when she had a point, but she knew her limits. "I'm guessing I'm a burden. I'm one of your screw–ups, yeah?"

Slap.

"Listen Emmanuelle, if I didn't fuck up with your father, you wouldn't even be here."

With that, all the teenager could do was laugh, and she continued doing so, not even bothering to hide the fact that she was guffawing at her mother and not with her. Her chuckle had an evil, suspicious tinge to it. On the outside, she seemed apathetic to her mother's painful jibe, but on the inside, she was trying not to let the words affect her.

"Then goodbye, mama," she began, her voice stony. "I have father's life to go screw up now."

After saying those things, she slung her bag over her shoulder, left the house, and walked over to her pick–up truck. It was a second–hand Ford Ranger which she had bought the moment she turned eighteen. It was aged – dusty, barely functioning, and a manual – but the point was it still worked, and she loved the rusty old tool for that. And right now, it was going to take her to sunny California, but before that, she had to swap 'goodbye's with a few of her friends, so after turning on her engine, she drove off to her best friend's house – a bungalow that was identical to her own home. On the way there, she began contemplating on what had just happened a few minutes ago. Her 'goodbye' was much worse than she expected. She didn't even say 'bye' to her sisters and brothers and didn't even hug them or her mother. She just knew this mess was going to follow her to California. She hadn't realized she was already in her friend's house until an all–too familiar voice came thundering down from the front porch.

"Elle!" The recognizable boisterous voice of Pilar Santiago enveloped the air. "I can't believe this is really happening, chica!"

She had left the porch and proceeded to lean against one of Emmanuelle's car doors. After a minute or two, the balcony door opened, and out came a number of other people. They were laughing at one another, but after they noticed the Mexican–American's pick–up they all sobered up.

"Eh Emmanuelle, take care of yourself, comprendé?" One of the guys, Paolo, said. Then, he leaned forward into the car to hug Elle. "Visit us, okay?"

Afraid to say anything else for fear of tearing up, she gave him a small, curt nod, and after that, Paolo stepped backward and gave room for the others to give out proper 'goodbyes'."

"And when you do, amiga," Michaela, another friend, began. "Tell us all about them hot Americans, yeah?"

Elle rolled her eyes. That was so expected of her - the flirt of the group.

"Oh, wow. I really feel the sympathy." Elle then turned off the engine and decided to step out of her car. "But I'll definitely visit, guys. I just don't know how often that will be."

Everyone shook his or her head.

"The crew won't be the same without you." That was Pilar, and from the corner of Elle's eyes, she could see her best friend start to cry. "The competitions will never feel the same."

Everyone nodded and muttered a 'yeah'.

"We're losing our best dancer," Carlos, whom everyone deemed as 'leader' of the group, said. He got a few light punches from the guys and raised eyebrows from the women. "And that's saying something."

Emmanuelle couldn't help but smile. Her friends were the greatest, and she just knew she'd never find a group quite like that in California, the kind of people who sympathized with you one minute and then made stupid jokes the next. She'd been through a lot with these people, with or without the dancing part, and thinking of them, she couldn't help but let the waterworks escape.

"Elle, don't be such a pussy…" That was Paolo. "You're going to rub off on us."

Laughter ensued.

"Eh, don't mind him," Pilar said, smiling. "Cry if you want to."

Margarita, another member of the crew, added, "And real men cry. Let's see who among these babies are as tough as their words."

The guys all cocked up their eyebrows at the petite Hispanic while the females doubled up in laughter, challenging the guys to, yes, cry.

"I'm out," another one of the guys said, probably hiding his watery eyes. "Here's a gift from all of us, Elle."

She accepted the small package and placed it on her lap. Knuckles cracking, she was ready to tear open the wrapper when a hand stopped her. She looked up and met everyone's eyes. They were looking at her like they were never going to see each other again, and she swore to herself that if she saw a tear escape someone's eyes, she wouldn't be able to leave anymore.

"Open it when you're on the road or when you get to your new house." Carlos overlapped his hand over hers. "Hope you'll like it."

That was the last word spoken, and when everyone started waving 'goodbye', she turned on her engine, placed the car on first gear, turned down the hand break, and drove off. The wind was warm and strong against her face as she kept driving. Her windows were down. The sun was high up. The traffic was heavy. And her surroundings were noisy. She sighed. This was going to be a long drive.


Elle had crossed the border a day ago. Barren lands of dust, stones, and mud were all she saw for one, whole day. The eerie silence of hearing only the wind lapping against her car had become a familiar sound to her already. Barely trekked roads weren't unusual sights to her anymore. All these were signs that she was getting closer to 'Doomsville' although many would prefer to call the place Beverly Hills. It was already her second day on the road, and she was driving on one of the main highways of California. In about a couple of hours or so, she was finally going to see her father, the man she'd never seen or talked to, and his new family, the people he exchanged her mother and her for. Thinking, she shook her head. She couldn't understand why her mother still talked to him, Elle's father, and why he was so willing to take her in. She started pondering again. Was he trying to make–up for the eighteen years he could've spent getting to know his own daughter?

Bullshit, Elle thought, and the she grew irritated.

Her whole family was bullshit, how she was a mistake of both her mother and her father, how she was being transferred from place to place depending on who wanted to take care of her for the time being, how her mother chose her adopted kids over her real one, and how her sisters kept having children but left their mother to fend for the youngsters. It seemed like there was no sweeter way to live her life than to be disowned, but to legally have no family meant her end, really. She could work a number of jobs, but those wouldn't get her far, and even if she was a brilliant dancer, she knew that meant nothing in America if she had zero connections. The pessimism just kept coming, and the more she drowned herself in misery, the more she was oblivious to the fact that she had one more problem to face.

In the middle of the highway and amidst cars zooming past her, her truck was slowly breaking down. She could feel the engine start to turn off even if she was stepping on the clutch, and the steam coming out from the hood of her car – that caught the attention of a few people. She changed to the fifth gear, and sped off to the exit she was supposed to go to. She continued driving, ignoring the luxury cars just parked on the sidewalks. All she needed and wanted was to get to her father's house. After asking a number of bystanders for the proper directions, she finally stood in front of her father's not–so humble dwelling. Also, her car decided to finally give up, and steam shamelessly spewed from the front of her car the exact moment a family of three came out of the house that stood before her.

There was a man, a woman, and another male that looked to be the same age as Elle was. They were all smiling down at her, and she was debating with herself whether or not the grins on their faces were genuine or not. What caught her attention the most though was the teenager that stood in between the man she supposed was her father and a woman whom the teen resembled. He was gorgeous, probably the most handsome man she had ever met in her life. She just knew he was American, but he wasn't the typical Californian what with his mocha–colored strands and captivating caramel orbs. He was tall, a very nice height of 6'3", if she estimated correctly, and the best part was he didn't look stuck–up. He was smiling at her.

"It's finally nice to see my daughter," the smaller one of the two men said, breaking her daughter's reverie.

Emmanuelle remained glued to her place despite the fact that her father had opened his arms to take her in for a hug. She had never met the guy, never even talked to him. All communication was done between him and her mother, yet he acted like Elle had been living with him instead of her mother.

"It's nice to see you too, Hugh," she returned, using his first name.

She definitely wasn't going to act like they were all buddy–buddy, and Hugh was already eighteen years too late for that.

"I hope your trip wasn't too tiresome." The female – Hugh's new wife – said. She still had that smile on her face, and it nerved Emmanuelle. "I'm Daphne Farris by the way."

She stepped forward to plant a light kiss on the Mexican's cheeks, and Emmanuelle shrugged off the awkward feeling inside her.

"My trip wasn't so stressful," she answered, her voice obviously plastic yet the grown–ups didn't catch that. "My car just broke down."

A soft chuckle was heard in the background, and when Elle turned to look up, she came face to face with the guy she had been daydreaming about just a few seconds ago. He still had a smile plastered on his way, and Elle thought there was no way in hell the guy was that happy to see her.

"Emmanuelle, this is Logan," Hugh Farris introduced. "He's your step–brother."

Emmanuelle blushed. She'd been thinking about him in a not–so brotherly way. When she shrugged off the awkward feeling inside her, she cocked her eyebrows upward. Logan, as her father had introduced him, offered his hand and extended it to her. Elle then eyed the hand suspiciously. What was she supposed to do with his hand?

"You shake it." She looked up and sent him a glare. He knew exactly what she was thinking about. "Out of respect."

"We're supposed to be 'siblings'," she said. She still didn't know if she was supposed to be nice to the guy. "You don't 'shake hands' with your brothers and sisters."

Sighing, Logan answered, "I wouldn't know. I don't have any."

Then that caught her attention and broke her walls of safety and privacy. He was an only child from both his father and mother's sides? Was that even possible? She couldn't help but gawk at him. She had never met anyone who had no siblings. In Mexico, most of the families reached double–digits, whether or not the kids were adopted. She had to tell her friends back in Mexico about Logan and about him being an only child…until now. Without even thinking, Emmanuelle curved her lips upward into a smile and embraced her step–brother. Yes, she pitied him, and also, he was gorgeous she couldn't resist embracing him.

"In Mexico, we hug."

Logan looked mischievous.

"But you aren't in Mexico anymore." His voice was teasing. "But thank you, really. It's nice to finally have a sister."

"And another addition to the family." That was Daphne. "Are you hungry, Emmanuelle? The chef can stir something up for you."

"Terribly hungry, but I'd like to deal with my car first." She kicked her truck's bumper, and lo and behold, it detached itself and landed on the hot asphalt. "If you guys catch my drift."

Hugh and Daphne shook their heads and looked at the Ford Ranger sympathetically. Logan, on the other hand, decided to practice gallantry.

"I know the owner of the town's best car shop, and if you want, we'll take your truck there later after you grab a bite to eat."

"Seriously?"

Logan nodded his head.

"If that's the case then thank you," she said, smiling up at him. "And by the way, you're taking the whole 'brother–sister' thing a little too far."

"It's eighteen–years of loneliness unleashing itself." He stuck a tongue out at her. "Take it or leave it."

Grabbing her duffel bag from the passenger seat, she answered, "I'll take it."


A necklace. Her friends had given her a necklace, but what was beautiful about the gift was the pendant. It had all her crew members' signatures engraved on the oblong–shaped metal. She then laughed when she saw the guys' penmanship. It was worse than chicken scratch, but seeing their signatures was endearing, so it was just right that she immediately wore the necklace. Before she could begin unpacking her other things though, her bedroom door opened, and in came Hugh. He strode over to the edge of her king–sized bed then sat down on it.

"Hey kiddo, how's California so far?" he asked, getting comfortable by stretching his legs out wide.

Elle chuckled lightly before she dropped her bag and answered, "I wouldn't know. I haven't seen much yet."

"Much is an understatement." They both shared a laugh before sobering up, and Elle knew that now that the pleasantries had been put aside, her father was going to start the more serious topics. He surely did. "How's your mother, Emmanuelle? Have you told her you've arrived already?"

Elle's already small smile faltered even more. Honestly, she had made up her decision and decided she wasn't going to call her mother not until her anger dissipated which would probably take a week, at the least. She was still mad at the fact that she was going to start a new life. Didn't her mom know how hard it was to make friends on one's last year in high school? In Mexico, the new kids ended up becoming losers unless they were either undoubtedly hot or undoubtedly talented. Elle knew her new school was going to be the same, if not worse.

"I'm not speaking to her at the moment." Her expression was stern. "So no, I haven't told her, and to answer your other question, she's doing more than fine now that she has lesser problems to deal with."

Hugh quickly caught the underlying tone and meaning in his daughter's response. He wasn't a Harvard graduate and one of the most successful businessmen in the country for nothing.

"You're not a problem, and you'll be going to Mexico during the breaks anyway." He stood up from the bed and waked over to Elle. "She made you come here because she loves you. She knows that your life will be more comfortable if you live with me than with her."

Elle rolled her eyes.

"I'm not materialistic, Hugh."

Her father chuckled before walking over to the doorway. He came in after a while now with a medium–sized package in his arms.

"I didn't mean that." He then turned serious. "Just trust me when I say she loves you. She really does."

And that was that. After placing the package on her desk, he gave her head small pat and finally left her bedroom. Elle then warily eyed the present in front of her before she carefully unwrapped the gift. She laughed when she saw what her father had bought for her. He had given her a new laptop right after she told him she wasn't materialistic. She couldn't help but roll her eyes at the irony. And that was when her stomach grumbled. It continued eliciting dissonant noises, so Elle had no choice but to go down and eat. Finding the kitchen was a real challenge, and she had managed to get a peep of a number of rooms, the indoor swimming pool, the sauna, the gym, the living room, the entertainment room, and a number of closets before she got to the dining room which was adjacent to the kitchen. When she finally got there, she walked over to the refrigerator and opened one of its doors. She was reaching to get a carton of orange juice when a voice stopped her.

"Can you make me a sandwich and make it fast." The tone wasn't even asking. It was commanding. "I'm starved."

Emmanuelle turned around, eyebrows up.

"Excuse me?" she asked, her Spanish accent extremely thick.

"Sandwich–oh, make me–oh?" The guy's hand gestures looked stupid, but Emmanuelle didn't laugh. "Understand–oh, amiga?"

"Sorry?"

The person exhaled deeply as if he was annoyed, but despite his rudeness, Emmanuelle couldn't help but stare at the guy. He was leaning on one of the black marble counter tops, and his arms stretched out at his sides in arrogance. He was probably the most handsome guy she had ever met in his life, next to Logan of course. Her step–brother was just unmatched in the looks department, but needless to say, the guy standing in front of her was also completely gorgeous, and even though they were glaring at her, his crystal blue eyes, slightly covered by his dirty blonde hair, just drew her in.

"You're the new maid, right?" The teenager asked, smirking. "The one they ordered from the agency a few days ago?"

"What?" Emmanuelle's voice grew bitter.

"Logan told me his step–sister was going to live here, and that they needed more household help, so…" His lips immediately clammed up. "Why the hell am I even explaining this shit to you?" He then ran a hand through his hair. "Listening to me isn't part of your job."

"My job?"

Emmanuelle was growing annoyed. He might have not said it directly, but she was sure he was degrading her, not that working as a helper was derogatory. It was just that she wasn't even wearing some French maid outfit or something, and yet the guy was already assuming she was working for her own father.

"I suggest you change into your maid uniform before Mr. and Mrs. Farris fire you."

She was about to say something along the lines of disrespectful and downright unacceptable when another person decided to enter the conversation and clear things up.

"I can't believe you, Jake." That was Logan, and the smirk he had on his face reached the tips of his ears. "You already managed to insult my sister even before I introduced you guys."

Jake eye's widened like a pair of saucers when the realization hit him. The expression on his face was indescribable, even priceless, but instead of firing an immediate apology, he proceeded to laugh, clutching his stomach as he banged a fist on the kitchen counter.

"I can't believe that just happened," Jake barked out loud, glancing over at Emmanuelle, who was anything but amused. "You should've videoed that, man! And I wasn't even drunk!"

Emmanuelle and Logan shared suspicious glances.

"But she's not American," Jake then said when he straightened up. "So how…?"

"Her father's Hugh, and her mother's Mexican."

"Oh."

Emmanuelle rolled her eyes. The guy might have been hot, but his personality was apparently the exact opposite – arrogant, racist, and blunt. In short, it sucked, and she'd have to tell Michaela how much of a jackass American guys were.

"But I have to admit, man." Jake's tone was suggestive. "Your sister's hot."

Logan laughed.

"Birds of the same feather flock together."

"And that's why you're my best friend, man, next to Cassandra of course."

Whoever Cassandra was, Elle didn't care. Jake's personality was growing from bad to worse as each second passed. Then, Jake began laughing at his shallow attempt at a joke. Emmanuelle, on the other hand, wasn't even smiling. She knew first impressions weren't everything, but Jake had to be an exception. Her final judgment on him was that he was a hot jackass. He was most certainly attractive, but she wasn't going to take any of his crap. She hadn't even been in the States for more than half a day, and she had already labeled someone her 'enemy'. Although deep inside her, she just knew that Jake wasn't going to be her last one.

"Hey Logan, are we going to get my truck fixed now?"

Her brother nodded, and once again, Jake had something insulting to say.

"That piece of trash parked in the drive way is yours?" Jake's eyes were smiling mischievously. "It isn't going to get fixed anymore, babe. Sorry to tell you that." Emmanuelle groaned in irritation. The guy was just digging himself a deeper hole in her 'hate' list. "And even if it could still be repaired, who'd want to drive that junk through Rodeo drive?"

"I do."

Jake laughed unabashedly before he turned to face his best friend.

"What's your sister's name?"

"Emmanuelle but just call her Elle," Logan answered, standing by his step–sister.

"Well, Ellie…"

"He said 'Elle'."

The Mexican's tone was sharp when she corrected him.

"I'm giving you a nickname, don't you like that?" Emmanuelle was nowhere near amused at Jake. "Don't answer that, and I'm just saying...even if you're hot and voluptuous and all, your rack or your ass still can't hide the fact that you're car's dunzo. It's a goner."

"Say that again, and your sex life will be a goner," Elle answered back, eyes glaring at Jake's like a pair of daggers.

"Then before your truck and my crotch meet their ends, why don't we get it on at the trunk of your car? Hmmm?"

Emmanuelle feigned a thoughtful expression. She was smiling and was in the process of closing the distance between Jake and her. Jake, on the other hand, eyed his best friend's sister. He was just amazed at the way her curves fit in all the right places although he'd never tell her that. He was more than willing to retain their hate–hate relationship. It was too much fun except for the part when she kicked him where it hurt the most.

"It's nice meeting you, Jake." She wasn't even smirking despite the fact that she had just crushed his ego...and his manhood. "I'll go get my car fixed now."

"Nice to meet you too, Ellie."

For a second there, she didn't know whether to insult him more or just let the issue go and walk away. Surprisingly and considering she had a pride of her own, Elle chose the latter and followed Logan to the front of the house. While walking, she couldn't help but think about the things that had just happened. It was only her first hour in her new home and she had managed to find a possible confidante in Logan and a sure enemy in Jake. Things were surely going to get more interesting after today.


Author's Note:

Aloha! Haha! Hey everyone (again), and as promised, I posted this chapter right after updating and finally finishing 'Bleeding Love'. Now that you've been introduced to Elle, Logan, and Jake, I hope you'll love them as much as you did my other characters! Hope ya'll like the start, and please do leave a review and tell me what you think!;p And how can I forget...BIG, BIG thank you to my Beta The Brat Prince.