Influenced

INFLUENCED EBOOK NEW.jpg

Title: Influenced

Series: The Influenced Series #1

Release Date: June 10th, 2022

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Welcome to the Swype House,

where the secrets are bigger than the…

 

The rules are simple:

Fake it for the cameras.

Do it for the views.

Don’t kill each other. 

 

It felt like an easy yes when I was invited to change my bio from, “Kaia Blakely, college student,” to “Kaia Blakely, newest influencer at the Swype House.”

 

Then I met Declan Royce. His profile highlights his looks and his humor, but it ought to read, “Owner of an ego so large, it was given its own zip code.”

 

Suddenly, not killing each other feels like an impossible task.

 

So yes, it was death threats we were whispering in the background of that viral video, not sweet nothings. So no, there’s zero reason to keep the #Kailan hashtag trending.

 

Except that it’s our job. So it looks like we’re adding another rule to the list:

 

Don’t let anyone find out the truth.

CHAPTER ONE:

Kaia

“Shit, shit, shit!”

        I run through the airport, dragging my suitcase with one broken wheel behind me as I weave in and out of the crowd. Dirty looks are shot my way, and while my cheeks pink with embarrassment, I’m way too close to missing my flight to slow down.

        Glancing at my ticket to see what gate I’m supposed to be at, I don’t notice the poor woman who steps directly in my path until I’m inches away from her. I’m moving too fast to stop, and even my quick attempt to avoid collision doesn’t save me from barreling into her.

        “Hey!” she shouts.

        I turn around, running backward toward my gate. “I’m so sorry!”

       The moment the backs of my legs meet the hard surface, I know putting my attention anywhere but in front of me was a big mistake, but it's too late. You would think over a decade of gymnastics would make me more agile, but as I tumble over someone's suitcase, looking like a baby gazelle on ice skates, the truth comes out.

        It’s as if time stops, and everyone looks at me like they’re waiting to find out if something is broken. Thankfully, my luck isn’t that bad.

        Still horrible, don’t get me wrong, but not missed my flight because I broke my arm horrible.

        I rush up to my gate just as they’re about to close the doors, gasping for air as I shove my ticket at the gate attendant. She freezes, her eyes scanning my body, and when I look to see what’s bothering her, I realize the horrible state I’m in.

        My shirt is on inside out.

        My sweatpants are backward.

        I’m wearing two different shoes.

        And I’m sure my hair looks like something out of Beetlejuice after my losing battle with a suitcase.

        “Are you sure you’re going to Los Angeles?” she questions, looking at the ticket and then back at me.

        I swallow harshly and try to find control of my breathing. “Yep.”

        Her brows raise as she scans the ticket and hands it back to me. “Good luck.”

        “Thanks.” I have a feeling I’m going to need it.

        I make my way down the jetway and onto the plane, taking my seat in first class—the one luxury I allowed myself for the four-and-a-half-hour flight. My fingers run through my tangled hair until I give up and lean my head against the window, watching as we pull away from the terminal.

        With the plane in the air, I close my eyes and feel as the place I’ve known all my life passes by beneath us. See you later, Michigan. This girl is headed to the City of Angels.

 

        LANDING IN LOS ANGELES, everything looks just as busy as I imagined it. People are rushing around, all looking like I did this morning but with a lot more grace. I’m both in awe and overwhelmed as I take everything in. It’s everything I imagined it would be and so much more.

        I grab my suitcase from baggage claim and immediately find the nearest bathroom. My invitation may be based entirely off my follower count, but if I show up there looking like this, Beau Mitchell may very well rescind his offer.

        As soon as I get into the stall, I throw my suitcase open inside the tight space. I pull out my favorite pair of jeans and a crop top, along with flip flops—ones that actually match. Once I’m done, and after a struggle that’s on par for my luck with suitcases today, I make my way over to the mirror.

        Doing my makeup has never been something I particularly excel at. To be honest, I’d rather just throw my hair in a ponytail, put on a little eyeliner, and call it a day. But this place, the magic that happens here, feels like it deserves the extra effort.

        It may take six different tries and an aspiring actress to make me look presentable, but it happens, and that’s what matters. I thank her profusely and walk out of the bathroom looking like I somewhat belong in this place. Or at least I’m hoping I do.

        My ride is waiting by the time I get outside.

        “I’m so sorry for your wait,” I tell him.

        He smiles politely. “It’s not a problem, Miss Blakely.”

       As he loads my suitcase into the back of the car, I climb into the back seat. My whole body is buzzing with excitement and nerves. I swallow down the lump in my throat and stare out the window as the driver pulls away from the curb and navigates the LA traffic with a practiced skill.

        Here goes nothing.

 

        THE CAR PULLS UP to the house, and I damn near choke on my water. When Beau Mitchell reached out to me with this crazy opportunity, I knew the house would be amazing. After all, it’s home to all of Swype’s most popular influencers—girls and guys with the big followings and even bigger bank accounts.

        The fact that I’m becoming a part of this is still hard to believe. I only started posting videos on the app because I thought the dances were fun. It was simply a way to pass the time. I never expected to be someone that people look up to. An average girl turned viral sensation practically overnight. I don’t think I’ll ever fully get used to it.

        I step out of the car and admire the mansion in front of me—an all-white, modern looking house with massive windows and a door that is twice my height. The grass is perfectly cut, and palm trees outline the property.

        The Swype House LA.

        Yeah, it’s definitely as intimidating as it sounds.

        Joining a content house was never something I set out to accomplish. I was attending NYU with my best friend Juliet, and my life was good, but when the opportunity was presented, I couldn’t turn it down. To be able to collaborate with the most loved and envied stars of our generation? People would kill for that chance. So, I dropped out of college, listened to my father lecture me about how I’m throwing my life away, and booked a plane ticket.

        “Kaia!” Beau greets me as he comes outside. “I’m so glad you’re here. How was your flight?”

        “It was…smooth.”

        It’s not exactly a lie. The flight itself was fine. It was getting to the flight that had me feeling like I was a tribute in The Hunger Games.

        “That’s good. Have you gotten to see any of LA yet?”

        I shake my head. “Just what you drive past going from the airport to here.”

        “Okay. Well, there’s plenty of time and a lot to see.” He takes my suitcase from the driver and tips him well. “Come on. I’ll show you the house.”

        Nervously, I follow behind Beau. His pictures really don’t do him justice. He’s got a perfect smile and short brown hair, and I’m almost positive there is a six-pack beneath the loosely fitted shirt he has on. But his looks are only an added benefit. They’re not what got him where he is today.

        Beau is the founder of the Swype House. The whole content house concept was his idea, and he managed to get the backing of the Swype app behind him on it—hence the name of the house. He’s basically a genius when it comes to the business side of things. And as if that wasn’t enough, he’s also an extremely talented musician.

        Of course, I should note that the only reason I know all of this is because of my best friend, Jules. She went on a three-hour long rant that included stalking all his social media and watching videos on YouTube. She may have a little bit of a crush, and is both happy for me and jealous that I’ll be living in the same house as the man she calls “God’s gift to guitar.”

        Stepping into the house, my eyes widen as I look around. There is a giant chandelier overhead, with a staircase to the left of the massive foyer. You can see straight through to the back of the house, with floor to ceiling windows showcasing the pool outside. Beau leaves my suitcase by the door and leads me further into the house.

        “This is the kitchen,” he tells me, waving his hands around. “Help yourself to anything you want. Just write on the whiteboard when we’re out of something or if there is something specific you want from the store for when we do the grocery order.”

        The kitchen is immaculate. It has all top-of-the-line appliances, including a refrigerator that could easily fit me and a few friends inside. On the other side of the island is a dining table big enough for a crowd.

        He leads me into the living room, featuring the biggest TV screen I’ve ever seen outside of a movie theater and a huge wrap-around couch. The whole right wall is filled by a neon sign that says Swype House LA.

        “Your standard living room. TV is fair game, just don’t fight over it or use it to watch porn.”

        I choke on air. “No offense, Beau, but I don’t think this is anyone’s definition of a standard living room.”

        He smirks. “So you’re just not going to comment on the porn?”

        “Has that been an actual problem before?”

        “You’d be surprised,” he says with a sigh. “Come. I’ll show you the backyard and introduce you to some of the crew, and then I’ll show you your bedroom.”

        I admire every inch of the place that I can while I follow him out the back door—which is just as massive as the front, just glass instead. The warm Los Angeles air is definitely something I can get used to as the sun kisses my skin.

        “Guys, this is Kaia,” he tells them.

        I turn away from the two girls lounging by the pool and toward where he’s talking. My eyes widen when they land on a halfpipe, built right there on the side of the yard. It doesn’t look like it was just thrown together, either. It was meticulously and professionally built. Attached to it is a smaller ramp and a flat platform.

        Two guys are sitting on the edge with their boards, while another guy and a girl are goofing off at the bottom of the halfpipe. He’s nudging her off the board while she laughs and tries taking it from him.

        “Kaia, this is Havoc and Rhys,” he says, pointing at the two sitting together. “And that’s Dex and Oakley.”

        Dex looks up at the sound of his name and he makes no attempt to hide the way his gaze rakes over me. His stare feels intense, like I’m being evaluated. Thankfully, my attention is pulled away before I can crumble under the pressure.

        “Is this the new chick?” asks one of the girls at the pool.

        Her blonde hair is tied up in a messy bun and a dark pair of sunglasses rest gently on the bridge of her nose.

        “New chick,” echoes the girl next to her with a chuckle. “As if you weren’t binging all of her videos yesterday.”

        The blond smiles guiltily. “You never let me have any fun.” She turns her attention back to me. “Hi. I’m Lux. And this is Maisee.”

        “Kaia,” I say with a half wave.

        They both smile, and the one with shoulder length black hair is the one who breaks the momentary awkward silence. “We know. You’re only one of the most talked about girls on Swype.”

        “It’s only because I’m fresh meat. Wait until someone else comes out of nowhere. Then I’ll be old news, and you’ll be kicking my ass out of this hotel-turned-house to make room for the next best thing.”

        Lux’s grin widens. “Don’t worry. If that happens, you can just sleep in my closet.”

        A few of the housemates snort while I tilt my head to the side, smiling amusedly. “Thanks…I think.”

        “No one is going to be kicking you out,” Beau assures me with an arm draped around my shoulders. “You’re part of our family now. We take that very seriously.”

        "And how do you feel about interfamilial murder?” I nod my head toward where the two on top of the halfpipe are wrestling, with the one nearly pushing the other off.

        Beau sighs heavily. “Havoc! Don’t break Rhys. If he can’t train for the X Games, he’ll kill you in your sleep.”

        “Jokes on you,” he claps back. “I don’t sleep. Although, I might reconsider if our newest member provides a go-down service.”

        “You mean a turn-down service?” Maisee asks.

        Havoc looks from her to me and tongues his lip ring. “Nope.”

        “Ugh,” Lux scoffs. “You’re incorrigible.”

        “Ooh, look at Luxie-lou with the big words.”

        “You want another one? Sanguinary.”

        As the two of them mock each other, I glance over at Dex, only to see him already looking back at me. There’s something in his gaze I can’t seem to pinpoint. Curiosity, maybe, with a bit of heat. And yet, it feels intimidating. Like he’s already not my biggest fan but also wants to know more about me at the same time.

        “Okay,” Beau says, cutting off Lux and Havoc. “I’m going to show Kaia her room before you guys have her jumping on the next flight out of here.”

        He starts to lead me away while the girls wave at me, including Oakley, who has stopped focusing on her skateboard for the moment. The guys, however, immediately go back to what they were doing before I arrived, except Havoc, who winks at me for the sole intention of further irking Lux.

        “Sorry about them,” Beau says as soon as we get inside.

        I shake my head. “Oh, it’s fine. My best friend has an older brother. I’m used to it.”

        “Oh, good. So, you won’t scare easily, then.”

        “Definitely not.”

        He grabs my suitcase from the front door and carries it up the stairs for me, then heads down the hallway. Whereas I’m used to a college dorm, with doors as close together as they can manage, this is the complete opposite, with long swathes of space between each entryway.

        “So, you’ve got Lux right next door, and I’m down the hall, and this…”—he opens the door to my new room—“…is yours.”

        It’s gorgeous, if a little big, with a king-sized bed against the far wall and an attached bathroom. The white furniture set stands out against the dark gray wall and reflects the sunlight that shines through the window.

        “If you don’t like it, there’s one more room I can give you,” Beau offers. “But be aware, it’s right next to Havoc’s, and he wasn’t kidding when he said he doesn’t sleep.”

        I shake my head. “No, this is perfect.”

        Walking around the room, I’m in awe with what my life has become. I honestly never thought things would turn out like this. And despite the fact that my father insists I’m throwing my life away, I have a good feeling about this move.

        “Well, great.” Beau claps his hands together. “I’ll let you get settled in. We have dinner together every night, as a way to stay connected. We can go over how everything works then. Just be downstairs by six.”

        “Sounds good. Thanks, Beau.”

        “Thank you. I meant it when I said I think you’ll be a great addition to the house.”

        I smile sweetly and he returns it, closing the door as he leaves. Inhaling slowly, I let it out and look around. With all the strength I have, I haul my suitcase onto the bed and push it open.

        Breathe, Kaia. You’ve got this.

 

        AN HOUR PASSES BY quickly as I unpack, setting up my room exactly how I want it. My clothes are hung nicely in the closet that is larger than my dorm room. A picture of Jules and me sits on the nightstand, beside the preserved rose my boyfriend Harrison bought me for our one-year anniversary.

        Speaking of…

        I sit on my bed and grab my phone, unsurprised to see multiple notifications, but none are from him. It’s three-thirty here, which means it’s six-thirty there, and I haven’t heard from him all day.

        The phone rings in my ear, once, twice, three times. By the fourth, I know it’s going to voicemail, and by the fifth I don’t even bother waiting anymore. Instead, I switch course and dial someone I know will answer.

        “Okay. Tell. Me. Everything,” Jules says before it even got to the second ring, as if she was waiting impatiently for my call.

        I chuckle and throw myself backward on the bed. “It’s…amazing. Even the sun feels brighter here.”

        She sighs heavily. “And here I am, stuck in Michigan. Remind me why I didn’t come with you?”

        “Because you said if I showed up with my best friend, I’d look unprofessional and like I can’t handle business ventures on my own.”

I can practically hear as she purses her lips. “I think the words I used were, “You can’t bring me along like some childhood teddy bear,” but your explanation sounds a lot more reasonable.”

         Humming, I can’t help but feel a little homesick. If I was still back home, we’d be in sweats and wrapped in blankets on her bed, nursing hangovers and laughing about embarrassing videos from the night before. Hell, if I was still back home, maybe my boyfriend wouldn’t be ignoring me.

        “Haven’t heard from Harrison all day,” I murmur.

        Jules scoffs quietly, in a way I’m sure I wasn’t supposed to hear. “He’s probably still sleeping. He partied pretty hard last night, remember?”

        “Of course I remember. How could I forget my own going away party that he ditched me at?”

        “Okay, I see where this is going,” she announces. “Don’t do this.”

        “Don’t do what?” I feign innocence.

        “Don’t let boyfriend-buzzkill ruin this for you. It’s an incredible opportunity, and if he can’t be supportive of that, then fuck him. And I don’t mean that literally.”

        “Yeah…” I get up and walk over to the window, looking at the gorgeous view of the backyard that’s now empty. “I know. It’s just hard. I feel like the only one who is happy for me is you.”

       The laugh that has always managed to bring me comfort echoes through the phone. “That’s because I’m a goddess who knows what’s best for you. Emphasis on goddess.”

        I snort. “Sure, we’ll go with that.”

        “Okay, now stop torturing me. Tell me all about my future husband.”

        Rolling my eyes, I indulge her and start talking about Beau, silently thanking her for the much-needed distraction.