The Pawn

By: Skye Warren

Prologue




The party spills over with guests, from the ballroom to the front lawn. It’s nighttime, but the house is lit up, bright as the sun. All around me diamonds glitter. We’ve reached that tipping point where everyone is sloshed enough to smile, but not so much they start to slur. There’s almost too many people, almost too much alcohol. Almost too much wealth in one room.

It reminds me of Icarus, with his wings of feather and wax. If Icarus had a five-hundred-person guest list for his graduation party. It reminds me of flying too close to the sun.

I snag a flute of champagne from one of the servers, who pretends not to see. The bubbles tickle my nose as I take a detour through the kitchen. Rosita stands at the stove, stirring her world-famous jambalaya in a large cast iron pot. The spices pull me close.

I reach for a spoon. “Is it ready yet?”

She slaps my hand away. “You’ll ruin your pretty dress. It’ll be ready when it’s ready.”

We have caterers who make food for all our events, but since this is my graduation party, Rosita agreed to make my favorite dish. She’s going to spoon some onto little puff pastry cups and call it a canape.

I try to pout, but everything is too perfect for that. Only one thing is missing from this picture. I give her a kiss on the cheek. “Thanks, Rosita. Have you seen Daddy?”

“Where he always is, most likely.”

That’s what I’m afraid of. Then I’m through the swinging door that leads into the private side of the house. I pass Gerty, our event planner, who’s muttering about guests who aren’t on the invite list.

I head up the familiar oak staircase, breathing in the scent of our house. There’s something so comforting about it. I’m going to miss everything when I leave for college.

At the top of the stairs, I hear men’s voices.

That isn’t unusual. I’m around the corner from Daddy’s office. There are always men coming to meet with him. Half the people he works with are downstairs right now. But he promised no work tonight, and I’m going to hold him to it, even if I have to drag him downstairs myself.

“How dare you accuse me of…”

The venom in the words stops me on the landing. That doesn’t sound like a regular business meeting. Things might get tense around a contract, but there’s plenty of back slapping and football talk before and after.

More heated words hover just below the noise of the party, ominous and indistinguishable. I twist my hands together, about to turn around. I won’t bother him after all.

A man rounds the corner, almost colliding into me.

I gasp, taking a step back. There’s nothing behind me. The stairs! Then two hands grasp my arms, hauling me back onto steady ground. I have only a glimpse of furious golden eyes, almost feline, definitely feral. Then he’s sweeping past me down the stairs. I cling to the carved banister, my knees weak.

It’s another minute before I can detach myself from the wood railing. My breath still feels shuddery from that near miss, from that man’s hands on my bare arms. I find Daddy pacing inside his office. He glances up at me with a strange expression—almost like panic.

“Daddy?”

“There you are, Avery. I’m sorry. I know I said no work—”

“Who was that?”

A cloud crosses over his expression. Only now, in the lamp’s eerie glow, do I notice the lines on his face. Deeper than ever. “Don’t worry about him. This night is all about you.”

Now that I’ve started noticing his appearance, I can’t stop. His hair. All salt now. No more pepper. “You know I don’t need all this. This party. Everything. You don’t have to work so hard.”

The smile that crosses his face is wistful. “What would I do if I wasn’t working?”

I shrug, because it doesn’t matter. My friend Krista’s dad plays golf every single day. Harper’s mom is on her fourth husband. Anything but plant himself behind a desk, eyes soft with strain. “You could date or something.”

He laughs, looking more like himself. “You’re the only girl in my life, sweetie. Now, come on. Let’s join the party before they trash the place.”

His arm around my shoulders pulls me close, and I curl into his jacket. I breathe in the comforting smell of him—the faint scent of cigar smoke, even though he swears he’s quit. I lay my head on his shoulder as we pass the chessboard where we play together.

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