The Pawn(4)

By: Skye Warren

The word girl is a slap in the face. I force myself not to flinch, but it’s hard. Everything about him overwhelms me—his size, his low voice. “I’ll tell Mr. Scott my name.”

In the shadowed space between us, his smile spreads, white and taunting. The pleasure that lights his strange yellow eyes is almost sensual, as if I caressed him. “You’ll have to get past me.”

My heart thuds. He likes that I’m challenging him, and God, that’s even worse. What if I’ve already failed? I’m free-falling, tumbling, turning over without a single hope to anchor me. Where will I go if he turns me away? What will happen to my father?

“Let me go,” I whisper, but my hope fades fast.

His eyes flash with warning. “Little Avery James, all grown up.”

A small gasp resounds in the space between us. He already knows my name. That means he knows who my father is. He knows what he’s done. Denials rush to my throat, pleas for understanding. The hard set of his eyes, the broad strength of his shoulders tells me I won’t find any mercy here.

I square my shoulders. I’m desperate but not broken. “If you know my name, you know I have friends in high places. Connections. A history in this city. That has to be worth something. That’s my collateral.”

Those connections might not even take my call, but I have to try something. I don’t know if it will be enough for a loan or even to get me through the door. Even so, a faint feeling of family pride rushes over my skin. Even if he turns me away, I’ll hold my head high.

Golden eyes study me. Something about the way he said little Avery James felt familiar, but I’ve never seen this man. At least I don’t think we’ve met. Something about the otherworldly glow of those eyes whispers to me, like a melody I’ve heard before.

On his driver’s license it probably says something mundane, like brown. But that word can never encompass the way his eyes seem almost luminous, orbs of amber that hold the secrets of the universe. Brown can never describe the deep golden hue of them, the indelible opulence in his fierce gaze.

“Follow me,” he says.

Relief courses through me, flooding numb limbs, waking me up enough that I wonder what I’m doing here. These aren’t men, they’re animals. They’re predators, and I’m prey. Why would I willingly walk inside?

What other choice do I have?

I step over the veined marble threshold.

The man closes the door behind me, shutting out the rain and the traffic, the entire city disappeared in one soft turn of the lock. Without another word he walks down the hall, deeper into the shadows. I hurry to follow him, my chin held high, shoulders back, for all the world as if I were an invited guest. Is this how the gazelle feels when she runs over the plains, a study in grace, poised for her slaughter?

The entire world goes black behind the staircase, only breath, only bodies in the dark. Then he opens another thick wooden door, revealing a dimly lit room of cherrywood and cut crystal, of leather and smoke. Barely I see dark eyes, dark suits. Dark men.

I have the sudden urge to hide behind the man with the golden eyes. He’s wide and tall, with hands that could wrap around my waist. He’s a giant of a man, rough-hewn and hard as stone.

Except he’s not here to protect me. He could be the most dangerous of all.

A man blows out a breath, smoke curling from his lips. He wears a slate-gray vest and lavender tie. On another man it would have made him soft, but with the two-days’ growth on a strong jaw, with the devilish glint in his black eyes he’s pure masculine power.

Damon Scott.

“Who do we have here?” he says.

There are other men in the room, other suits, but I don’t focus on them.

The man takes a seat near Damon, to the right of him and a little deeper in the shadows, his eyes turned to bronze in the dark. Like he’s watching all of us, like he’s set apart. I don’t focus on him either.

“I’m Avery James,” I say, lifting my chin. “And I’m here for a loan.”

Damon drops his cigar into a ceramic dish on the side table. He leans forward, pressing his fingers together. “Avery James, as I live and breathe. I never expected you to visit me.”

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